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Claesson eager to make transition to North America

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Swedish blueliner Fredrik Claesson, who's taking part in his second Sens development camp this week, is eager to make the transition to hockey in North America and will get started by joining the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League in the fall (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).

In the heart of a Canadian winter, Fredrik Claesson made it abundantly clear he is ready to take the next big step in his hockey development.

Sitting in a hotel room in Calgary during the 2012 world junior hockey championship, the Swedish blueliner looked a Senators hockey executive in the eye and delivered a firm message about his future path: Get me to the American Hockey League next season.

And so it is that Claesson, a fifth-round pick (126th overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft, will leave Stockholm behind and head overseas to suit up with the Binghamton Senators this fall. It is a decision that delighted Senators hockey management.

"He looked at me and said 'I need to play in the American league next year,'" Randy Lee, the Senators' director of hockey operations and player development, said of the conversation he had with the 19-year-old Claesson. "He said 'I need to make the transition in my game. I need to play on that (smaller) ice surface, I need to play that number of games and I need to play in that environment. So for me to take the next step in my development, I need to come (over).' Which is really refreshing for someone like myself to hear.

"A lot of guys project themselves and say 'I'll come over when I can just play (in the National Hockey League).' But you know what, you've got to invest yourself. And you're going to be further along in the end if you take the steps along the way. He wants to play in the NHL and this is what he felt was his best route."

Claesson, who's taking part in his second Senators development camp this week, reiterated those sentiments today following an on-ice session with his fellow prospects at the Bell Sensplex.

"I want to play on smaller rinks and I think it's good for me (to learn to) be better on the smaller rink," said Claesson, adding the fact that Djurgarden, his club team in Sweden, has been relegated from Elitserien to Hockey Allsvenskan for next season made it an "easy decision" to venture across the pond. "I'll learn some English and all that, so it's going to be a lot of fun."

That word would also describe the world juniors, where Sweden edged Russia 1-0 in overtime to claim the country's first gold medal in the tournament in 31 years. Claesson went into the event as a mostly unheralded, stay-at-home type blueliner. But when it came to the decisive OT, he was one of the four defencemen the Tre Kronor used heavily with the game on the line.

"He's competitive," Lee said of the 6-0, 198-pound Claesson. "He competes like Boro (the hard-working Mark Borowiecki, one of the Senators' top defence prospects). He's not as big and as mean as Boro, but he's got a grit thing. He's not afraid to play. At the world juniors, they put him on the ice in overtime and in the last minute (of regulation), he was out there. And he liked that. He liked that challenge."

Said Claesson: "I learned a lot in that tournament ... It was amazing (to be a part of it). I'll take that from Calgary to Binghamton and see how it goes."

The world juniors also offered a chance for Claesson to play on an NHL-sized rink in Calgary. He thrived on it to the point that he can't wait to do it more often.

"It's more fun here and it's more intense and that's the way he wants to play," said Zibanejad, Claesson's good friend and road roommate for the last two seasons with Djurgarden. "I think he's wanted this for a long time ... to play over here and maybe reach the NHL. He has a good first pass and he is strong. Give him a little time and I think he's going to be really good."

Ask Claesson about his feelings about reaching the NHL someday and he quickly says it is something he "very much" wants to do.

"That's my goal," he said. "It's going to take some time and some years, but it's worth it ... I know I have to get quicker feet. It's faster guys here in North America, so I have to be better at that and push myself all the time."

Having Zibanejad around should also help ease the transition for Claesson.

"We'll take it step by step and not try to put everything out there at the same time," said Zibanejad, the Senators' top pick (sixth overall) in the 2011 draft. "You go through a process. If he has questions about stuff or if I see he's wondering about stuff, I'll help him as much as I can. The more stuff he learns, the more stuff I learn. It's all good."

Count on Claesson, an easygoing sort with a ready smile, to enjoy the journey for however long it lasts.

"He's a really good guy and he jokes a lot," said Zibanejad. "But he knows when to be serious and when to joke around. He's a good guy and I think he can bring a lot to the team."

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