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Almquist has a sense of wonder

Published Friday, July 3, 2009, 12:01 a.m. under 2009 Draft Coverage

Adam Almquist has a skill the Detroit Red Wings covet. Not only does he have it, but from what they’ve seen, it’s off the charts.

“Hockey sense,” said Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson, who scouted Almquist heavily. “Great hockey sense. If it all came down to hockey sense, he probably would have been a first-round pick.

“The hockey sense is something else. It’s as good as I’ve seen in many years.”

Andersson selected the Swedish defenseman in the seventh round (210th overall) in last Saturday’s NHL draft, hoping to hit one of his trademark home runs on an undersized but naturally-gifted hockey talent.

Almquist, rated 61st among European skaters by Central Scouting, had a terrific season with HV-71 in the Swedish J-20 SuperElit circuit, producing nine goals and 33 assists for 42 points in 47 games overall.

“On the offensive blue line he can really control the power play,” Andersson said. “He’s calm with the puck and he has a very good first pass out of his zone. When forwards find open ice, the puck is on the tape.”

But Almquist, who stands only 5-foot-10 and checks in at mere 169 pounds, struggled at international tournaments in August and February and didn’t make Sweden’s roster for April’s world under-18 championship. That’s where he lost a lot of NHL scouts and a big reason why he almost went unselected.

“He’s a lightweight,” Andersson admitted. “He got burned because he was so weak. Not because he can’t think the game. Just battles, basically. So the coaches decided not to bring him (to worlds) and that put a lot of scouts off.”

Andersson described Almquist as a “normal skater” and said he is impressed with how Almquist is willing to take a hit to make the right play. He identified Almquist early in the year and made sure to check back later.

“He had some great games in the playoffs,” Andersson said. “That just strengthened my feel that this was a player I’d like to get at some point.”

It’s nothing new for the Red Wings to draft skill over size on the blue line. They’ve also taken flyers on Bryan Rufenach (208th), Logan Pyett (212th) and Derek Meech (229th), not to mention free agent Brett Lebda.

At that stage in the draft, it can be a high-risk, high-reward game.

“We know he’s got to get stronger, but you’re rolling the dice on his hockey sense,” said Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill. “You hope he turns into the type of player like (Tobias) Enstrom in Atlanta.”

Almquist will challenge for a spot on HV-71′s Swedish Elite League team next season, but will likely spend plenty of time in the Allsvenskan second-tier circuit or back in the J-20 loop. But with no NHL-IIHF transfer agreement, the Red Wings have plenty of time to let Almquist mature overseas.

“The talent is there,” Andersson said. “We can fix the other stuff.”

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