OTTAWA – No matter what happens next, Jakob Silfverberg is going to have some kind of story to tell.
The highly touted Swedish prospect jumped from one playoff pressure-cooker to another, getting inserted directly into the Ottawa Senators lineup Monday as they looked to knock the New York Rangers out of the first round. It was a somewhat surprising move given that Silfverberg had only skated once with the team.
But he was anxious for the opportunity.
“It’s the best league in the world,” Silfverberg said Monday morning. “It’s a dream come true to just be here and I’m very excited.”
He was just days removed from bringing the Swedish league championship back to his hometown of Gavle for the first time in 13 years, scoring the winning goal and collecting MVP honours for Brynas.
The champagne had barely dried from the walls in the team’s dressing room before Silfverberg was on his way to North America. He arrived in Ottawa on Sunday.
“It meant a lot,” Silfverberg said of winning the Swedish title last Thursday. “The people in the town during the playoffs were so good. They always came up to us and wishing us good luck and things like that. It meant a lot for the town to bring back the Cup there.
“As I said, it’s been a very emotional trip.”
Accompanied by his own Swedish camera crew, Silfverberg’s appearance at Scotiabank Place for Monday’s morning skate created a buzz.
There are considerable expectations for the 21-year-old, who authored a storybook season. It began in the fall when Senators general manager Bryan Murray pleaded with Silfverberg to spend the year in North America, but he rebuffed the team and returned home instead.
Once there, the winger went on a trophy binge—capturing regular season and playoff MVP honours—all the while wearing No. 100 on his sweater to mark the 100th anniversary of Brynas. What better way to cap those centennial celebrations than with a championship for his hometown team?
“Now when I’m looking back at the season, I’m very happy that I went home,” said Silfverberg, who wears No. 33 for the Senators. “I’ve grown a lot, not only as a hockey player, but as a person it’s been a big step for me in the right direction.”
It’s difficult to project where he’ll go from here.
The Senators landed Silfverberg with the 39th overall pick in 2009, obviously seeing something in the player other teams missed. He’s played three full seasons and parts of a fourth against men in the Swedish Elite League and should be capable of handling the North American game once he adjusts to the smaller ice surface.
There is plenty of enthusiasm around the Senators organization about Silfverberg, although they’re not entirely sure what to expect of him at this point.
“You guys could probably tell me better,” said MacLean, responding to a question from a Swedish reporter. “He’s been the best player in the Swedish Elite League in the regular season and the playoffs I believe. His team, Brynas, just won the Swedish Elite League championship and he was the best player.
“I like that.”
He became the second young player to make his NHL debut for the Senators during this series. Mark Stone, a sixth-round pick by Ottawa in 2010, picked up an assist with a gorgeous pass to Jason Spezza early in Game 5—his first on the big stage.
It ended up being the game-winning goal.
“I thought he made an NHL play on the goal, just a flat-out NHL play,” MacLean said of Stone, who was removed from the lineup to make room for Silfverberg. “For being his first game ever playing at Madison Square Garden, I thought he played real good.”
The Senators have gone out of their way to make the young players feel welcome.
After arriving on Sunday afternoon, Silfverberg was invited for dinner at the house of new teammate Erik Karlsson, another Swede. They had a meal and watched Game 5 of the Kings-Canucks series.
He was then thrown in the middle of a stretching circle at Monday’s morning skate, getting playfully chided when he led them through a quicker session than normal. “That’s how we used to do it in Sweden,” said Silfverberg.
More than anything, it was a sign that he had arrived. What a way to end a year he’ll never forget.