RALEIGH — Elias Lindholm was the Carolina Hurricanes’ first-round draft pick this year and he’s drawing much of the attention this week at the team’s development camp.
But there’s another Swedish center to keep an eye on.
Victor Rask was a second-round draft selection in 2011. At the urging of Canes management, he left Sweden for North America, playing junior hockey the past two seasons for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League while also making his professional debut.
Rask has worked on his game and his conditioning. He has adjusted to the smaller ice surfaces of North America and become one of the Hitmen’s leaders.
“He’s just a much more confident kid, a much stronger kid,” said Ron Francis, the Canes’ vice president for hockey operations.
Come September and the start of the Hurricanes’ preseason training camp, Rask could be in position to make a push for a spot with the big club.
“No question,” Francis said. “He’s put in the time and effort off-ice and really made huge strides.”
Rask began last season with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League. Then 19 and the youngest player on the team, he was in the lineup for 10 games. Used as the third-line center, he had a goal and four assists and earned praise from Checkers coach Jeff Daniels for his playmaking ability and heavy shot.
As the NHL lockout lingered last fall, the decision was made to assign Rask to the Hitmen rather than keep him in Charlotte. Not that he took it as a demotion.
“My time in Charlotte was huge for me,” Rask said. “When I went back to Calgary, I was a different player. I took on more responsibility and stuff, played well and my teammates looked up to me.”
Rask, who turned 20 in March, continued to be a point-per-game producer for a strong Calgary team – he has 104 points in 101 WHL games over two seasons. His 11-game point streak in the playoffs this past season was the longest for any WHL player.
“I saw a lot of him in the playoffs,” said defenseman Keegan Lowe, a Canes prospect who played for the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings. “He’s a lot to handle and pretty much good at everything. He’s extremely strong on his skates. He’s got those big, broad shoulders and is one of the best reverse hitters I’ve ever played against.”
For the second straight year, Rask competed for Sweden in the World Junior Championship as the Swedes took the silver medal in Ufa, Russia. One of Rask’s teammates was Lindholm.
“You notice him on the ice,” Lindholm said of Rask. “He’s tough. He’s skilled. He’s a guy you want on your team.”
While some of the Canes’ prospects continue to grow into their bodies, Rask is 6 feet 2 and a solid 200 pounds. Physically, he’s there.
“I think it’s been huge for him playing in Calgary,” Francis said. “Not just the players he’s with, but watching the pro team there (the Calgary Flames) and how hard they work on and off the ice. He invested a lot of effort in his workouts and (has) gotten a lot stronger, and you see it on the ice.
“He’s got a good shot. Just watching it here (in camp), he’s got a little extra zip on it, a little zing. He’s firing it real hard.”
In 2011, Rask came to the Canes’ rookie camp as something of an unknown. There were some questions raised about him by NHL scouts before the draft, centering on him playing for Leksand in the Swedish second division but requesting to drop down and play with the Leksand junior team.
Rask was the 12th-ranked European skater heading into the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. In the eyes of the Canes, he has done everything right since his draft day.
Rask may be ready for the jump to the NHL. The Canes might have two young Swedes in the lineup.
“I think everybody has a good opportunity,” Rask said. “You have to go out there and prove yourself. I want to have a good summer and a good (training) camp in September and see what happens.”
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