Nov. 10, 2011
The country of Sweden produces some of the finest players in hockey, including more than a few who have graced Grand Rapids with their talents. Griffins center Joakim Andersson is one of the latest Swedish players to come through the hockey pipeline that’s been established between Michigan and the heart of the Scandinavian peninsula.
Andersson began last season with the Griffins, adjusting to the North American style of hockey. He posted one goal and one assist over the first 27 games of his rookie AHL season. More was expected from the Red Wings’ second selection (third round, 88th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
As an up-and-coming player, Andersson had been heavily scouted by the Red Wings organization while playing for one of Sweden’s most storied hockey clubs, the Frölunda Indians. Andersson also appeared internationally for Sweden’s Junior National Team, acquiring a bronze medal at the 2007 IIHF World U18 Championships and two silver medals at the 2008 and 2009 World Junior Championships.
His time with the Swedish Junior National Team would prove formative for Andersson, as it taught him how to win. “It’s good to win. It’s like a habit, it should be a habit,” said Andersson. “To learn how to win when it’s a close game – you have to learn how to shut the game down when it’s 2-1 and when you have the lead. We had a good team, and it’s a real good experience to win and to learn how to win.”
Not only did Andersson succeed with Sweden’s junior team, but in three productive seasons at the club level, he worked his way from Frölunda’s under-20 squad into third and fourth-line duty on the senior team, which plays in the Swedish Elite League (SEL). After being drafted by Detroit, Andersson gained more acclaim by contributing to two consecutive playoff runs for Frölunda, which reached the SEL semifinals in 2008 and bowed out at the quarterfinal stage in 2009.
When Frölunda’s postseason ended in 2009, Andersson’s did not. It was at that point that the Red Wings wanted to see Andersson stack up against North American competition, so he was brought to Grand Rapids on an amateur tryout (ATO).
“[The Red Wings] talked to me after our season was done back home in Sweden to see if I wanted to come over here and see what it’s all about down in Grand Rapids,” said Andersson. “[Coach Curt Fraser] asked me if I wanted to go the last game of the regular season, and I did pretty well I think. Then he kept me in the lineup for the playoffs.”
Andersson didn’t disappoint while on his ATO, as he picked up an assist in the Griffins’ final regular season game of 2009 against Peoria before chalking up a goal and two assists in 10 playoff games. Having made his impression on the brain trust of the Wings and Griffins, Andersson returned to Sweden for one last season with Frölunda before signing an entry-level contract with Detroit on April 13, 2010.
“I played almost three years in the SEL, and I felt like I wanted to go over and try this. It just felt right, and now I am enjoying playing here and playing a lot,” explained Andersson.
Despite his slow start last year, Andersson ended-up playing in 79 of 80 regular season contests for Grand Rapids, finding his footing over the last 52 games of the AHL season, contributing six goals and 14 assists.
Now in his second full season with the Griffins, Andersson has hit his stride, recording six assists in the team’s first 11 contests. Andersson believes confidence has helped him find the scoresheet early in the season.
“I think I’m a better player. Of course I am; I learned a lot last year. I think it’s a lot confidence-wise actually,” said the native of Munkedal, Sweden. “I know what it’s all about and I am more confident outside the rink and on the ice. This is more what I am as a hockey player this year than I was last year.”
Known as an excellent two-way forward with the vision and passing ability to create scoring chances, Andersson, who turns 23 in February, has focused on improving his offensive game in order to continue climbing the ladder towards Detroit.
“I’m trying to contribute more offensively this year, be part of the offensive game more,” Andersson said. “I have a bigger role this year; I’m on the power play most of the time, and that helps my offensive game too. I just try to play like I always have done: good defensively, two-way game, be strong in the defensive zone, try to be better at face-offs. One thing I have to do more is shoot the puck.”
Andersson has developed spectacular communication with fellow Swede Gustav Nyquist. The two were teammates on Sweden’s national team for a time and are rarely split up. The pair has become well-established in the Griffins’ top two lines.
“I played with [Nyquist] before when I was 17 or 18 back in Sweden on the National Team so I know what kind of player he is. I was on the line there with him for three or four games, and I enjoy playing with him and I think he enjoys playing with me. We think the same kind of hockey; we want to move the puck and play with the puck. A good passing game is what we try to do.”
Another thing Andersson tries to do is be a leader. “When I played juniors back in Sweden, I was always captain or the alternate captain. On the World Juniors team, I was the alternate captain and I enjoy being one of those guys,” he recalled.
Just as he learned how to win when he was younger, Andersson is now learning how to be a leader. With the locker room stocked full of veterans, Andersson has identified his opportunity to learn from more experienced leaders. “We have some real good veterans here, like all our captains: Garnet Exelby, Doug Janik and Greg Amadio. They are good leaders and they speak up in the locker room. That’s what you need because we have lots of young guys. A lot of us can pick up stuff from them and learn how to be a pro,” he said.
With a good season for Grand Rapids this year, Andersson could take a big step towards realizing his dream of becoming yet another in the ever-growing troop of Swedes to find success on this side of the pond.
“I think because we had and have so many good Swedish players in the NHL, young guys in Sweden dream of playing over here,” he said. “It was a dream when I started playing with [Frölunda] back home in Sweden. It was a dream to play in that team and in the [SEL], but this is the next step.”
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