When you speak with Magnus Hellberg, it almost feels like you are talking to a younger Pekka Rinne. They both wear a bright smile, speak better English than one would think and are as laid back as any goaltenders you will find in the hockey world.
“That seems to be the rule, not the exception from the [European] goalies,” says Predators goaltenders coach Mitch Korn.
This week’s Development Camp is the first on-ice interaction Korn has had with Hellberg, Nashville’s second-round selection in the 2011 NHL Draft. Korn was not present at last year’s camp, and Hellberg spent all of last season with Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League.
Immediately upon being drafted, Hellberg’s size helped trigger the comparisons to fellow towering netminders Rinne and Anders Lindback. Korn’s first impression of the 6-foot-5 Hellberg is that he compares more favorably to the recently-traded Anders Lindback.
“He doesn’t play as athletically as Pekka. He doesn’t skate as much around the net as Pekka. He doesn’t handle the puck like Pekka. He’s more like Anders and he’s coming from almost the same breeding as Anders,” Korn said of Hellberg.
No matter the case, the experience of having both Rinne currently, Lindback recently in the system can help both Hellberg and Korn in the development of the Predators’ first draft pick last summer.
Said Korn, “It’s good for me and it’s good for him being willing to buy in because he knows the guys before him have come from similar backgrounds and have had success.”
As Korn referenced, Hellberg comes from a similar background to Lindback. They didn’t play on the same SEL teams (Hellberg with Frolunda; Lindback with Brynas), but they did have a preexisting friendship prior to last year’s draft.
Like Lindback did two years ago, Hellberg has decided to turn pro. As backup for Frolunda last season, Hellberg posted a 2.60 goals-against average in 17 games. On June 18, Hellberg signed an entry-level contract with the Predators. It’s a decision that was initially tough for him, but one he is happy with.
“I wanted to [go] where I could develop my game the most. It was a tough situation in Frolunda last year with Fredrik Andersson taking the first spot. He had a deal from Carolina now and didn’t know if he would take it or not,” said Hellberg. “If I [were] to stay in Frolunda, I wanted to be the No. 1 goalie. Once I knew what [Andersson] would do, it was an easy decision.”
Andersson stayed, resulting in Hellberg signing to play in North America for next season and beyond.
“The sooner the better,” Hellberg said. “Now I can focus to all the stuff moving here; it’s a big step. It’s nice to prepare to be here and watch some extra video of how the North American style is. It’s good to have decided on it.
“I want to take the No. 1 spot and help whatever team I play on win games. If I end up in Milwaukee it’s going to be really fun since a lot of guys here (at development camp) are playing there. You have to start somewhere.”
Even though Hellberg may have the highest ceiling among the Predators’ goaltending prospects, that doesn’t mean he will start the year in the NHL as the backup to Rinne. His likely starting point is either in AHL Milwaukee or ECHL Cincinnati.
“I often say that you don’t walk in to the first day of physics class, [where] they drop a 500-page textbook on your desk, and say ‘final exam on Friday.’ Basically it’s the same thing in goal,” said Korn. “It’s a 500-page textbook to play goal and you’re not going to get through it all on day one or week one – it’s a process.
“I don’t even want to think about the NHL. I want to think about him becoming a better goalie.”
Hellberg said the No. 1 thing he is worried about heading into the 2012-13 season is simply playing games. Korn agreed that seeing as much ice time as possible was the best thing for the 21-year-old backstop.
“Players need to play. You can drill and skill develop until you are blue in the face, but the bottom line is it has to translate, and the only time it translates is your games,” said Korn. “If you look at what occurred last season where he may not have played as much as we would have liked, we’ll have more control over how much he plays and how he develops being here. You could argue that, that could get him to the NHL quicker.”
But the experienced goaltending coach reiterated that it’s a process for all young netminders.
“They are ready when they are ready, and our job is to help him get ready, to prepare, to adjust. Let’s take one step at a time,” said Korn.
“I want to get to chapter two of that physics book that I was talking about. We don’t need to get to the glossary at the end so fast.”