Friend of the blog and Senators prospect Mikael Wikstrand is right in the middle of a very succesful SEL-2 campaign for his Mora. The 2012 7th rounder has put up 11 goals and 11 assists in 36 games, and enjoyed a fairly successful World Juniors campaign as well, which really sparked interest from SEL clubs, one tier above the club he grew up playing for.
So what did Wikstrand choose? After going on a Fabian Brunnström-like tour, visiting with the interested clubs, would he go to Swedish giant Färjestad to go back to his hometown? Perhaps the NHL factory up in Örnsköldsvik to play for Modo? Join his WJC coach Roger Rönnberg as he’s set to take over Frölunda?
Nope. On Tuesday, Mora announced that they’ve been able to extend Wikstrand’s contract for another year. After being chased by basically the entire SEL, this is a very surprising move. One would think, that after the success he’s had at the second tier of Swedish hockey, he would want to take another step upwards in his development. Granted, Mora are still in the race for a promotion to the SEL, as they currently hold the seventh spot in the league, the last spot to be in the knockout round where the winner gets to join the top-3 teams of the SEL-2 in a playoff league versus the worst two teams of the SEL.
While we shouldn’t neglect Wikstrand’s own feelings about this decision, he obviously got what he wanted here and surely developing where he’s comfortable and with family close by can’t be all that bad, one has got to wonder what the Senators thought about this decision. Luckily, some very strong hints were revealed by Wikstrand himself in an interview with HockeySverige today:
"Ottawa said it was up to me, but at the same time they obviously wanted me in the SEL, I know what I can get here in Mora. Lots of time on the power play and the kill and the time to develop my game."
SEL-2 is not a terrible league, by any means, but it’s very rare that players go right from it to the NHL. Patrik Berglund did that a few years back, as did Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Others, who have opted to stay with their SEL-2 team instead of adding increased competition, like Flames’ Mikael Backlund, have required some transition time. Wikstrand goes on to further justify this decision to remain at a lower level:
"There were lots of clubs calling, actually, but I felt that I wouldn’t get as much ice-time there for next year that I would here. With Mora I can play the 25-30 minutes per game that I need. I like to play that much and that’s why it felt right to stay here another year. Ottawa obviously wanted me in the SEL but also said that I got to make my own decision if that felt right."
Should the Senators want to sign Wikstrand to an NHL contract, even just to avoid a Tim Erixon bailout, they are free to do so until June this year. Wikstrand’s rights expire in June 2014.
I should say this really came as a big surprise to everyone over here, since he’s been one of the hottest commodities after his strong start with Mora, and elevating that with the exposure of a solid World Juniors tournament in Ufa. For him to make a kind of lateral non-move like this is a little bit disappointing. Not that it won’t develop him, but it would’ve been nice to watch him try to take another step up in competition. If no team could promise him power play time, however, this is a more understandable decision. We’ve seen many careers stagnate because of lack of special teams time. I suspect the Sens will lock him up on a contract this summer, have him over for development camp and then let him stay in Sweden for another year before deciding if they should bring him over to Binghamton for his first year of the contract or if he’s better off taking that step up to the SEL with another SEL-2 season under his belt.