Wennberg: "excited and ready" for the opportunity that lies ahead
Alexander Wennberg’s hockey career has been on a sky-high trajectory since being drafted by the Blue Jackets a year ago, and he’s ready to take it even higher with his signature now on an entry-level contract.
The 19-year-old center, who will turn 20 later this year, earned his stripes with a solid season for Djurgarden in Allsvenskan (Sweden’s second professional division) in 2012-13, months before he was selected No. 14 overall by the Blue Jackets. This past season, he moved up to play for Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League, recording 16 goals in 50 games and was named a finalist for the SHL's rookie of the year award.
He was also the first draft selection for the new Columbus management team of John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen, who happen to be quite optimistic about what lies ahead for the young man. As for Wennberg, he couldn’t be more excited to put pen to paper and officially begin his journey to the NHL – a path that he will determine based on his readiness to play at the highest level.
“It’s a great feeling right now. I’m really excited about signing the contract and being part of the Blue Jackets organization,” Wennberg told BlueJackets.com. “This has been a great year for me. I was able to play in the higher level over in Sweden, which was a good experience for me and I learned a lot from that. It was a good call for me to play against better players, and it was always part of my plan with Columbus and how they wanted me to play and everything.
“Like I said, it’s been a great year personally and I’m looking forward to coming over there; I have a great relationship with the GM and we’ve talked a lot about (the future).”
Not only was it an important season for Wennberg on the ice, he put in additional work off the ice to add bulk to his tall, lanky frame. The added weight helped him to be more prepared for the rigors of the top division, he said, and not be physically overmatched by bigger, stronger and more experienced players in the SHL.
As Wennberg himself said: it’s easy to feel comfortable from a physical standpoint when competing in the World Junior tournament against players your own age or younger, but making the jump to first division is a different ballgame.
At the time he was drafted, Wennberg was listed at 6-foot-2 and somewhere in the neighborhood of 185 lbs. In the 11 months since, he’s boosted that to 198 lbs. while maintaining the agility and speed that are so crucial to his game.
“World Juniors is a big tournament and a great experience for any young player, but still, you’re playing against juniors,” Wennberg said. “I think the best experience for me was to play against establish players and professionals in Sweden. It helped me focus, work hard on my game and really focus on my skills.
“The point of moving up to the next levels is to get ready for the NHL, and it was really helpful to play against those players (in the SHL) and see if you’re physical enough and ready to play in the NHL.”
This is only the beginning, Wennberg acknowledged, but he said he couldn’t help but be energized by the Blue Jackets and their playoff run this past season. He kept tabs on the Blue Jackets all season long, watching their games online whenever he had a chance (the six-hour time difference can be a hindrance) and following them all the way to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He even traveled to Columbus during the playoffs and was able to tag along with the team for a few days, catching Game 2 in Pittsburgh and the home games at Nationwide Arena – which only motivated him further to put the work in this summer and be ready for Blue Jackets training camp in September.
“My goal is to come over and take a jersey in the NHL. I’m going to do whatever I can to make that possible,” Wennberg said. “It’s a hard-working, exciting team and it was a really good team this year…but I think it’s only going to get better.
“The playoffs were amazing to see. The crowd, the atmosphere in the city and meeting all the players to see how everything works…to be over there for a week and be around Columbus, you can see that the people there have a really big interest in hockey. The team’s only going to get better and better every year and that makes it fun to be around, being part of a team with a bright future.”
WENNBERG PHOTO GALLERY
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