Blue Jackets top prospect experiences NHL playoff push
Wednesday marked the Blue Jackets’ first home playoff win in franchise history. Among the nearly 19,000 spectators taking in this landmark event, it was particularly special for the Jackets’ 2013 first-round draft pick, Swedish prospect Alexander Wennberg.
"It was awesome," Wennberg said. "To see everything that was happening on the ice and the crowd — it was amazing."
Wennberg accepted an invitation to come to Columbus to learn more about the pace of the NHL game and experience the playoffs. He took in the game including hearing the cannon at Nationwide Arena that fires after every Jackets goal and game win. After the Jackets’ 4-3 comeback win in overtime, during which the team was down 3-0, the cannon fired three additional times.
"I wasn’t really expecting (the cannon) to be that loud," Wennberg said. "But it’s a really fun thing to do for the crowd."
After the game, Wennberg visited a Jackets locker room that was jubilant after the on-ice win. He was excited to meet NHL players he’s only watched on TV.
"There are great guys there," Wennberg said. "They welcome you, I got to shake their hands. At the end you want to be there on that team."
For Wennberg, who was voted the ninth-best NHL prospect by a panel of scouts in The Hockey News’ annual Future Watch issue, the NHL is the ultimate goal. Seeing NHL playoff games gives him a taste of the different caliber of play he could expect to see as part of the Blue Jackets organization. He and his team, Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), were recently eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
"It’s a little different (in the NHL playoffs)," Wennberg said. "There’s more energy, more tackling. You can’t do any one thing wrong."
Compared to the SHL, which Wennberg said is more structured and more defensively minded in postseason play, he sees the NHL game demand much more energy and draw much bigger crowds.
Wennberg is getting used to seeing the impact those bigger crowds can have. In addition to observing last night’s 18,970 fans cheer on the Jackets, he enjoyed competing as part of Team Sweden in the 2014 World Junior Championship (WJC) that was held in his home country.
"(The WJC) was such a great experience — there were a lot of fans and I wasn’t expecting that," Wennberg said. "It was a lot of fun."
Team Sweden made it to the final game, losing to Finland in overtime by a 3-2 score. After the tournament, Wennberg was named as a top player by the tournament directorate, which is a panel of coaches.
"It’s always great to receive an award for your play," Wennberg said. "I took on a big role wearing the A (as assistant captain) and it gave me a great opportunity to work on my leadership skills. It was a great tournament."
Team Sweden was not Wennberg’s only playing experience this year. He played on Frolunda HC for 50 games and went 16-5-21. He also had one goal in the playoffs.
"Between Frolunda and the WJC I was travelling a lot," Wennberg said. "But it was a good season for me, even with the tough playoff year."
Wennberg shifted from playing wing to center as well throughout the season. He admits to wanting to work more on his defensive game but feels that center is his natural position.
"I think it’s a good experience to try them both but (playing at) center is more my type of game," Wennberg said.
Along with working on his play, Wennberg stayed in contact with the Blue Jackets throughout the season as the organization tracked his progress. He has been in touch with Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen and the scouting staff throughout the year.
Wennberg also talks regularly with other Jackets prospects, including fellow Swede Oscar Dansk who currently plays in Erie.
"Oscar and I played in the WJC together, and we all see each other at development camp," Wennberg said. "We try to stay in touch all season."
Wennberg will now travel to watch Game 5 in Pittsburgh before returning home to Sweden where he will work on getting bigger and stronger. But he will continue to keep track of the Jackets postseason progress.
"This is a tough series (against Pittsburgh)," Wennberg said. "I hope for Columbus — I think they are playing good."
The Blue Jackets continue their seven-game series against the Pittsburgh Penguins with Game 5 on Saturday in Pittsburgh. You can watch the pregame show and complete game coverage on Fox Sports Ohio. The pregame show begins at 6:30 p.m. and the puck drops at 7 p.m.