Roughly 10 minutes in to Group B’s session of Capitals development camp Monday, Mattias Sjogren was clipped in the mouth by a goaltender’s stick when he went to retrieve a puck. The free agent signee who by all accounts should compete for a spot on the NHL roster was bleeding a bit and headed off the ice after having a tooth knocked out.
“Welcome to North America,” Coach Bruce Boudreau joked about it after the workout. “That’s the one thing that I’ve found about the Swedish guys that we’ve had from [Nicklas Backstrom] and Marcus [Johansson]: they’re really tough. If he’s in the same mold… he’s bigger but he knocked out a tooth, loosened another one but he wanted to get back out there. Full marks for that.”
Sjogren, 23, didn’t miss much time before rejoining the drills on the ice, where Boudreau and the rest of the coaching staff could see him skate in person for the first time. In addition to his now-demonstrated toughness, the initial observations of Sjogren, who is listed at 6-1, 209, are readily apparent. He’s physically bigger and taller than either Backstrom or Johansson, who play a similar game, and will use his size to add a more physical edge to his presence. When compared to the fellow development camp invitees, Sjogren stands out simply because he’s older and physically more mature than the rest of the field.
““His real evaluation, other than us getting to know him out here, will be in September” at regular training camp, Boudreau said of Sjogren. “I’ve seen one video of him so I’m just like eyes wide open and looking at the little nuances of how hard he works and how he’s paying attention. Those are the little things I’m picking up. You’ll see a little bit more in the scrimmages. I assume that they’re going to be very scrambly, but you’ll see the smarter players will find ways to get noticed and I assume he’s going to be one of them.”
General Manager George McPhee has repeatedly mentioned that Sjogren can play either center or wing, but Sjogren said he is more comfortable as a center, where he is able to use his defensive instincts.
“I played center most of time last year,” Sjogren said. “But most of time on the national team I played wing. It’s OK, but I prefer to play center.”
Sjogren was encouraged by the Capitals to attend development camp so that he could get to know the coaching and training staffs as well as familiarize himself with the area, McPhee said. That way, when training camp opens in September, Sjogren can focus solely on hockey but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot riding on his first impressions during this week.
“You feel the pressure,” Sjogren said. “But I’m ready to come over here and just accept the pressure.”