Spitfires’ Soberg building momentum in bid to earn NHL contract

By Jason Menard
Markus Soberg - Windsor Spitfires

Photo: Windsor Spitfires forward and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Markus Soberg has played in 40 games for the Spitfires this season, posting nine goals and 22 points in his first OHL season (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

 

Though a three-year sojourn in Sweden saw Norwegian-born Markus Soberg get drafted, the 19-year-old Oslo native is hoping that the path to the NHL is more direct through the Ontario Hockey League.

After three years playing for Frolunda of the Swedish J20 SuperElit league, Soberg felt it was time to move on. And the fact that the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team that drafted him in the sixth round of the 2013 NHL Draft, shared that sentiment helped.

“Columbus wanted me to come over and I wanted to come over myself,” he said. “I could have stayed in Frolunda for one more year, but I felt that coming over here was a good path for me. Hopefully I can get signed after this season and we’ll see what happens then.”

Soberg’s been through two development camps with the Blue Jackets. This year, he also saw some time at the main camp. And he’s well aware of what his goals are this year.

“Just keep gaining weight, getting stronger, and keep playing faster,” he said. “The first three months coming over here were difficult, but since late November, I’ve been playing really well, so hopefully I can keep that going.”

Last season, he played 36 games with Frolunda’s J20 SuperElit squad, scoring 10 goals and adding 16 assists. He performed well in the playoffs, scoring five goals in six games. This season, he got off to a self-professed slow start but has performed well as of late. He’s accounted for nine goals and 12 assists in 39 games with the Windsor Spitfires. Soberg explained it was just part of the adjustment period to the North American game.

“Just the smaller rinks and the way we play. Over in Sweden, it’s more that you protect the puck and you make plays with them. It’s more tape-to-tape. Here, it’s more dump-and-chase and get it over the red line and just work it from there,” he explained. “Since late November, I’ve been pretty happy with the way I’ve developed. I’m getting stronger, too. Now I feel I’ve mastered the game over here — the way we chip in, chip out, keep the puck, and I’m really happy with the last month.”

The Canadian Hockey League only recently appeared on Soberg’s radar. And though he had other suitors, the Ontario Hockey League was his clear favorite.

“Growing up, I always wanted to play in Sweden — OHL really wasn’t a dream. But after a couple of years I found that maybe I should give it a try,” he said. “After my first year in Sweden, I already turned down coming to the Quebec [Major Junior Hockey] League and the Dub [WHL]. When Windsor came and called, it was a pretty easy decision to come.

“The OHL seems like the league that gets players most prepared for the AHL or the NHL. Maybe statistically, if I played in the “Q”, I’d have more stats. But I feel playing here has been great and I’ve enjoyed Windsor and the Ontario Hockey League.”

The difference coming to North America was far greater than the difference between Norway and Sweden, though Soberg argues that the Swedish league may have some advantages.

“Norway and Sweden you can kind of compare, but then again there’s a huge difference. They play the same way, but they’re way more skilled and tougher in Sweden,” he said. “Between Sweden and North America, maybe it’s a little more over the last couple of years and of course there are skilled players here, but the game in Sweden is more skilled overall.

“I think it’s difficult for players to come from Sweden to North America, but I think North Americans would have an even tougher time going over to Sweden.”

It wasn’t until recently that Soberg felt that his career could take him to North America, and that included knowing what type of player he needs to be.

“Maybe after my first year in Sweden I started to feel that I had a chance. And I played great for three years in Sweden, I had a great experience in Frolunda and Sweden — I miss it very much,” he said. “But when I came over here, I realized what kind of player I have to be over here. I can be a solid third-liner who chips pucks in and out, I can score, and I have good passes, so hopefully Columbus will see that.”

He remains in touch with Columbus and is doing all that he can to follow their recommendations. “I talk to them about how I should eat, how I should work out, what they think of my game, sometimes,” he added.

Soberg has an older brother who has been through this experience. Steffen Soberg, a 21-year-old netminder, was drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Draft by the Washington Capitals. He has the honur of being the first Norwegian netminder drafted by an NHL club.

“Me and my brother don’t talk as much because of the time difference,” he said, adding that his brother is now back in Norway. “Whenever I’m back home we’re good friends. We don’t talk a lot of hockey; it’s more you just talk life. We have fun together and we may talk hockey sometimes, but not a lot.”

He’s also had the opportunity to play both with and against his brother — with Steffen holding some important bragging rights.

“I played with him when we went up from Division B to A at the Under-20’s, I think that’s two years ago now,” the younger Soberg said. “And I played against him once when I was 14.

“He saved a couple of my shots then and he still lives off that.”

Soberg was part of the Norwegian squad that lost in the Division I Group A finals of the 2015 World Junior Championship — his fourth time at that tournament.

“It was my fourth time, so obviously I was supposed to be a leader. It was great, but we lost in the final,” he said. “It was fun to play with my old friends again and just have fun over there in Italy. It was a great time.”

Coming back to the OHL, he wants to continue the positive momentum he’s enjoyed over the past couple of months.

“I want to keep on doing what I’ve done since I came back [from the World Juniors],” Soberg explained. “I’m not sure I need to score a lot of goals, but focus on playing solid defensively and that’s what I’ve been doing.

“Of course I want to score goals and get assists, but I want to keep playing good defensively and whatever happens in the offensive zone is just going to happen.”

And the ultimate goal is to pull on that Blue Jackets jersey.

“I want to get signed by Columbus,” he said. “If they sign me, I don’t know if I’d play here another year, or the A, or if they’d loan me to Sweden.

“Hopefully I get signed — that’s the goal.”

Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard