When the Capitals drafted Steffen Soberg with the 117th pick in last month’s draft, it was unexpected. The Norwegian goaltender wasn’t listed on NHL Central Scouting’s rankings and it took a lot of people some time to realize who he was.
Goalie Guild analyst Justin Goldman called the pick “totally off the board.”
Everyone’s getting a chance this week at Caps development camp to see why Soberg was such a secret, save for a memorable underdog performance in the under-18 world championships. The 17-year-old (he turns 18 next month) is an extremely “raw” prospect who stands to benefit the most from the coaching tandem of Dave Prior and Olie Kolzig.
“He clearly has to learn some things to be more effective keeping the puck out of the net at this level. This is a higher level than he’s faced ever before,” Prior said. “Right now he’s trying to rely on his athletic ability and the higher the level that can only carry you so much.”
As Bruce Boudreau has said all week, it’s the middle of July and not the time to make grand statements about a player from a few days of drills and a couple scrimmages. At first glance, Soberg is undoubtedly small – listed at 5-foot-11, 176 pounds but plays smaller – and appears unsure of himself.
That’s because, according to Kolzig, Soberg has never gotten the proper teaching.
“He’s a guy that I don’t think he ever had a goalie coach and just played on pure visualization – he’d watch guys and try to mimic their game into his,” Kolzig said. “He’s a guy that obviously is gonna need a little more work.”
But that’s what this week and September’s rookie camp is for. It’s not like the Caps are counting on Soberg to emerge this season or next or even the one after that and challenge for a pro job.
Soberg understands he’s very much a work in progress.
“It’s pretty hard. I have to get into it. The first game is always trying to do things like Dave Prior wants me to play, like I’ve never played before,” he said. “So I have to make some adjustments and just try to do the best I can.”
Playing for Norway in the under-18 tournament, Soberg put up a remarkable .931 save percentage despite getting hammered by the likes of Canada. But Prior and the scouting staff liked what they saw in his raw ability, with the veteran goaltending coach saying this week he sees some of Brandon Anderson – signed last year for his potential – in Soberg.
And just like Anderson, Soberg is heading to the Western Hockey League. He’ll play for the Swift Current Broncos, where former player and fellow Caps prospect Cody Eakin said he could be a No. 1 goalie.
He’s doing so at the urging of Prior, who saw Michal Neuvirth take this path from Europe to the Canadian Hockey League and then to the NHL. Philipp Grubauer’s doing that now.
“That was something that Washington wanted me to do. I also had some offers from Sweden and stuff that would’ve been easier for me – not moving that far away,” Soberg said. “But I think it’s gonna be great. Dave Prior [says] that’s the best place to develop as a goalie, so I trust that.”