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New Swedish Wings

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Defenseman Alfons Malmstrom, the Red Wings' fourth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, works at Centre Ice in Traverse City in July's development camp. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. -- After not drafting any Swedes last year for the first time since 1992, the Swedish-heavy Red Wings made up for it with three Swedes in this year's draft.

All three -- defenseman Alfons Malmstrom, goaltender Filip Larsson and forward Mattias Elfstrom -- were in Traverse City for development camp this July.

"It’s always a huge honor," Larsson said. "Detroit is a huge team back home in Sweden. Many Swedes come here the last 20 years so it’s obviously a huge honor to be drafted by the Red Wings."

The Wings took Larsson in the sixth round, 167th overall.

Elfstrom, chosen in the seventh round, 197th overall, was also pleased that Detroit took him.

"Very happy," Elfstrom said. "It's a dream since I was a kid so it's fantastic."

Malmstrom, who tweaked his ankle in the first scrimmage of camp, was feeling a little stressed early on.

"After the skills sessions, I thought he was fine and he came up to me and said, ‘I haven’t skated for a while’ and I said, ‘You know what? Just relax. Go out there and have fun, execute the drills properly,'" Griffins coach Todd Nelson said. "I said, ‘Once again, we’re not evaluating you right now. We’re trying to educate you, trying to have you gain good pro habits so whatever team you play for next year you can implement those habits and those habits will be with you for the rest of your hockey career.’ But I thought he was fine for his first day."

Elfstrom had a challenging start to camp as his gear didn't arrive with him so he was using borrowed equipment.

Although Elfstrom's English is still a work in progress, he was clear on which Wing was his favorite.

"I would look at Pavel Datsyuk," Elfstrom said. "He's very good."

Elfstrom said it was sad that Datsyuk is retiring from the NHL and returning home to Russia.

With all the Swedes the Wings have had over the years, one might think a forward like Elfstrom would like Henrik Zetterberg.

"He's good too," Elfstrom said.

As for Larsson, his favorite player is a Swede, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

Although Larsson likes Lundqvist, that's not the goaltender he patterns himself after.

"I like to watch Braden Holtby," Larsson said. "I think we’re kind of similar."

Holtby, the Washington Capitals goaltender, is 6-foot-2, 217 pounds. Larsson is also 6-foot-2 but just 185 pounds.

Of course Larsson doesn't even turn 18 until August 17 so he will add weight as he gets older.

In addition to bulking up a little, Larsson knows another area he wants to improve.

"To be faster," Larsson said. "I think to come to this level I need to be faster."

In 19 games with Djurgardens IF J20 in Sweden last season, Larsson finished with a 3.86 goals-against average and .872 save percentage.

In eight games with Sweden's Under 18 team, Larsson had a 3.11 goals-against average and .884 save percentage.

They were decent enough numbers but Larsson was not satisfied.

"I had a tough year," Larsson said. "I started as a second goalie in Djurgardens  U-20 team. But I got a lot of chances. I think it went well at the end. But it was tough for my team in Djurgardens. I’m looking forward to the next year."

Larsson has been in the United States before, last April when he played in the IIHF Under-18 men's world championship in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Although they lost to Finland in the title game, Larsson called it a favorite hockey memory.

"To be in the under-18 tournament in Grand Forks when we took the silver, that was huge," Larsson said. "Nothing compares to being drafted. It was such an honor."

It will be a while before Malmstrom, Elfstrom and Larsson are ready to turn professional.

So Larsson knows what his plans are for next season.

"Just to play as much as I can, the U-20 team and then maybe get a chance in the Elite team in Djurgardens and do a really good job," Larsson said.

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