Dick Axelsson on the ice at Red Wings training camp in Traverse City in 2009. (Credit: Sarah Lindenau)
If Dick Axelsson wants to bypass the American Hockey League, the Detroit Red Wings are willing to let him. But he has to earn it.
“We’ve told him, ‘We’re going to keep your rights, but if you feel this is a challenge you want to take up, let us know and we’ll bring you to training camp,’” said Red Wings director of European scouting Hakan Andersson. “‘If you make the Red Wings, great, if you can’t, it’s back to Europe.’”
As of now, it appears the 23-year-old left-winger is content to return to the Swedish Elite League next season. It also appears he isn’t quite ready to make the jump to the NHL just yet, and no one is sure if he ever will be.
Axelsson, an enigmatic talent who plays for Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League, had 15 goals and 15 assists for 30 points in 47 games this season while pilling up 126 penalty minutes. He also has four goals and two assists in nine playoff games and is currently competing in the SEL semifinals.
He also has seen time on the national team and led the LG Hockey Games in scoring in February with two goals and four assists in three games.
“He is an improved player this year,” Andersson said. “When he played his best hockey this year, he’s NHL level. There’s no doubt about it. He’s stronger, he’s more mature and he’s been dominating on the national team.”
But Axelsson has always been, and continues to be, wildly inconsistent.
“When he’s playing his best, he’s NHL good … Now, the problem is, when he plays his worst, he’s American League bad,” Andersson said.
How often is he at his best?
“Not enough,” Andersson said.
Andersson recalls Axelsson scoring a third-period natural hat trick on Oct. 30. Not long after, went nine games with just three assists.
“He scored three straight goals, and they were all highlight-reel goals, and everyone was raving the next day that this guy is just unbelievable when he wants to play,” Andersson said. “But some nights when he just doesn’t feel like playing, he’s just floating around out there like another body.”
Andersson, who plucked Axelsson out of Sweden’s seldom-scouted third-tier professional league in 2006, has long raved about the 6-foot-2 188-pounder’s rare combination of speed, skill, size and hockey sense. In 2007, Andersson described him as a “more talented version of Mikael Samuelsson.”
Only Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Dmitri Bykov and Johan Franzen have made the jump from Europe to the Red Wings in recent years without any minor-league seasoning. Axelsson’s three-year entry-level deal expires this summer, but the Red Wings can hang onto his rights as a restricted free agent.
NOTES: Center Calle Jarnkrok (Brynas, Swedish Elite League) saw his season come to an abrupt end recently when his shoulder popped out. That’s a big setback in his off-season training, as he basically can’t do anything for three months … Riley Sheahan (Notre Dame, NCAA) assisted on both goals in a 2-1 win over New Hampshire on Sunday to propel his team to the Frozen Four … Right-winger Mitchell Callahan (Kelowna, WHL) has four goals and an assist through three playoff games and continues to impress … Center Cory Emmerton signed a new three-year contract that is one-way in its final two seasons. It’s an indication that the Red Wings see him as a potentially solid piece of their future … The Grand Rapids Griffins, 35-29-8, remain in a fight for their AHL playoff lives.
Following is this week’s statistical update.
SKATERS: REGULAR-SEASON REPORT
|Stolyarov, Gennady||Dynamo Msk||KHL||20||2||4||6||23||-8||32|
|Samuelsson, Jesper||Vita Hasten||SWE-3||31||10||23||33||41||+25||99|
|Smith, Brendan||Grand Rapids||AHL||57||12||20||32||113||+7||104|
|Mursak, Jan||Grand Rapids||AHL||51||13||22||35||35||+17||124|
|Tatar, Tomas||Grand Rapids||AHL||64||23||32||55||43||+15||147|
|Pare, Francis||Grand Rapids||AHL||74||23||30||53||49||-13||217|
|Ehrhardt, Travis||Grand Rapids||AHL||47||4||11||15||34||+1||55|
|Pyett, Logan||Grand Rapids||AHL||68||9||12||21||36||-5||128|
|Andersson, Joakim||Grand Rapids||AHL||73||6||14||20||26||-1||100|
|Emmerton, Cory||Grand Rapids||AHL||59||11||26||37||22||+3||114|
|Coetzee, Willie||Grand Rapids||AHL||25||0||5||5||8||-7||42|
|Kolosov, Sergei||Grand Rapids||AHL||53||0||1||1||46||-17||49|
|Lashoff, Brian||Grand Rapids||AHL||33||0||3||3||21||-5||24|
|Owens, Jordan||Grand Rapids||AHL||60||6||14||20||101||-12||95|
|Filppula, Ilari||Grand Rapids||AHL||70||20||42||62||22||+2||122|
|Raedeke, Brent||Grand Rapids||AHL||63||7||5||12||17||0||71|
|Piche, Sebastien||Grand Rapids||AHL||11||0||2||2||13||-4||15|
|Nicastro, Max||Boston U.||NCAA||38||5||4||9||59||-9||44|
|Oslund, Nick||St. Cloud St.||NCAA||30||3||1||4||10||-2||50|
|Jensen, Nick||St. Cloud St.||NCAA||38||5||18||23||18||-5||58|
|Sheahan, Riley||Notre Dame||NCAA||39||5||17||22||22||-6||100|
SKATERS: PLAYOFF REPORT
GOALIES: REGULAR-SEASON REPORT
|McCollum, Thomas||Grand Rapids||AHL||20||6||11||2||1||3.18||.881|
|Pearce, Jordan||Grand Rapids||AHL||38||19||11||5||1||2.96||.905|
GOALIES: PLAYOFF REPORT