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A difference two years makes

Wednesday, 23.12.2009 / 2:51 PM / Features
By Farhan Devji
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A difference two years makes

Only two years ago, Peter Andersson wondered whether he'd ever play hockey again. After getting hit from behind in a J20 SuperElit game with Frolunda, Andersson’s doctors discovered a back injury that might have been present from birth.

“The hit caused the damage to evolve,” said Andersson, the Canucks’ fifth-round selection in last summer’s entry draft.

Dan Jablonic, Andersson’s assistant coach with the Frolunda men’s team, added: “Peter had some lower back issues that made it hard for him to play hockey. It was daily pain that can frustrate young kids.”

Although it may have frustrated Andersson, it certainly didn’t dampen his spirits.

“Sure I was a bit scared,” he said. “But I always had in mind that I wanted to get back on the ice.”

Today, he’s back on the ice with no lingering problems, and playing the best hockey of his career. After a strong start to the season in the Allsvenskan - a lower division men’s league in Sweden - with Boras, Andersson was called up to Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League, where he continues to excel.

With injuries to three key defencemen, Andersson has assumed a great deal of responsibility with Frolunda. Andersson says in recent games he’s been averaging 20 minutes of ice time, including time on the power-play. While the initial plan was to send him back to Boras at the end of the month, and although this remains a possibility, it appears as though Andersson will be staying with the big club until further notice.

“Peter has shown he can play at the elite level,” said Jablonic. “He is really good with the puck. He sees the ice well and makes a great first pass. He has good offensive potential with a great shot.”

Jablonic also noted that Andersson is working on improving his defensive zone coverage and his play without the puck, specifically his gap control with oncoming forwards.

“From a coaching standpoint, he is really fun to work with, always has a good attitude and wants to learn the game at the higher level,” added Jablonic.

Andersson attributes his success this season to a hard-working off-season, some of which he spent in Vancouver the at the team’s annual prospects development camp.

“I've been working out hard this summer, and the season got a great start,” said the Kvidinge, Sweden native. “After that it just continued to go well. Therefore my confidence got higher.”

And it might just get a little higher. Andersson was recently nominated for the “Guldgallret” award, which recognizes the top 1990-born (or later) player in the Allsvenskan. As if things weren’t going well enough, he was also added to Sweden’s world junior roster earlier this week, replacing Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. Sweden’s U20 manager Rickard Gronborg says he’s impressed with the strides Andersson has made this season, and expects him to come in complement an already deep defensive core. Andersson’s strong start to the season hasn’t gone unnoticed by Gronborg, or by the Vancouver Canucks organization.

“We’re very happy,” said Canucks director of player development Dave Gagner. “Last year, he showed some potential, but this year he’s taken more charge, he’s been more assertive and a little more physical.

He’s really surprised the Frolunda coaching staff. Initially, they were wondering if he could even play in the Allsvenskan with Boras, and he turned out to be their best defenceman.”

Gagner traveled to Sweden in November and spent some time with Andersson, and they remain in constant contact. The Canucks ask their prospects to send regular updates via email, and Gagner says Andersson has been a “very good communicator.”

“He emails me every week and goes into detail about the kind of workouts he does, and even how much ice time he gets,” said Gagner, who also keeps in touch with the team’s Swedish scouts Inge Hammarstrom, Lars Lindgren and Thomas Gradin. “So I’m very familiar with what’s going on.”

Even so, Gagner still isn’t sure the type of defender Andersson will be when he’s ready for the National Hockey League. Despite recording six points in 10 games with Boras, and continuing to look comfortable on Frolunda’s power play unit, Gagner doesn’t believe Andersson is a “pure offensive” defender. In fact, Andersson didn’t even play on the power play last season in junior, according to Gagner.

For this reason, when the Canucks selected Andersson with their fifth-round pick in last summer’s draft, they were perhaps even more unsure about the type of defender he would develop into. However, they certainly saw potential.

“He was really a raw talent; we didn’t really know what type of player he’d become,” said Gagner. “Thomas Gradin is always telling me, like in the case of Alex Edler, we don’t really discover the type of player Swedes are right away. In Canada, we sometimes think we have these players figured out by the age of 10, but over there it’s more of a maturing process.”

Unlike Alex Edler, whose maturing process involved joining the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League for one season, the Canadian Hockey League doesn’t appear to be in Andersson’s future.

“It's hard to say right now, but I don't have any plans on playing in CHL,” said Andersson. “I'd rather play in Sweden until I'm ready for the Canucks.”

By all accounts, he may be ready a lot sooner than anyone thought. Two years ago, Andersson didn't know whether he'd ever step foot on the ice again, and look where he is now. So, two years from now, who knows where he'll be?

Farhan Devji is a freelance journalist based in Ottawa. Find out more about him at http://www.farhandevji.com.