Dallas Stars 2004 second round draft pick Nicklas Grossman started the season as a healthy scratch on occasion, and he was shelved for 10 games after separating his shoulder November 18 against the San Antonio Rampage. But since returning to the line-up, he has become one of the Iowa Stars most dependable defensemen. With the departure of Matt Greene to Edmonton, Iowa needed someone to step up as a dependable defensive defenseman to pair with veteran Dan Jancevski to shut down the opposing team’s top line. The 20-year-old Swede has taken on the task and may be the first of Dallas’ blue line prospects playing with the I-Stars to play in the NHL.
The big 6’4, 200-pound Swede has mostly been known as a steady defensive defenseman with good mobility who’s willing to play a physical game. It wasn’t until after he was drafted by the Stars that he started to show offense at the Swedish junior level, when he scored three goals and added six assists in 12 games for Sodertalje’s J20 team. However, Grossman’s 2004-05 season was more notable for the 31 games he played for Sodertalje in the Swedish Elite League (Elitserien) and for the six games he played with Team Sweden at the 2005 World Junior Championships. It was at those levels that Grossman proved he had viable pro future.
Coming off that experience, Grossman has been making the adjustment to North American pro hockey in the American League. Although his modest one assist in 23 games would not indicate it, he is starting to become more comfortable offensively in the AHL, headmanning the puck out of the zone with confidence and joining the play deep.
Hockey’s Future recently caught up with Grossman to discuss his transition to North American hockey in 2005-06 and his past in Sweden. He’s working hard to help Iowa now, but he has his sights set on Dallas. If Grossman has his way, he’ll become Dallas’ answer to Mattias Norstrom.
HF: You started the season with some scratches and a shoulder injury and now you’re playing on the first pairing. What contributed to this steep increase in ice time?
NG: Hard work from the beginning, to start with. It took a while for me to get used to the kind of hockey here, because coming from Sweden it’s a different kind of hockey there. I tried to adjust as fast as possible and tried to get into it, and then I got my shoulder injury. I got away from the game for three weeks and practiced well and when I came back it felt much better. I just try to work hard and work hard for the team.
HF: Did the shoulder injury give you a chance to watch the game, take it in and learn?
NG: Yeah, it was a good learning period. Me and Francis Wathier, another shoulder injury guy, who had to have surgery, we’d set up a computer every game and watch everything that happened, like turnovers, shots on net, and stuff like that. We picked up a lot of stuff along the way and tried to use it when I came back.
HF: It seemed like you were playing pretty well before the shoulder injury, how frustrating was it to have your development interrupted?
NG: You never like to be injured, but, like I said, it was both bad and good. It’s not fun to be away from the games and away from the team and stuff like that, but at the same time I got a good three weeks to practice well and try and get even stronger and better and try and try to pick up little things that I need to work on. So, it’s both bad and good, but I think it came out pretty good in the end.
HF: What are some of the adjustments you’ve had to make to your game coming from Sweden to the American League?
NG: It’s a lot smaller rinks, smaller ice surface. You have to be a little better on the skates, starts and stops, and now the new rules, you can’t hook and hold anymore. So, you have to adjust your game even more, like moving feet and having good body position so you don’t hook and hold, get a penalty. So, that’s probably the biggest difference, because of the changing of the rules.
HF: How would you say the AHL compares to the Elitserien?
NG: I think it compares pretty good. I think it’s two good leagues. You’ve got real good, skilled players in both leagues. The hockey here is a little faster up and down, up and down the ice. People crash the net a little more. Back home in Sweden they have a little more patience in the play and take it a little more easy, because it’s a big ice surface and you can slow it down a little bit more. It’s pretty similar.
HF: Up until last season with the J20 team you hadn’t put up a lot of points, and then last season in your 12 games you put up a lot of points. What contributed to that increase in point production at the Swedish junior level?
NG: My game has always been pretty solid defense, try and help out my teammates, stuff like that. I always try to get better on the offense, but it has to come with time. For every year, for three or four years, I’m always getting on a new team. So, it took a while to adjust to the team and try and get the defense going good and then I have to work my way from there and get into offense even more.
HF: It seems like you’ve become more involved in the offense in the American League, is that just you becoming more comfortable with the league?
NG: Like I said, I still work it from the defense and try to work my way up. That’s the way you’ve got to do it, is start from behind and work your way up. I feel a little more comfortable playing with my defense partner a lot, you can rely on him even more in the games and then you can join the rush even more. So, the more comfortable you get, the more you can go up on offense and try to score.
HF: You played in the World Junior Championships last year, what was it like to play for Team Sweden?
NG: I think it was a great experience. It’s always great to help out your national country, your own country. What a great honor to put on the jersey and a great experience to come here and play in the USA, in North Dakota. Just a lot of positive things. We didn’t make it to the semi-finals for the team, but still we got better than last year, and that was one of the goals we had. I just take it like a good experience and try to bring a lot of positive to my future and my development.
HF: Going back to 2004, what were your emotions when you learned you’d been drafted by Dallas?
NG: It was amazing when I heard it. It all went so fast, with my agent and stuff. It all happened in one and a half years, everything with the national team, World Juniors, the draft, everything, then I signed with Dallas. Still, it’s a great experience, and I just have to keep up the good work and keep on working, because the goal is even farther to try and pick up my game even more and develop every day.
HF: What do you feel are the strong points of your game?
NG: Like I said earlier, it’s my defense. I try to work hard on it every day, get strong on defense, my penalty kill. I would say that that’s my big assets in the game. I try to play a pretty physical game, because I’m pretty big. Then when I feel comfortable with that, I’ll try to create some offense to.
HF: Even though the defense comes first, is offense what you’re hoping to round out to make it in Dallas?
NG: Yeah, exactly. They got a new guy there too (Janne Niinimaa), they have a pretty solid defense. They have really good skill guys, they’ve got a pretty good team overall. You’ve got to work pretty hard to get a spot with that team. Right now this is my team, this is where I’m going to be this year, so I’ve got to work hard for this team and try to contribute as much as I can and everything that comes from that is just a big bonus.
HF: You skated in training camp this year, what were some of the lessons you learned from training camp?
NG: I learned a lot. Small things. You skate out there against (Mike) Modano, Bill Guerin and the guys, it was amazing. You just try to pick up things every day, as much as possible. Every day was like being back in school again. You try to learn stuff every day and it was a great experience. It’s a good way to get into season I think, because we don’t have that back in Sweden. So, I think it’s a great way to get into season.
HF: What was your favorite team growing up and who were some of your favorite players?
NG: When I was younger I always liked the Pittsburgh Penguins, I don’t know way. I always liked guys like Chris Pronger and Scott Stevens, the way they played, pretty physical.
HF: Are those the kind of guys you pattern your game after?
NG: Yeah, guys like Scott Stevens and Norstrom are the guys I can look up to and try to make my game after them, because they have a pretty similar game. So, I try to look at them and learn as much as possible.
HF: What are your goals for the rest of the season?
NG: Try and reach the playoffs with this team, of course, and win the goal there. It’s a big step there, but we’re working on it every day. It’s a big goal for the team, and we’re going to do everything to reach it.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.