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Rundblad's NHL dream coming into clearer focus

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators prospect David Rundblad is a month away from his first National Hockey League training camp and a chance to start living the puck dream he first had while growing up in Sweden (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).

For as long as he can remember, David Rundblad has imagined this particular day.

In less than a month's time, he'll be so close he can taste it.

The Ottawa Senators, too, can't wait to see what will transpire when their latest prized Swedish defence prospect takes the ice for his first National Hockey League training camp. The 20-year-old Rundblad got an introduction to the puck game in North America during the club's annual development camp at the beginning of July. But he knows that's hardly the real deal.

"It's a big difference between (the prospect camp) and the NHL," said the native of Lycksele, Sweden. "I have to get used to the smaller rink and more intensity in games. I have to be stronger and all that ... it's going to take a while to really get used to it."

While the Senators believe Rundblad will find a place on their blue line to start the 2011-12 campaign, they're not expecting huge things right away. Even if he's coming off a 50-point season with Skelleftea AIK of the Swedish Elite League and was named the winner of the Borje Salming Trophy as the loop's top blueliner — the youngest to earn that distinction in more than four decades.

"It's not like you're bringing in an 18-year-old and asking him to step into the NHL," Pierre Dorion, the Senators' director of player personnel, said when asked about expectations for Rundblad in the season to come. "There's going to be ups and downs, like we had with Erik (Karlsson) in his rookie season as far as adjustments. But you're looking as the end product ... someone who can contribute to your team and helps us offensively to score goals.

"That's part of what we lacked last year, generating offence (the Senators ranked 29th among NHL teams in goal scoring in 2010-11), and with his passing ability and hockey sense, he's someone you're looking at who will move the puck to our forwards very well and give us a chance to generate offence."

Rundblad has surely had plenty of time to ponder this moment. Ask him when the NHL became a goal and he'll suggest it's been a thought in his head since he first took up the game back home.

"When I started to play, I thought the NHL was a dream," said Rundblad, who was aquired from the St. Louis Blues for the Senators' top pick (16th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. "(Former Colorado Avalanche star) Peter Forsberg was playing here and, of course, it was every kid's dream to play here."

He also played close attention to the exploits of a certain Detroit Red Wings superstar who's a seven-time winner of the James Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenceman.

"(Nick) Lidstrom and Forsberg were both playing here," said Rundblad. "Lidstrom was so good."

Time will tell if he ever reaches such heights himself. But the Senators — who considered drafting Rundblad themselves in 2009 before using their top pick on Jared Cowen, eight spots before the Blues chose Rundblad — clearly see him developing into an impact player.

"David is very good offensively, but he's responsible defensively," said Dorion. "He played in every situation in the Swedish Elite League. It's not the NHL, but he played every situation. With his offensive abilities and puck-moving dimension and transition game, it's going to allow our forwards to get the puck more often in offensive situations. So I think David will bring that element to our game."

After three seasons with Skelleftea, Rundblad believes the time is right to take the next step. If all goes as planned, he'll celebrate his 21st birthday on Oct. 8 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, getting his first taste of the Senators' provincial rivalry with the Maple Leafs. The night before, Ottawa opens it's 2011-12 schedule in Detroit against Lidstrom and the Red Wings, and what an occasion that could turn out to be.

"I played one extra year in Sweden to really be ready and feel ready," said the 6-2, 189-pound Rundblad. "I'm going to give (the NHL) a try and do my best."

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