ST. LOUIS — Everything happened so fast for Victor Ejdsell.
Less than a month after being traded from the Predators’ system to the Blackhawks in the Ryan Hartman deal, Ejdsell went from Sweden to Rockford to Chicago in less than a week. But now that things have finally slowed down for Ejdsell off the ice, the 22-year-old center is focused on picking up the pace on the ice.
“It’s only been five games on the smaller rink, but the game’s different here,” he said. “There’s always a threat in your own zone, and you’re always a threat in the offensive zone. So everything has to be faster. You have to skate faster, and your mind has to be faster. You have to be ready.”
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European rinks are 15 feet wider than NHL rinks, and that extra space affords players extra time. The European game is more about holding on to the puck and waiting for plays to develop. The NHL game is more about moving the puck and making plays happen. So besides having to adjust to new shooting angles and board bounces, Ejdsell knows he has to pick up the pace to become a fixture in the Hawks lineup next season.
At 6-5, 214 pounds, he always has had the size and strength. The trick will be getting up to speed.
“My skating has always been the thing that I have to work on,” Ejdsell said. “But it’s even a bigger thing here. In the big rinks, you want to be strong on the puck, keep the puck at all times until you get a chance. Here, you’ve got to make quick decisions, crash the net and keep shooting all the time. I have to adjust.”
Of course, Ejdsell isn’t going to become a burner like Vinnie Hinostroza or Patrick Kane overnight. Speed doesn’t work that way. For the most part, you either have it or you don’t. But he certainly can be a little faster, quicker and more explosive.
That’ll be his offseason focus.
“The fact that he knows quickness is an important thing, and that speed at this level is everything … is a good sign,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s not going to be fast like a Kaner. But everybody has a different strength to their game. Certainly, that’s one of the areas that if he helps himself just a tiny bit, it is going to enhance his career.”
Ejdsell has shown a knack for getting to the net in his first few NHL games. While he was a minus-3 in his NHL debut March 26 against the Sharks, he was effective in the offensive zone and around the net a lot. He picked up an assist against the Jets and was about an inch away from his first NHL goal after going hard to the net in Colorado before Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie swept the puck off the goal line.
Ejdsell let out a groan when that last one was brought up. Then he laughed and said “sooner or later, I’ll pop one in there.”
“He’s a really big guy that can really move the puck,” said rookie Alex DeBrincat, the cagey veteran on a line with Ejdsell and Dylan Sikura. “He’s played pretty well, and he’s easy to play with. He knows where other people are, and he’s got really good vision.”
Ejdsell still has plenty of work to do, physically and mentally, to ensure he sticks in the NHL when October comes around. But that’s the whole point of his brief stint in Chicago at the end of the season — to give him a taste of what it is like, and an idea of what he needs to work on over the summer.
“I think I’m doing better than expected,” Ejdsell said. “Making pretty good plays in all three zones. I just want to keep doing that, keep having fun, and keep adjusting. It’s going to be an important offseason for me.”