An ‘Ulf’ at Bruins’ door?
Samuelsson’s son may be on their draft radar
Henrik Samuelsson was born in Pittsburgh. He was raised in Scottsdale, Ariz. He has played for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. He has skated alongside men for MoDo of the Swedish Elite League and youngsters on the club’s junior team.
Most recently, the 18-year-old played for Edmonton of the Western Hockey League.
Samuelsson’s passport has seen more stamps than the post office.
And after this weekend’s NHL draft at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center, the son of former NHLer Ulf Samuelsson could include Boston among his future stops.
Barring any movement, the Bruins will have the No. 24 pick in the draft. And Samuelsson, ranked the No. 75 North American skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, could be in the Bruins’ first-round crosshairs.
That possibility might seem a little jarring to Boston fans, considering the history Samuelsson’s father has had with the Bruins and in particular the team’s current president, Cam Neely.
On May 3, 1991, Ulf Samuelsson leveled Neely with a devastating knee-to-thigh check. It was the first in a series of crippling injuries that cut short Neely’s career.
Naturally, Neely has not held Ulf Samuelsson in high regard since the incident. If the Bruins draft Henrik, Neely might have to bite his tongue when they pose for the traditional podium snapshot (even though Henrik was not yet born when the infamous hit took place).
“He’s bounced around a bit prior to going to the Oil Kings,’’ acknowledged Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “He’s been to Sweden and back.
“He was a little slow to start this year, but he’s a big, strong kid. He plays with an edge. He protects the puck very well. He projects to be, at the very least, a top-nine forward. Some might say a top-six.’’
Experts peg this year’s draft as being full of defensemen. Given that depth, a top blue liner could fall to the Bruins at No. 24.
However, the Bruins are satisfied with their young defensive corps. Through the draft, trades, and free agency, they have fortified a once-lacking position.
Dougie Hamilton, taken ninth overall last year, should be with the big club in 2012-13. Draft picks Zach Trotman (2010) and Tommy Cross (2007) will kick off their pro careers in Providence. Other youngsters include Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug, Colby Cohen, David Warsofsky, and Kevan Miller.
But the Bruins could use some up-front muscle. They haven’t found a replacement for Joe Colborne, wheeled to Toronto in the Tomas Kaberle trade. Prospects such as Carter Camper and Craig Cunningham both are under 6 feet.
“Size is one thing I’ve put on the guys this year a little bit,’’ Chiarelli said of his instructions to his amateur scouts. “The size component I’ve stressed a little bit in applying it to all positions.’’
In that sense, Samuelsson could be a good fit. The 6-foot-2-inch, 211-pound wing plays with some of the bite his father showed during his NHL career.
The younger Samuelsson, whose older brother Philip played at Boston College for two seasons before leaving for the pros, prefers the gritty approach that is part of the Black-and-Gold DNA.
“He’s well-suited for the North American-style game,’’ said Oil Kings coach Derek Laxdal. “He’d be a great fit for the Boston Bruins. He plays that in-your-face, edgy style of hockey. He’s only getting better and better. I’m looking forward to seeing him as an 18-year-old.’’
This past season, Samuelsson played for a heavyweight Edmonton club that won the WHL crown. The Oil Kings fell to Shawinigan in the Memorial Cup tie-breaking game. Shawinigan toppled London to win the Cup.
In 28 regular-season games, Samuelsson had 7 goals and 16 assists. In 17 postseason appearances, he punched in 4 goals and 10 assists.
“He had a real strong playoff,’’ Chiarelli said. “I really like his strength. I like his shot. I like the way he protects the puck. He’s a prototypical power forward.’’
Samuelsson, an American citizen, hadn’t originally planned to play for Edmonton this past season. His original intention was to play a full season for MoDo, where he’d be coached by his father. Ulf Samuelsson was an assistant coach in Phoenix for five years before he was hired by MoDo to man the bench in 2011-12.
The younger Samuelsson, however, recognized that playing in the Swedish Elite League wasn’t the best development route, especially in his draft year. The MoDo roster included ex-NHLers such as Rob Schremp, Freddy Meyer, Petr Kalus, and Mikael Tellqvist.
So Samuelsson, with input from his father, decided to return to North America. The Oil Kings held his WHL rights, and Samuelsson made his debut Jan. 12, logging an assist in a 6-2 win over Medicine Hat.
“Once he found his way, he got comfortable playing in this league,’’ Laxdal said. “He had confidence in his game.
“In the playoffs, he was outstanding. He played a big man’s game, a power game. He protected the puck well. He has great vision.
“He plays with that edge. He’ll go in the corner and come out with the puck. If you hit him, he’ll counter-hit. He’ll lay into you. He plays with that really good edge that you can’t teach.’’
As often happens with bigger forwards, skating is the primary weakness in Samuelsson’s game. The right wing will need to work on his quickness and explosive speed when he returns to the Oil Kings in 2012-13. But as a second-year WHLer, Samuelsson will benefit from a full season in junior.
Samuelsson could also be in the mix for a spot with Team USA in next year’s World Junior Championship. He was one of 46 American hopefuls selected to participate in August’s national junior evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y.
“I expect him to be over a point-per-game player for our hockey club,’’ Laxdal said. “He’ll take a lot of quality ice time. He’ll be there for the last minute of the period, first minute of the period, PP, PK.
“I expect him to score 25-30 goals. He’s big and strong enough to be able to own the front of the net and dominate defensemen.’’