New Jersey Devils prospect Nicklas Bergfors is playing professional hockey in North America sooner than he expected.
The offensively gifted right winger was slated to play for the St. John’s Fog Devils of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, a first-year franchise, this season. Instead, he finds himself suiting up for the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League.
“I went to [Devils] training camp and did my best and this is where they assigned me,” the Sodertalje, Sweden native said of New Jersey’s decision to send him to Albany.
Drafted in the first round (23rd overall) in this past summer’s draft, Bergfors got a chance to showcase his skills in training camp prior to this season. The experience was a mutually beneficial one as it resulted in a chance for the Devils brass to see what their young prospect was capable of, and served as a valuable learning experience for the up and coming forward.
“It was a big experience and really fun,” he said of the chance to participate in camp. “I got an opportunity to play up there with the big guys, and see what you have to learn and what you need to improve on every day until you get up there and get a chance. It was a good experience and I learned a lot.”
Due to his unexpected preseason promotion, Bergfors carries the distinction of being the youngest player in the AHL this season (18 years, 10 months), but that’s no big deal to him.
“It’s nothing special,” he said. “I just try to play like a major league player. This is a good opportunity for me to get to make the NHL faster and learn the game faster.”
Obviously the youngest player on his team, and the lone Swede on the Rats’ roster, Bergfors can be reserved off the ice, but on it, he brings a level of speed and skill that the Devils are looking forward to. He has 12 points in 24 games thus far.
At 5’11, 195 pounds, his shortcomings in size are countered by a strong work ethic, tremendous hockey sense, and plenty of talent. Usually one of the smaller forwards on the ice, Bergfors plays with a sense of fearlessness that does not reflect his stature.
“I was prepared for tough hockey and more intense hockey,” he said regarding his expectations of North America. “So far it’s been good. It hasn’t been that big of a deal.”
His all-around game made him an important contributor last season on his junior team in the SuperElit, Sodertalje’s top junior league. In just 21 games, the youngster put up 34 points on 18 goals and 16 assists.
Those numbers earned him a spot in the Swedish Elite League, somewhat of a rarity for a player his age. He posted just one goal in 25 games, but gained invaluable experience, especially since he was sharing the ice with some National Hockey League veterans who played in Sweden during the lockout.
“It’s hard to compare because last year was a really good season with all the NHL players,” he said of the differences he noticed between European and North American hockey. “I think it’s different for me coming over as a European player, with a smaller rink and it’s more intense hockey, but I think there were more talented players in the Elite League.”
All things considered, Bergfors wants to take this opportunity to succeed in the AHL and run with it.
“Right now, I just want to get a lot of playing time and improve the bad things in my game and try to become a better hockey player,” he said.
Bergfors recently had an opportunity to participate in the World Junior Championships for Sweden in Vancouver over the holidays. He teamed with potential 2006 first round prospect Nicklas Backstrom on Sweden’s top line to give the team a great one-two scoring punch. In six games at the tournament, Bergfors netted three goals and three assists and a +3 rating. In a 1-0 heartbreaking overtime loss to Finland in the playoff round, Bergfors fired 10 shots on goal, only to be turned away each time by Toronto prospect Tuukka Rask. Bergfors’ fantastic play along the boards and work down low in the offensive zone is proof that his AHL seasoning has already made him a stronger player.
Jared Ramsden contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.