OTTAWA - He came to the Senators as an unheralded draft pick from the European circuit, flying under the radar of his own draft class despite his obvious raw talent and natural leadership abilities.
He stayed behind in his home country to hone his craft, eventually rising to dominance in the Swedish Elite League before making the jump to North America as a mature 22-year-old, poised to make an immediate impact on NHL ice.
That may sound familiar to Senators fans who watched beloved captain Daniel Alfredsson’s rise from relative obscurity to near-iconic status in Ottawa, but club brass is hoping the script will be rewritten when current Binghamton Senator Jakob Silfverberg makes his mark on the big club.
“There are a lot of similarities,” Senators director of player development Randy Lee said. “Both very conscientious workers, not overly vocal guys, but lead by example in the way they practise and the way they compete in games. They’re both very mature people. Compared to anybody else we have, (Silfverberg) is the guy that most exemplifies some of the attributes that Alfie possesses.”
High praise from high places, but it’s not exactly new territory for Silfverberg, who is revered in his native Sweden. He earned the Golden Helmet as player of the year in the SEL after finishing second in the season scoring race and leading Brynas to a league championship last season.
His 13 goals in last season’s playoff run, where he took over the team captaincy from former Senator Andreas Dackell, broke the record for playoff goals, set in 2005 by none other than Alfredsson, who spent the last lockout guiding the Frolunda Indians to a championship.
It was a storybook ending for Silfverberg’s career in Sweden, and it almost didn’t happen, as Senators management wanted him to jump-start his North American career a year earlier.
“I didn’t feel like I was mentally or physically ready (last year), so I thought it would be best if I spent one more year at home with my family and be able to develop both as a hockey player and as a person. It’s a big step for me, another country, another language,” said Silfverberg, who picked up right where he left off, scoring his first AHL goal in his first game for Binghamton.
His transition to this side of the pond has been eased somewhat by the Swedish contingent in Bingo, including 19-year-olds Mika Zibanejad and Fredrik Claesson. They join AHL veterans Robin Lehner and Andre Petersson.
“I was very happy I stayed, obviously, and I learned so much from it. Winning (the championship) was the biggest moment for me and it gave me such confidence in my game and made me believe in myself as a hockey player.”
Now Silfverberg is making believers out of fans both in Ottawa and Binghamton, where he occupies the top right wing spot alongside Zibanejad, with former Gatineau Olympiques captain and Ottawa native Jean-Gabriel Pageau taking up first-line centre duties.
“It’s a big difference (between international and North American rinks),” said Silfverberg. “You have to change your whole way of thinking, and every time you get the puck you have a guy on you whereas in Sweden you get more time and space. Here, you need to know what to do with the puck before you get it.
“We have a young team, but we’re very skilled and obviously we have a great goalie (in Lehner). Me and Mika are adjusting to the smaller ice, and the more time we spend on it, the better it gets. But at the same time, we’re having a lot of fun, and that’s the biggest thing.”
Former 67’s star LW Shane Prince, who grew up in upstate New York, has yet to make his Binghamton debut after suffering a leg injury on the opening day of scrimmages... LW Jakub Culek was returned to the Rimouski Oceanic, but has yet to suit up for his old QMJHL club, which now finds itself in a numbers crunch with a full complement of overagers and imports. The 20-year-old Culek would count against both of those roster limits... C Jarrod Maidens is also waiting to hit the OHL ice with the Owen Sound Attack as he continues to suffer from post-concussion syndrome. The hero of the Attack’s 2011 Memorial Cup run missed the final 39 games of last season with a concussion ... G Francois Brassard of the Quebec Remparts was named to Team QMJHL for the Subway Super Series against Team Russia. The Gatineau native likely will be considered for Team Canada’s world junior championship entry, along with Calgary Hitmen goaltender Chris Dreidger.