Fredrik Claesson is getting a head start on the next chapter of his hockey life.
The Swedish defence prospect inked a three-year entry-level contract with the Ottawa Senators today, with the intent of launching his North American professional career next fall with the American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators.
For the 19-year-old blueliner, it's a big step after a season spent with Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League. The storied club stunned puck followers there with a poor season that led to its eventual relegation to Hockey Allsvenskan — the second division of Swedish hockey — for 2012-13.
Despite the trying circumstances, Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray said Claesson had "good development" in his second season with Djurgarden, during which he produced SEL career highs in assists (six), points (seven) and games played (47).
"He wasn’t on a very good team in Djurgarden ... but I think it helped his game," Murray said of Claesson, the Senators' fifth-round pick (126th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. "It allowed him to play a lot of minutes in a lot of different situations. He played regular against the men and that’s a pretty good league.
"By him being on that team and not getting buried, it probably sped up his development and gave him the confidence to make this big move, come over here and start (next) year in Binghamton and get on with his pro life."
Claesson also performed admirably at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Alberta, when Sweden ended a 31-year gold-medal drought by blanking Russia 1-0 in overtime on the strength of a goal by Senators prospect Mika Zibanejad, who also toiled alongside Claesson with Djurgarden.
"He played a defensive role (at the world juniors)," said Murray. "He moves the puck smartly. He has to work on his skating, quickness and mobility a bit, but he’s really taken great strides for us. He made the decision that he wanted to come over here and start his pro career, so we’re very happy about that."
The 6-0, 198-pound blueliner will attend his second Senators development camp at the end of June, then began preparations for his AHL debut with the B-Sens.
"Hopefully, he gets over here early sometime in August with the rest of our pros that are skating (before training camp) and gives himself a head start," said Murray. "He'll get to play in the rookie tournament and that’s where he’ll get comfortable with his teammates and with the organization. Then once he gets to Binghamton at the start of the year, it won’t be all new to him.
"There will be a certain comfort level … he won’t have to worry about what’s going on off the ice. He can just worry about hockey and improve and get better."
World hockey championship update
In Stockholm today, Milan Michalek's second-period goal helped rally the Czech Republic past Latvia 3-1 in a key preliminary round match at the 2012 IIHF World Hockey Championship. The Czechs trailed the upstart Latvians 1-0 until Michalek, the Senators' leading goal scorer in 2011-12, evened matters at the 8:58 mark of the middle frame.
Former NHLer Petr Nedved and Tomas Plekanec of the Montreal Canadiens found the back of the net in the third period to salt away the win for the Czechs, who maintained their grip on third place in Group S (Stockholm) behind unbeaten Sweden and Russia.
Also today, Finland stayed unbeaten and on top of Group H (Helsinki) by rolling past France 7-1 at Hartwall Arena in the Finnish capital. Senators prospect Stephane Da Costa assisted on the lone goal for the French.
The big game Friday pits the Swedes against the Russians for control of top spot in Group S (2:15 p.m. ET). The Swedish roster includes captain Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson and Jakob Silfverberg of the Senators.
Fans can catch a live stream of the game on the IIHF's YouTube channel (www.YouTube.com/icehockey).