YOUNG AIK-DEFENDERS SHOWING PROMISE
AIK has been a pleasant surprise after having played the first half of the Elitserien. They’re currently 6th in a 12-team league, and they’re sporting a 12-12-3 record after 27 games. Most experts thought they would struggle for points, so having a .500-record more than halfway into the season should be thought of as a successful first half of the campaign.
The team as a whole is not the only ones showing promise though. Two NHL-drafted defensemen have also established themsleves in the league. One of them as a star, and the other one is quickly making a name for himself.
The two players I’m thinking of is Dick Tärnström, drafted 272nd overall in 1994 by the New York Islanders and Henrik Tallinder, drafted 48th overall on 1997 by the Buffalo Sabres.
Tärnström, now 23, has really stepped up this season and has already surpassed his goal and points totals from last year when he scored 2 goals and 12 assists in 45 games. After 28 games, he has already scored 8 goals, and added 9 assists and he is sporting a +10 plus/minus-rating. Those who have waited for him to fulfill his potential don’t have to wait any longer. Tärnström is now more of a leader on AIK’s defense, and he is taking charge more often and he’s willing to join in the offensive rush too. He has always had the tools to do this – powerful skater, good enough passer, good hockey-sense – but he has perhaps lacked in confidence and instead of doing it himself, he has waited for AIK’s perennial leader on the D, veteran Rickard Franzén, to take charge and do what Dick has always been able to do. This year, Tärnström is first among AIK-defensemen in scoring, 2 points ahead of Franzén.
Tärnström improved play this season has been rewarded with him being named to the national team, and it’s not at all a long shot that the Islanders will take a close look at him and possibly bring him over next season. Tärnström has also bulked up from the 6’0, 180 he was listed at when drafted to 6’1, 200.
The other defenseman, Henrik Tallinder, is by no means a star. He isn’t even always in the line-up for AIK, but nevertheless, he is showing promise. Tallinder is a 6’4, 200 pound physical, tough, stay-at-home defenseman who can skate. There’s not much not to like about him when you put him in the cathegory of 19-year old stay-at-home defensemen. Not creative by any means, but he will be solid once he learns to pick his spots better. He is sometimes overly aggressive on the puckholder right now, which can cause him to get caught out of position sometimes. He also seems to be able to take physical play very well. I saw him get hit awfully hard by Maple Leafs late-round 1997 pick Jonathan Hedström in a division 1 game last season, and he just brushed that off and continued playing like nothing had happened. Tallinder is almost a sure thing to play in the NHL. He will never be a star in the NHL either, but he will be a player. He can clear the crease of the puck and player, and he seems to have the desire necessary to. He is the favourite to be named captain for Team Sweden at the JWC’s in Winnipeg. Tallinder has not recorded any points in 24 games played so far, and he is a -4 with 22 PIM.
Waiting in the wings to make an impact on AIK’s blueline is 18-year old Peter Messa who is eligible for the 1999 draft. He has made the senior-squad this season, but has only dressed for 1 game so far. He is mainly practicing with the senior-squad and he plays games for AIK’s junior team. He is said to be dominating there with his offensive game. He is also a favourite to replace the injured Jonas Elofsson at the JWC’s. Somewhat on the small-side for an NHL-defenseman though at 5’11, 180.