CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – The interview lasts only a few seconds before the laughter begins to break out.
Henrik Borgstrom, the Florida Panthers’ first-round pick in last month’s NHL draft, isn’t always trying to make jokes, but when the opportunity presents itself, the 18-year-old Finn simply can’t resist.
“After the draft, I went to Chicago first,” Borgstrom said when asked to describe the weeks following his draft selection. “I practiced there with some Finnish guys before heading to Denver, which was really nice… Then, I was in Tokyo.”
“Tokyo?” I replied.
“That was a joke,” he says, a beaming smile replacing the stern, straight face he was already struggling to hold.
It was little wisecracks like that that helped make Borgstrom a standout player both on and off the ice during Florida’s annual development camp at the Panthers IceDen earlier this month. His pinpoint wrist shot and next-level stickhandling caught the attention of coaches, while his outgoing personality quickly endeared him to the numerous fans in attendance.
“It’s been great so far,” said Borgstrom, who scored 29 goals and dished out 26 assists in 40 games last season with the HIFK U-20 team. “Before I arrived, even when I was watching the views [of South Florida] from the plane, I was telling the guy sitting next to me that I’m way too excited. It’s been really great.
“There has been so much things going on… Of course, I want to make a great first impression because you can only do that once. I’m not really thinking about anything else right now. I’m trying to focus on practices and hopefully [the Panthers] like me.”
Borgstrom will enroll at the University of Denver in September and could potentially center the Pioneers top line as freshman. A highly coveted prospect, he was admittedly pursued by several other college hockey powerhouses such as Boston University, Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth before inevitably making the decision to go with his gut and commit to Denver.
“They really wanted me,” Borgstrom said. “When the schools were talking to me and trying to get me there to different places, Denver always wanted face time and to talk to me through messages and e-mail. I just got the feeling that they were the one for me.”
At 6-foot-3 and 176 pounds, Borgstrom said he chose the college route over junior hockey because it will allow him more time to fill out his frame by practicing and lifting weights, while also providing the opportunity to compete against what he believes is a more mature competition.
“Playing in college is a good way to gain that because games are on the weekends and you have the whole week to practice and work out,” Borgstrom said. “There’s also really grown up men playing against me. It’s kind of weird that there can be 25 year olds playing against me. I think that’s a bigger challenge for me.”
With his career only beginning to take off, Borgstrom is ready to climb the ranks from collegiate to professional hockey over the next several seasons. His unique skillset and natural talent helped make him a first-round draft pick, but it his infectious personality and laidback attitude that continues to impress his teammates.
“He came out to Denver a couple weeks early, so we got to test him,” said Panthers goaltending prospect Evan Cowley, who is entering his senior season at Denver. “We played some FIFA and took him around the school and everything. He’s a great kid. He obviously comes from a great family and we’re really happy to have him.”
So are we, Evan. So are we.