Axel Holmstrom (Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
The Swedish center has been excellent at the world juniors, carrying over the magic he brought to last spring's world under-18s. And of course it was the Red Wings that took a chance on him in the seventh round.
With a seesaw game on the line against Russia, Axel Holmstrom was there for his country. The Swedish pivot potted the game-winner for the Tre Kronor, a team using balance to get the job done in pool play at the world juniors so far.
With 12 points in 27 games back home with Skelleftea, Holmstrom is one of the top-scoring teenagers in the Swedish League - so of course the Detroit Red Wings got him in the seventh round this past summer, right?
Holmstrom first came to prominence at the world under-18s, where he was part of a devastating line alongside eventual Toronto Maple Leafs first-rounder William Nylander and soon-to-be Philadelphia Flyers fifth-rounder Oskar Lindblom. Yet Holmstrom was still on the board when Detroit tabbed him 196th overall. Perhaps it was because his skating was not the swiftest at the time, but he certainly had no problem keeping up with Nylander and Lindblom on that winning goal against Russia, as the trio has been reunited for the world juniors.
“He sees the ice very well," Nylander said. "He's a good center and we have good chemistry on our line. We have the same line now as we did then so we've brought the chemistry to Toronto and hopefully we keep playing well.”
While Sweden doesn't have a dominating player this year, the team is solid all-around. Nylander and Lindblom both have four points through three games while Holmstrom has three himself, while also playing a crucial role on the penalty kill and winning more than 66 percent of his faceoffs. After an apparent Russian goal was disallowed (officials couldn't determine that the puck had crossed the line) in the third period, Sweden seized on their opponent's emotional deflation and Holmstrom tallied minutes later and loves how his line works together.
“William is a good player," he said. "He's always open and Oskar does a great job as well. We are good puckhandlers, we create space for each other, we make passes to each other and we move well in the offensive zone. Everybody is taking their piece of the cake.”
Of course players develop at different rates, but it's already looking like the Red Wings have a steal in their latest seventh-rounder, just as Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist and Jonathan Ericsson were plucked much later than they should have been in retrospect. Holmstrom had a very nervous draft day, since his best friend and roommate Sebastian Aho (who is also on this world junior squad) was up for selection, too. Aho, a smaller defenseman with lots of offensive pop, did not hear his name called, despite attending the NHL draft combine.
"We both had a good chance to be drafted," Holmstrom said. "Sebastian – a lot of people say he's too small to play in the NHL but I think he's so clever that he can handle it. I hope he goes this summer, he works really hard. I was happy, but I was suffering with Sebastian, too. So I didn't celebrate too hard.”
But Holmstrom did get to come over for Detroit's rookie camp and with the legacy the Red Wings have, he obviously could not have been happier.
“The Red Wings are pretty much the most Swedish team and the most popular NHL team in Sweden," he said. "It's a big honor, of course.”
Maybe he can even put in a good word for his buddy Aho as his young career progresses. Not that Detroit needs any help finding gems from Sweden.