Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

At 6-6, Blomqvist a big project

Undrafted Swede needs to develop, gunning for pro contract with Jets

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Axel BLOMQVIST -- all 6-6 of towering Swede -- knows, given his vantage point, what the highs in life look like.

But Blomqvist also saw the lows up close this summer when the 18-year-old forward -- projected by some to go as high as the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft -- saw the draft come and go without any team calling his name.

"I was ranked and my agent was pretty sure I was going to get drafted and so then when I didn't get drafted, it was very disappointing," Blomqvist said Saturday after Winnipeg Jets training camp workout at the MTS Centre.

"But then just a couple days after the draft, I got a chance to come here and that made it much easier. And now it's just in the past and I'm only focused on working hard."

Blomqvist is one of three unsigned rookies the Jets have in training camp -- the others are defenceman Zach Bell and forward Mitchell Theoret.

'It was a tough learning process for me. And I think that was maybe part of why I didn't get drafted -- I was just learning so much last year'

-- Axel Blomqvist

Blomqvist earned his ticket to the Jets main camp with a strong performance in the club's rookie camp earlier this month in Penticton, where the Swede with the impossibly long reach and stride showed some finish around the net too, notching two goals.

Blomqvist is taller even than veteran Jets defencemen Dustin Byfuglien, who is 6-5. Only one other player in Jets camp right now can look him straight in the eye -- defenceman Cody Sol, who is also 6-6.

But while he looks to be all arms and legs, Blomqvist is a strong skater and has what appears at first glance to be above average puck handling skills for someone still so young, both of which were on display Saturday on a tidy end-to-end rush he put together during scrimmage.

Brenden Kichton, another rookie in Jets camp this year, played against Blomqvist in the WHL last season and has had to contend with his physical presence on the ice again this week.

It isn't easy moving something that big, Kichton said Saturday. "He's a big guy -- he's tough to handle out there. And he's a pretty good skater for his size. He can mature into a really good player out there."

"We've had a few battles in the corners. He's tough to knock off the puck."

Born and raised in Sweden, Blomqvist spent his first year away from home last season as a rookie with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League.

His offensive production was a bit disappointing by his own admission -- seven goals and 26 assists in 59 games -- but he wasn't afraid to throw some of his size around, racking up 94 minutes in penalties.

In retrospect, Blomqvist says his rookie season on the ice was probably hampered a bit by all the adjustments off the ice that came with living away from home for the first time -- and in a new country on top of it.

"It was ups and downs. I missed home sometimes. It's so much different than Sweden," said Blomqvist, who comes from a family of athletes -- his father was a soccer player while his mother was a swimmer.

"It was a tough learning process for me. And I think that was maybe part of why I didn't get drafted -- I was just learning so much last year."

Blomqvist also still has some growing to do. He is undersized for his height at 194 pounds -- and that's only after he put on 10-15 pounds this summer.

"I need to get bigger and stronger for sure," he concedes. "I'm still growing into my body, but this year I feel way better."

Blomqvist said several teams approached his agent after this year's draft with tryout offers but he felt Winnipeg was the best choice.

"I talked to a couple of teams and Winnipeg felt best for me. It sounded like they were real interested in me," he said.

"They told my agent if I play good, they might sign me to a contract. "That's my biggest goal -- I'm going to play my game, play the best I can and if I get a contract, that would be a dream for me."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 15, 2013 B6

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