At the tender age of 15, Karl Henriksson had a big choice to make.
He had reached the point in his young life where he had to choose between two of the things he enjoyed the most. Ice hockey and soccer.
As New York Rangers fans are probably familiar with by now, he went with hockey. Not a bad choice considering the centerman was drafted 58th overall by the Rangers this past summer and had already won an international gold medal with Sweden at the U18 World Juniors earlier in the year.
But it was by no means an easy decision to let go of soccer. Henriksson was a very talented midfielder who was invited to the first Swedish junior national team selection camp of his age group back in 2016.
"I really enjoyed playing soccer, but in the end hockey was the sport for me," Henriksson says. "The big difference was that I never played for any good soccer team. I really enjoyed playing the games, but I had a lot more fun practicing hockey. Overall, it was more fun playing hockey."
He does feel like he has gained a lot as a hockey player by playing soccer for as long as he did.
"Soccer has given me a better stamina, and I also feel it has helped my vision on the ice. When you're put in different situations, you seem to have more solutions thanks to having played different sports. I also feel like I've been taught to use my body in different ways. It makes me a more complete athlete."
Karl Henriksson also thinks that his appetite for hockey grew bigger every fall thanks to the changing seasons.
"You never got tired of any of the sports. As soon as the soccer season was done, you were really aching to get out on the ice again and vice versa. I think it really worked out well for me."
It certainly has. Now, the 18 year-old is gearing up for his first appearance at the World Junior Championships in Ostrava and Trinec of the Czech Republic. Team Sweden play their first game of the tournament against their rivals from Finland on December 26th.
"This is what I dreamed of as a kid," Henriksson says. "I always enjoyed watching the tournament when I was younger. To be able to compete now is awesome. I'm really excited about getting this opportunity."
One of his favorite memories from the World Juniors actually involves a current New York Ranger.
"Watching Mika Zibanejad score that overtime goal (in the gold medal game against the Russians in Calgary in 2012) was amazing," Henriksson remembers with a big smile. "I was very young, but stayed up all night to watch that game although I wasn't really allowed to. But there's just a lot of cool memories from those tournaments and it's really cool how Swedes have taken a liking to it. It seems like everyone is watching the games now."
It wouldn't come as a surprise if Karl Henriksson was reunited with his linemates from the U18 World Juniors. At that tournament, he played with two of the top prospects ahead of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, wingers Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz. A line that was dominant for Sweden.
"They are two really gifted players. We add a bit off different flavors to the line. Holtz is a sniper while Raymond can do a bit of everything. I'm kind of the player that is suppose to keep it all together. But we all think hockey the same way."
Speaking of linemates, Henriksson was put in a pretty neat position at Rangers rookie camp this fall. In one of the games, the Swede played between Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov. An experience he's not likely to forget any time soon.
"It was incredible. I think Kakko had four points and was doing whatever he wanted out there while Kravtsov was this magic man, stick-handling around guys to left and right," Karl Henriksson says with a laugh. "I've been kind of spoiled with who I play with, but it's also a lot of fun."
Getting drafted by the New York Rangers and visiting "The Big Apple" for the first time was also "fun." Karl Henriksson puts it down as two of the highlights from a memorable 2019.
"That's also a dream come true," he says. "The Rangers have such a rich history, especially with Swedish players like Henrik Lundqvist and others. It's a really great, professional organization. I will work hard to get the chance to wear that jersey in the future."