Elmer Soderblom is quickly learning how to use his 6-foot-8, 249-pound frame to screen the goaltender, defend the puck, and be tough to play against.
If he can combine that massive size with nifty hands, as he showed last season in Sweden, he could soon be one of the most unique players in the NHL for the Detroit Red Wings.
Soderblom, 21, stands out during the NHL Prospects tournament in Traverse City as he prepares for his first season in North America with the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins.
“Three years ago, I wasn’t really comfortable and comfortable with my body and big size,” Soderblom said. “I feel like I’m still working on this using my shape, and I feel like it’s getting better and better.
“I think my strength is the attacking mindset and around the net and it’s going to be tough to play against, defend the puck and use my big frame. I don’t know if I can tailor my game to a specific player. Model or not. I want to be unique in my own way.”
The 2019 sixth round pick (159th overall) is certainly unique. Former Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Zdeno Chara, at 6-9, is the only player taller than Soderblom in NHL history. Among the active players, Vancouver defenseman Tyler Myers and Ottawa goalscorer Mads Sogard are also 6-8.
Ben Simon, who is coaching the Red Wings prospects and will coach Soderblom in Grand Rapids, noted the moves he has made since his first and only appearance at development camp in North America three years ago.
“His skating has gotten a lot better,” Simon said. “Just by growing into his body he’s gotten a lot stronger. You don’t teach size. So, when you have that body and that strength on your skates, and he protects the puck so well, if he’s on the side of the circle.” If he can play under the top and take pucks at the nets and make a living at the net front, that will be exciting to watch for Wings fans.
“Will be curious to see how this launch goes and how this development continues and what kind of path it goes down. I’m sure Detroit is extremely pleased with where it is at the moment.”
Soderblom made some good plays in Saturday’s 5-4 loss to Dallas. He scored a goal by driving over the net and converting a pass from 2022 fourth-round pick Amadeus Lombardi. Soderblom also made a fine stretch pass to Spring Cross Hanas to score the goal.
Simon said Soderblom is one of those players who “really stands out” not only because of his size, but also because of his skill.
“He’s moving his legs very well,” Simon said. “He’s going to have an interesting time in the pro game in terms of moving the puck faster. You have a little less time, less space to move around. It can be beneficial for him, but I also think that It will be a slight adaptation period where he has to learn to use it to his advantage.
Simon said it’s just a matter of getting Soderblom to “get some traction” in North America.
Simon said, “I last saw him where he is now, great progress, great progress.”
Söderblom’s confidence grew last season when he scored 21 goals and 33 points in 52 games for Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League.
“(The Red Wings) told me they wanted to see what I did in Frolunda, continue to play my game and maybe add a little more physicality and play even more with my size,” Soderblom said. “I think that’s what I have to do to be able to take the place.”
He focused on improving his skating this summer.
“You have to speed everything up a little bit and it’s a little bit more physical,” Soderblom said of playing in North America. “You have to be able to take hits and deliver hits. Just be quick in your mind and (with your feet and hands).”