Just six games into the 2011-12 regular season, Predators defense prospect Mattias Ekholm was returned to Sweden. Ekholm, 21 at the time, had a difficult time adapting to the North American game; his two games with the Predators last year were his first on this continent.
Ekholm went back to the Swedish Elite League where he was the Rookie of the Year in 2010-11. Last season, Ekholm recorded 17 points in 41 games and helped Brynas win the SEL championship.
The 6’4” defenseman drew rave reviews during last fall’s training camp, but saw limited time in two regular season games. Instead of going down to the AHL, Ekholm opted to return to Sweden to refine his game.
“It was a little strange last year,” Ekholm said following the first day of the Predators’ Development Camp. “I wanted to stay in Sweden, they wanted me to come over. We came together and agreed that I come over and if I don’t think it’s [working] in the NHL, I’m free to go home. That’s what happened.
“The team (Nashville) wasn’t playing really good at the beginning of the year; that makes it harder for me to kind of stand out and show what I got. I got on a bad path when the team wasn’t playing good.
“It took a week or two to get back in the game in Sweden … The season went well and I’ll be happy to be back here in September.”
Ekholm repeatedly stated that he plans on playing in North America this upcoming season.
“That’s what they say: the road to Nashville goes through Milwaukee, and I have no problem playing there,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to getting the season started. Hopefully I can get a spot here. If not I’m happy to go to Milwaukee.”
Though Ekholm cracked the roster out of last fall’s training camp, it could be a challenge for him to do so for a second straight year. Youngsters Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis will likely be on the blue line come opening night, plus veteran Hal Gill is reportedly close to re-signing.
Ekholm knows that he would have to win a training camp battle to make the NHL roster, but he will feel more comfortable going into this season after his cup of coffee a year ago.
“For me, it was such a good experience for me coming here. This year I know what everything is like – camp, how it is to make [the team], get to the NHL and play in the NHL. Those are good things to have in my backpack for this year,” he said.
The biggest challenge for Ekholm a year ago was the smaller ice surface compared to Europe. When he was asked about his current comfort level with NHL-sized ice, he said, “Right now it’s not very good,” but, “I think I’ve improved everything since I left here.”
Ekholm continued, “My dream as a kid has always been to play in the NHL. When I played the two games, I know what it’s like and it’s the life I want to have. I want to play in the NHL for sure. Playing in two games means they believed in me at some point.
“I hope a year or two in Milwaukee will be good for me, and hopefully get some NHL games during those years and build on that and get back here.”