Mattias Sjogren is hardly a raw prospect. At 23, he’s a veteran of three seasons in the Swedish Elite League.
So when the Washington Capitals signed Sjogren early in June, it wasn’t his plan to attend this development camp. He’s already developed and seems poised to at least make a strong bid for a roster spot in September.
But that’s precisely why Sjogren is here - to get accustomed to the team, Kettler Capitals Iceplex and the D.C. area, so he can concentrate on hockey when the stakes are higher.
“It’s an orientation for him not only on the ice but to know his way around — how to move around, how to get to the hotel, get to know the training staff and everything else — so that training camp is a little easier in that respect,” general manager George McPhee said. “Come here and figure out how everything works, and then when you come back in September it’s about getting on the ice and concentrating and focusing on playing well out there and you know everything else you need to know.”
Sjogren knows hockey. He has played 148 pro games in Sweden, racking up 59 points. This week, he’s by far the oldest player on the ice and looks like a man among boys who are trying to stick out.
Bruce Boudreau praised Sjogren’s toughness Monday for returning to practice soon after taking a goalie stick to the face and losing a tooth. But the Caps’ coach is used to players such as this, having been around centers Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson.
“That’s the one thing I found about the Swedish guys that we’ve had — from Nicky and Marcus — they’re really tough,” Boudreau said. “[Sjogren] knocked out a tooth, loosened another one, but he wanted to get back out there - full marks for that.”
While Johansson is one of Sjogren’s best friends, the center is a different kind of player than his Swedish contemporaries. Sjogren is 6-foot-1 and 209 pounds and likes to hit rather than just be a finesse playmaker.
A role player lacking some of the offensive skill Backstrom and Johansson have, Sjogren could be better suited as a third-line grinder.
“I think I’m more a defense guy, but I will try to improve my offensive game and toughness. I play physical,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m just a hitter. I try to be everywhere, especially when you’re a center you have to be good on offense and defense.”
Sjogren talked to Johansson about this particular camp, which was vital to making the team a year ago. But this is a far different situation - Sjogren already has an experience edge on these kids. Sjogren’s presence this week has other benefits, though.
“I think it’s good for me to come over here and show myself,” he said. “The coaches haven’t seen me play live yet, so it’s a way to show them how I play and to get adjusted and learn the system.”
The path Backstrom and Johansson blazed from Sweden to the Caps is nice for Sjogren, but he’s not trying to follow in the same manner.
“They had their own way to come here,” Sjogren said. “It’s fun for me to see Marcus, who I grew up with, seeing how he adjusted so quick and made a great season out there. Maybe it’s good for my confidence, too, when those guys can make it so easily, so quickly.”
Sjogren’s North American agent, Rich Winter, was asked if he had any conversations with the Caps about his client playing in the AHL if he doesn’t make the big club and said, “He will play in the NHL. We are convinced of that.”
But it’s not a shoo-in that Sjogren makes the Caps — and that certainly won’t happen this week.
“Taking nothing away from the college kids, but it’s sort of a different level,” Boudreau said. “His real evaluation other than us getting to know him out here will be in September.”
NOTE: The Capitals announced they signed restricted free agent center Mathieu Perreault to a one-year, two-way deal.