As for the main story: I forgot about the Snapchat pretty quickly because me and my hometown team were in the middle of something absolutely huge. You need to understand how the league works in order to get just how huge. Think of soccer's English Premier League Football. So there isn't really a draft to send players to one place or the other. You can play for whoever you want, and if you play well enough, you have the chance to be added to the top league - called the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), which you've probably heard of. I'd played for the different levels of the team from my home city, Leksand, from peewee and up for years, one team and league after another as I got older.
Leksand has been around for almost 100 years now, and for most of my childhood, the club had battled up and down through the first and second league. For the last seven years though, they had been in the second league, and every year had ended in disappointment.
With two games to go in the season, we had the chance to turn those disappointments in to something else, and we did. We beat Rogle at home, and we'd clinched the biggest promotion possible. We were going to the Swedish Hockey League. All the fans were going absolutely nuts. Leksand's fans have spread out all over the country - all throughout Sweden and the south - and they, like us, couldn't believe that we were actually headed to the highest level.
On the night we clinched, my family and friends got to walk on the ice and help celebrate. My parents were super excited for me, too. I'd played with the pro team since I was 16, and I'd gone up the different levels, and they knew how hard I'd worked to get to this point. My dad was the one that had first gotten me interested in hockey, because he'd played it as well. In fact, one day he brought home some broken glass from the rink, and we put it on the ground, so I could use it to slide pucks off and shoot at a net we had in the backyard. My brother Fredrik and I loved doing nothing more than shooting pucks out there. After practice or school, as soon as we could get through dinner we'd be back out there, shooting and shooting and shooting. I found myself thinking all about that while I was on the ice with my family that night.
At the time, it didn't seem like it could get any better than this. Even now, it still may be my favorite hockey memory to think about. It was really, really special to help the team I'd supported my whole life finally earn that promotion.
A few days after we'd clinched the promotion, me and some of my friends were hanging out just talking about the rest of the season. There was still a couple games left to play. Winning or losing them wouldn't matter much in the standings, but of course we still had to play them.
It was getting close to midnight when one of my teammates and buddies, Jacob de la Rose, a Swede who is in the Montreal Canadiens organization now, sent me a text that said:
"Hey, I'm following the deadline. You might get traded."
I'd forgotten the NHL Trade Deadline was on April 3, because the League was playing a lockout-shortened season and everything got pushed back. Still, being traded was a ridiculous thought. The Capitals had drafted me in the first round the year before, and I'd signed my entry-level deal a month later before heading back to Sweden.
I sent him back a message: "Yeah, sure. Whatever."
Maybe 10 minutes goes by. He texts again:
"You're just kidding."
"No, really. You're traded!"
I got a weird feeling in my stomach, but I still was more annoyed that he wouldn't give this up. It couldn't be real. I pulled my phone back out and started to go to Google to see what was up. Before I got the chance to start searching, my phone started ringing.
It was one of the Nashville Predators scouts, Lucas Bergman. He just explained the situation, that I'd been traded to Nashville, and I was one of their players now. It was really odd. I'm not sure what word to call it. My mind was spinning. I talked to my agent briefly before I called my dad back at home.
He may have been even more confused than I was. The Capitals had called the house phone a little earlier, but my dad was already asleep since it was so late and after they tried to explain the situation in English, too… let's just say he didn't totally get it.
I ended up being on the phone for most of the next hour or two, and it was 2 a.m. before I knew it. I finally fell asleep that night thinking about being that much closer to the NHL, but with a new team now. That's the part I couldn't get out of my head.
Oh and the best part of this whole night?
Guess who was also with me when I got the news? That's right. The same friend who had sent me the April Fools' Snapchat just two days before. You've never seen someone more speechless.
The next two weeks of my life were an absolute whirlwind.
The Preds had mentioned when they first traded for me that they wanted me to go ahead and come over to the U.S. and play some games before their season ended. I was thrilled to hear that. The Capitals had said they wanted me to come play in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Hershey Bears, but that didn't sound very appealing. This was the opposite. This is what I'd dreamed of for years.
Now, getting to the NHL was within reach, but it wasn't going to be easy.
