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Sundqvist Eyeing Opening on Pens' Fourth Line

by Josh Carney / Pittsburgh Penguins

Depending on how one views Pittsburgh Penguins prospects, Oskar Sundqvist is one of the most popular names among that group.

From making it to the final cut at training camp last fall, to playing for Skelleftea in the Swedish professional league, Sundqvist has worked his way into the conversation as a potential fourth line player for the Pens heading into 2015-16.

Sundqvist will have to win the spot in training camp come September. The Boden, Sweden native is eager and ready for the competition once training camp kicks off in September.

“They’re missing one fourth-line center,” Sundqvist said, who isn’t skating during development camp due to injury but will be healthy for the start of training camp. “They have to bring in a new one and it’s going to be tough to compete against (them), but still just do my best and see where it goes.”

Possessing a nasty demeanor on the ice, plenty of size and strength to throw his body around, and an improving two-way game – especially offensively, Sundqvist is willing to step up in any capacity that the Pens need him to next season, whether that’s in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton or Pittsburgh.

“It’s a big chance for me (to make the team),” Sundqvist said. “Last year, I had a great camp. I hope I can do the same hard work and impress (head coach) Mike (Johnston) this year, too. I have to be at my best when camp starts … It really doesn’t matter where I play. I can play everywhere.

“Wherever the coach tells me to play, I’ll play.”

Although he’ll have to make the adjustment full-time to the North American game and the size of the ice, the 2012 third-round pick (No. 81 overall) owes a lot of his growth to playing against men in the Swedish Hockey League.

In 2014-15, Sundqvist took on the role of an offensive player after spending the previous two seasons as a fourth-line center. With the move to a new role, he tallied 19 points (9G-10A) in 41 games with Skelleftea, before tallying another five points (1G-4A) in 15 playoffs games.

While developing against men as a fourth liner, Sundqvist was able to show he could play at a high level in an important role. Now, the Pens could ask him to play a similar role, albeit on a bigger stage, similar to current Chicago Blackhawks center Markus Kruger, whom Sundqvist admires from afar and tries to model his game after.

Unlike last year heading into camp, Sundqvist’s summer routine will be much different due to a move to North America.

“One of the things that Oskar’s not going to have this year is those games in August playing with Skelleftea, or practicing and coming into the rookie tournament in midseason form,” Pens assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald said. “He’s going to have a regular summer here. He’s going to rehab and train. He’s going to get stronger and get on the ice and basically train like a North American, so we have to temper those expectations (of him and the NHL role).

“But yes, we do believe he has qualities to be a fourth line center on our team.”

Expectations will be high once Sundqvist jumps back onto the ice in September during training camp. It will be important for the 6-foot-3, 207-pound center to take things day by day and focus on the task at hand instead of getting caught up in the hype surrounding him and his potential. But his role on the 2015-16 Pens can’t be sorted out until he’s fully healthy and ready to get back onto the ice.

“We will see (about his role next season),” Sundqvist said. “I haven’t been on the ice, so I don’t really know where I stand. But, hopefully I’m feeling mature enough to move here (Pittsburgh), so then I should be ready to play in the NHL.”

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