"No teams talked to me, so I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to get drafted," Borgstrom told FloridaPanthers.com in a recent interview. "I had no expectations at all before the 2015 draft."
The following season, Borgstrom, whose lanky limbs had finally begun to catch up to his height, proved all of his doubters wrong. Playing for HIFK's U-20 team in the Finnish junior league, he finished the 2015-16 campaign with 29 goals and 26 assists in 40 games. Scouts were suddenly coming out in droves to watch him play, and his draft stock went from non-existent to thriving.
Eventually taken by the Florida Panthers with the 23rd overall pick in the 2016 draft, the 21-year-old center recently wrapped up his first full season in the NHL. An AHL All-Star prior to his call-up on Dec. 15, Borgstrom went on to post eight goals and 10 assists in 50 games with Florida.
Video: CAR@FLA: Borgstrom lasers the puck past Mrazek
"I played a pretty defensive minded game toward the end of the season," Borgstrom said after cleaning out his locker at BB&T Center on April 8. "It was something that I had to concentrate on a lot this season to be reliable and earn playing time that way. Of course, it's very teaching."
Still filling out his frame, Borgstrom believes he's yet to scratch the surface of his potential.
"I want to get stronger and faster," he said. "Those are the two biggest ones, and I know they're pretty broad. I think I'm not even close to my ceiling yet. Physically, I still look like I'm in middle school, pretty much. I'm trying to concentrate on those two things: faster and stronger."
With the 2019 draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C. slated to get underway on June 21-22, FloridaPanthers.com's Jameson Olive recently caught up with Borgstrom to take a look back at the draft that both was and wasn't, as well as what it felt like to put on that first Panthers jersey.
FloridaPanthers.com: After going undrafted in 2015, how much were you thinking about your draft stock as buzz started to build around your named heading into the 2016 draft?
BORGSTROM: Honestly, that whole season was really fun. I played in the U20 league in Finland and got some national team games as well. I thought I played pretty well. It was a good year, but I still didn't think I'd get drafted in the first round, to be honest. It was pretty amazing.
FloridaPanthers.com: Like you said, you didn't think you'd be taken in the first round, but you were still at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York on Day 1 just in case. What was it like to be waiting in the stands on Day 1 with no real expectations for yourself?
BORGSTROM: It was fun. The atmosphere was pretty good. Toronto had the first pick, so of course there were a lot of "boos" because the draft was being held in Buffalo. That was pretty cool. It was a great draft for Finns, too. It was nice to see my friends getting picked. But after the 10th pick or so, it started to get kind of boring for me. I was also still getting used to the time difference. But then when I heard my name, it was really shocking. I didn't see that one coming.
FloridaPanthers.com: You had no idea at all that the Panthers were going to pick you?
BORGSTROM: Well, I kind of had a feeling they might, but I still didn't believe it. They had a really early choice in the second round, too, so I thought that if I did get picked by the Panthers, it was going to be in the second round. It was pretty cool. I had talked to them a lot before the draft. I like the people who I talked to who were working with them. It was such a cool moment.
FloridaPanthers.com: What were those pre-draft interactions with the Panthers like?
BORGSTROM: I had talked with Kekalainen [Panthers director of European amateur scouting Jari Kekalainen] in Finland one or two times. Then, obviously, we talked at the combine. Then the day before the draft in Buffalo, we had a conversation. There were a lot of players. I knew some players that they were high on, too. I was looking at those players, how they were playing at that time and where they were playing. I just didn't think that I'd be the choice, but I was.
FloridaPanthers.com: Who were you sitting with at the draft when your name was called?
BORGSTROM: I was sitting with my family. There were also a lot of Finnish guys and American guys that work for the agency that represents me. It was such an incredible moment just to hear your name. The moment I heard them say, "From HIFK Helsinki…," I knew it had to be me. It was pretty amazing, especially with my family in the stands as well. It's hard to describe it still. It just came around the corner. I don't think you can prepare for it. It's such a weird feeling. When you're growing up, you're always thinking about that moment. When it actually happens, you can't believe it. It's happening right in front of you. You're living it. You're the main character.
FloridaPanthers.com: Do you remember what Panthers President of Hockey Operations & General Manager Dale Tallon said when you shook his hand after arriving to the stage?
BORGSTROM: I actually don't remember. He probably said something pretty simple, straightforward, like, "Good job, kid!" I know it was probably something that ended with "kid." I don't remember it that accurately, but I also remember Keith Yandle was in Buffalo, too. They had just signed him or something. He was there on the stage with me. I remember shaking his hand. That was a really cool moment. A lot of good people on that stage. It was pretty surreal.
FloridaPanthers.com: How much did you enjoy the post-draft media gauntlet?
BORGSTROM: It was cool for me. I wasn't a highly-touted prospect in Finland. Playing in the U-20 league, it's different than some other junior leagues. There's not a lot of people going to the games. Sure, some people follow it, but for a guy like me I was flying heavily under the radar. I had never signed an autograph or taken that many pictures. It was kind of weird, but so cool at the same time. I think that made it even more special for me. I wasn't used to that stuff. It was just a cool thing to experience. I was pretty fired up.
Video: 2016 NHL Draft Mic'd Up: Henrik Borgstrom
FloridaPanthers.com: How did you celebrate with your family afterwards?
BORGSTROM: I feel like it was still surreal. I remember we went to the press box and talked to management. I remember eating something, but I wasn't quite that hungry. I was too excited and had too much adrenaline still running through my veins. But after that we went to a sports bar with a few other guys that were represented by my agency. We were just eating and having fun. We were all pretty tired after. I didn't go to bed too early, but we weren't out that late. It was exciting to share that moment with the people that I love. I still couldn't believe it. It was great.
FloridaPanthers.com: Do you remember when you finally took your Panthers jersey off?
BORGSTROM: I was wearing it for a while, but I took it off when we left the building. I put it back on at the hotel and at the sports bar for pictures, but it's not like I slept with it on or anything like that.
FloridaPanthers.com: The turnaround from the draft to development camp is usually a pretty quick one. What was on your mind heading to your first camp in South Florida?
BORGSTROM: It was kind of weird. There weren't a lot of guys who I knew, but there were a few Finns there like Henrik Haapala, Juho Lammikko and Sebastian Repo. It was just cool to have those Finnish guys there with me. I'd also met a few of the guys at the draft in Buffalo. I was looking forward to it and eager to see the level, the speed of the game, and how good the other players were. I was also just excited to visit Florida for the first time as well. It was great.
FloridaPanthers.com: As someone who's already been through the experience, what advice do you have for the next group of Panthers about to be drafted later this month?
BORGSTROM: I'd just tell them to take it easy and to not get too disappointed if you don't get drafted in your first year. If you're at the draft, just enjoy it and take everything you can out of it. It's definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It doesn't happen to every kid. It was great for me.