TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — This was a different Victor Ejdsell than the one who sat quietly in his locker stall at the United Center last March and April.
This was a comfortable, confident guy with a booming baritone to match his oversized frame. His voice, his words, his body language — none of it even closely resembled the slightly overwhelmed, borderline meek guy who muddled through six up-and-down games with the Blackhawks in the spring.
Scoring seven goals and handing out five assists in 13 Calder Cup playoff games can have that effect.
“Oh, my God, it was such a big moment for my career,” Ejdsell said, flashing a broad smile.
When the Hawks’ season ended with an unceremonious 4-1 loss in Winnipeg on April 7, Ejdsell was running on fumes. A few weeks after being acquired from Nashville in the Ryan Hartman trade, Ejdsell bounced from Sweden to Rockford to Chicago in just five days. His head was still spinning, and his legs were barely moving.
But a two-week break between the end of the Hawks’ season and the start of the IceHogs postseason allowed his body to recover, and gave him time to adjust to the smaller North American rinks. That, and a move from center to wing awoke the sleepy giant.
“I was kind of tired, but I played with my adrenaline for a bit,” Ejdsell said. “Then the reality came and it got tough. But for the playoffs, I had the chance to reload and it paid off. I got more juice to everything and learned my routes on the ice so I could put myself in better positions out there.”
Ejdsell still cautions that staying “humble” is key, and that “nothing coms free when it comes to the NHL.” But he won’t pretend that his ambitions — and his own internal timetable — haven’t changed in light of his breakout performance with the IceHogs. With Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Saad and Nick Schmaltz all but locks to be on the top two line this season, there’s an opening on the wing in the top six. Ejdsell and Dylan Sikura might be fighting for that spot in training camp.
And Ejdsell wants it.
“Obviously, that’s something I’ve been dreaming on,” he said. “[Toews and Kane] are incredible players, and they’re role models — everything they do is strictly professional. It’s a huge thing to play with those guys, so that’ll be a goal for me.”
A pair of goals during Saturday’s 5-2 win over Carolina in the prospect tournament — both rocket wristers — sure made him look NHL-ready.
“It’s pretty deadly, it’s pretty heavy,” Rockford IceHogs coach Jeremy Colliton said of his shot. “If he gets himself in position to get a good look at the net, it’s got a good chance of going in.”
Ejdsell spent his offseason working on the same thing he’s spent the past several offseasons on — trying to improve his skating. He’s got the size at 6-5, 214 pounds. He’s got the quick release and the skill to capitalize on that size. And while he knows he’ll never be a burner, he also knows that every bit of quickness he can wring from his legs can make a difference.
So he’s worked on his leg strength, on his explosiveness, and on that all-important first stride. Hawks director of player development Barry Smith said Ejdsell’s lower body is noticeably stronger after his offseason workouts, and that he looks more “intense” and confident in his play.
Ejdsell’s playoff performance sped up his development and his timetable. All that’s left is to speed up his game.
“It’s just something I’ll have to work on my whole career,” he said. “I’ve never been fast, but I’ve always known that I’ve got to be faster. That’s always been my weakness, and I have to work on it all the time. I’ve been working on it for five years. It’s getting better — but it can always get way better.”