TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. - Axel Holmstrom is finally ready to make the move to North America.
Holmstrom, 21, is one of 15 forwards for the Detroit Red Wings at this year's prospects tournament in Traverse City and is not related to former Wing Tomas Holmstrom.
Originally a seventh-round pick, 196th overall, in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Holmstrom has had his career delayed by several injuries, mostly to his knees.
It was one of those knee injuries that limited him to just 16 regular-season games for Skelleftea AIK in the Swedish Hockey League last season.
"It was not the same injury all the time, it was unlucky things going on, bad situations," Holmstrom said after the morning skate Friday. "So it's pretty tough on you mentally, but I found a way to bounce back and that's the most important thing, that you come back and bounce back and do some good things about it. I got time to work on my off-ice a lot and stuff like that. Just turn it positive. I'm glad I'm fresh now and ready to go."
Finally healthy for the playoffs, Holmstrom had three goals and four assists in seven games.
After Skelleftea's season ended, the Wings decided to bring Holmstrom to Grand Rapids to get him acclimated to life as a professional hockey player.
"So last season was kind of a special season with a lot of injuries during the whole season so it's just a few games," Holmstrom said. "But I think in a certain way, I find a way to end the season good in both Skelleftea in the playoffs with putting up points and then I went to Grand Rapids and to be a part of the winning team there and just get to know the atmosphere and be on the road trips and stuff like that. In the end, I'm kind of happy about the season even though it's a lot of injuries and a tough season, I hoped I learned a lot. I'm looking forward to this one, it's going to be a lot of fun."
The Wings would have brought Holmstrom over sooner but because of a different serious knee injury, decided one more year in Sweden would be better.
Although he was an observer during the Griffins' playoff run, Holmstrom practiced with the team and said he learned a lot.
"It's just different from Sweden, a lot of stuff like the trips and stuff like that," Holmstrom said. "Just get to know a lot of the guys, meet Geno (Evgeny Svechnikov), good friend of him, and (Dominic) Turgeon and all those guys. It's just different coming in when you know a lot of guys who have been there, you see how it works, you see how hard they work and just how tough it was for them to go all the way even though they had such a good team. Great experience. I'm really happy I came over at the end of the season. It helped me a lot for this season for sure."
Grand Rapids Griffins coach Todd Nelson sounded very pleased with Holmstrom's work over the summer.
"One thing that we talked about at the end of last year was him gaining an extra step with his speed because he had those injuries," Nelson said. "He looks great. I think he's 10-12 pounds lighter, he worked real hard this summer, put the time in and we're liking what we see from him out there right now. He's always been a smart player, makes plays, but he's getting to the spots a lot quicker this year."
The Wings kick off the prospects tournament with last year's tournament champions, the Carolina Hurricanes.
The other teams are the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues.
"The goal for this tournament is just to be as good as I can and hopefully play my best hockey that I've ever played. Just show myself on the good side and show what I'm capable of doing. Hopefully they will like what they see. Just get myself in a better position to reach the NHL in the future. That's the goal, to impress them."
PROSPECTS FOR PROSPECTS: The prospects tournament is always competitive and this year is no different.
"We're coming out of the gate against a very talented team that beat us in the finals last year and they have a lot of the same people out there," Nelson said. "It's going to be a great test for our guys. But I got to tell you, I liked what I saw yesterday in practice as well as this morning's skate. It'll be a good test and we'll see where our team's at."
The teams are divided into two divisions, the Gordie Howe Division (Wings, Blackhawks, Hurricanes and Rangers) and the Ted Lindsay Division (Blue Jackets, Stars, Wild and Blues).
Teams play each team in the division in a round-robin format before a crossover on the last day of the tournament.
The first-place finishers in each division will meet in the championship game for the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup on Tuesday.
Because it's a quick tournament before NHL training camps begin, coaches have to teach as they go.
"It's hard because you only have one full practice and a pre-game skate so there's a lot of video sessions, a lot of information given to them with how we want to play," Nelson said. "Yesterday we focused on 5-on-5 play and then today in the skate after getting loosened up, we focused on power play and penalty kill. We've pretty much covered, I guess, 80 percent of everything we want to teach. But in this tournament, you teach as you go. In between periods, we'll at least have time to talk to the guys, what we want to see."
For Cole Fraser, the Wings' fifth-round pick, 131st overall, in this past summer's draft, it's all new except for some of the players and coaches he met in development camp in July.
"It's going to be a learning curve for me as well as for everyone else coming in for the first time," Fraser said. "But I think it's really well put together. I heard Vili (Saarijarvi) saying we got a nice room downstairs at the resort where the guys can all go down and kind of chill out. I think that's really helpful because all the guys get to bond. Obviously we're right on the golf course so if we want to go out and play a round of golf, we can. I think that really helps with some team bonding as well. I went and played a round with a couple of the guys yesterday and it was nice just to be able to play. Bad weather but it was still fun."
Nelson said you can easily see the difference between the first-timers and the players who have gone through it before.
"You see Svechnikov take another step," Nelson said. "Based on what I saw in practice, he looks very dominant out there. I want to see how he plays tonight. You can certainly tell the guys that have played one year pro or been around the pro atmosphere versus the young kids coming in. That's normal. These young kids are coming in, two years and three years down the road, they'll be like the Svechnikovs and the Turgeons who have been here quite a bit.
"Everybody benefits from this tournament, it's a great tournament. It's a good chance for the rest of the staff, as well as management, to evaluate our talent."