I was traded on a Wednesday, and I had my next game with Leksand on Friday. We just had an optional morning skate, and we were playing soccer when the coach came and grabbed me. I thought something was really wrong, since we weren't skating and now I was getting called into the office. But he told me that I'd been added onto the roster for Sweden to play in some exhibition games before the World Championship. At first they told me not to play the Leksand game. Then they said I should. Then we were on the bus headed to the game and they said, "No, they definitely want you to go and play for Sweden." So they pulled over and dropped me off by the airport!
I ended up playing those two games against Latvia, and then I was back and getting my visa papers done to head to Nashville. Crazy how things can seem to change all at once.
I'd never been to the state of Tennessee before. Most of what I knew about the Preds was from playing the EA Sports NHL video games. So names like Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber and Hornqvist, I knew, and now I was going to be playing with them! Oh, and I knew about the country music, just not, you know, where exactly Nashville was in the relation to the rest of the country.
I was 18 at this point, and my mom was pretty freaked out that I wasn't going to be able to cook food for myself when I got over there. I can't say that was at the top of my list of things to worry about, but isn't that what moms do? I was just thinking about getting to play in the NHL. She kept bringing up how I'd never really cooked anything when I was living with them, but when I got an email from Hornqvist that put her - at least somewhat - at ease.
He said I was welcome to stay with him and his fiancee (at the time, now wife) in Nashville. That meant a whole lot, because I didn't know anyone right then. So our general manager David Poile picked me up at the airport, and Barry Trotz (our former head coach) drove me over to the Hornqvist's house. It was such a relief that those guys helped me through that first day. I got in on a Friday, and I was supposed to play Monday, but they threw me right in against Detroit on Saturday. I think that was good, too. Just to get it over with.
It was an unforgettable experience just to play that first game. Hornqvist was hurt, so he was just basically my driver for two weeks. He and his wife-to-be, Malin, were unbelievably nice to me, just cooking for me and helping out with everything. I even got my own room. (Over the next couple of years the "responsibility" of taking care of me fell mainly to Mattias Ekholm, who would help cook for us while we were living in the same apartment complex and help me rent my furniture to furnish my place. We're still best friends because of all we went through together during those early seasons in our careers.)
Pretty quickly at the end of that season and over the next year, I saw how many people truly wanted to help me out, just because. Nashvillians are so friendly. I think that helped a lot, especially with coming over and my English not being the greatest. No one was ever rude or anything. Everyone was just trying to understand what I was saying and trying to help.
Those first few weeks in Nashville started a trend for the next couple years of my life. Lots of learning, growing and having people help show me the way. I ended up going to play with the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL for most of the 2013-14 season, and the biggest thing I learned there was how important it is to take care of the puck and focus on keeping possession. I think that's the part of my game I've been trying to develop as much as possible over the past few years. In some leagues, you can make a turnover at center ice and still have time to recover. But in the NHL, everyone is super talented, so even though we have Peks back there in goal, you can't risk a turnover or you're going to get burned just about every time.
The year in Milwaukee wasn't the easiest to get used to, but I'm still grateful for the friendships that it helped create. Three games in three nights and long bus trips help to bring everyone closer together and me, Anthony Bitetto, Austin Watson and Colton Sissons still share that bond now that we're with the Preds. I even spent four months living in the same little room in a hotel with Scott Darling (now with the Blackhawks) when we were playing for the Ads, and about a year later, we would be facing each other in the playoffs.
Everyone wanted to talk about my wrist shot over the next two seasons with the Preds, when I scored 26 goals in 2014-15 and 33 last season. But, I think the way our team has learned to play together is the most important part in why we've all found success.
I can't say enough how excited I am for what's ahead this year and beyond.
Last year, we got a little taste of playoff excitement, and we moved past the First Round. But the thing is, there are two more rounds that we need to move past and reach the Final and play for the Stanley Cup.
That's the biggest reason that I wanted to stay in Nashville, when I was up for a new contract this summer. That's why I wanted to sign for six years, too. I want to win. I want to play for the Cup, and I believe we have the team for that.
And that's how I'll finally top my Leksand memory: by hoisting the Stanley Cup over my head. It's just a matter of getting in, and then anything can happen.