Magnus Hellberg’s game has grown by leaps and bounds since he was taken in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Nashville Predators. Hellberg considered not even going to the draft in Minnesota in 2011 because he wasn’t sure if he was going to be drafted or not.
Of course, he ended up being the first goaltender taken in that draft, and his journey toward the NHL began. Hellberg spent the 2011-12 season playing in Sweden before coming to North America last season to play in Milwaukee. He went from being the backup to Jeremy Smith in Milwaukee to becoming the starter and playing really well with a 2.14 GAA and a .924 save percentage.
What makes Hellberg’s successful season in 2012-13 particularly impressive is the fact that it was his first full season in North America. It’s often said that European forwards have to go through a period of transition when they first start playing on North American ice because it’s a smaller playing surface than they are used to playing on over in Europe. The same adjustment has to be made with goaltenders.
It’s a different type of game for goaltenders in North America when compared to Europe. The angles that they have to take, and that the other players trying to score on them have to take, are completely different. There’s also a lot more traffic in front of the net in leagues like the American Hockey League because of the different style of play. Hellberg had to go through an adjustment period at first.
“In the beginning, it was tough. It was really tough,” Hellberg said. “There was a lot of stick-handling and rebound control, different angles, so it took some more time than I thought it would be, but once I got into it it felt really good and my confidence grew throughout the year. I’m starting out this season that’s coming with good a good confidence for sure so it’s going to be fun.”
One of the biggest assets to Hellberg’s development has been the guidance he’s received from Predators’ goaltending coach Mitch Korn, who is widely regarded as one of the best goaltending coaches in the business.
“He’s been in the game for so long, and he’s seen all the development going on the last year. I try to listen to him as much as I can and do the stuff he tells me, and Ben VanderKlok, the goalie coach in Milwaukee, is great too so I try to talk to them a lot and we try to make myself better. It’s been going good lately,” Hellberg said.
Just two years after being drafted, Hellberg is in a position to make a serious run at the Nashville roster this season. Nashville’s backup goaltending situation hasn’t been fully solved yet. The Predators signed Carter Hutton in free agency this summer, and it’s looking like he will battle it out with Hellberg to see who will be the backup to Pekka Rinne in the upcoming season.
In a perfect world, the Predators would probably like to give Hellberg at least one more season in Milwaukee to continue to develop his game. It’s the same sort of patient route they took with Rinne, and that seemed to work out pretty well. However, the Predators don’t have a veteran backup goaltender they can rely on like they did when Rinne was a young player making his way up through the system.
Hellberg has rapidly developed into a solid goaltender, and he’s rapidly adjusted to the style of play in North America. It’s possible that maybe the patient route isn’t the way to go with him. After all, he’s adjusted quickly to everything that’s been thrown his way so far. Who’s to say he couldn’t do the same thing at the NHL level?