Carolina Hurricanes

Canes’ youthful lineup makes good impression in 3-0 preseason win

Jesper Sellgren is a small guy at a stacked position in the Carolina Hurricanes’ training camp.

And, it appears, catching the eye of Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour and others at times.

Sellgren, 21, has done what so many came to camp to do -- make a favorable impression. The Swedish defenseman has made the most of his chances for a player whose only North American hockey experience is 11 playoff games last season in the American Hockey League.

“I like the way he thinks the game,” Brind’Amour said Tuesday. “He’s got that smooth, silky way he moves around. That’s today’s game. It’s important.”

A year ago, Sellgren was preparing for a season with Lulea HF in the Swedish Hockey League. On Tuesday, he appeared in his first game against NHL competition as the Canes faced the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first of six preseason exhibition games. That’s coming a long way in a short time.

The Canes took a 3-0 victory as goalies James Reimer and Anton Forsberg split the time in net, stopping 15 shots. Lucas Wallmark, Max McCormick and Colin Markison supplied the goals -- McCormick scoring 30 seconds into the game and Wallmark and Markison getting third-period scores at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.

It was a game in which Brind’Amour filled the lineup with several young guys like Sellgren for a better evaluation. That will change Wednesday when the Canes and Lightning play again at PNC Arena, the lineups having a more veteran look and Brind’Amour noting, “I want to see the same effort.”

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Carolina Hurricanes center Lucas Wallmark (71) pushes the puck past Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) during the first period of an NHL preseason hockey game Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara) Chris O'Meara AP

Sellgren had 19:40 in ice time and was active defensively, making smart plays. He was used on the power play and the penalty kill. He had four shots, picking his spots. During the second period, he found himself battling Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos in front of the net, standing his ground against one of the league’s best forwards, who did not have a shot on net in the game.

After Tuesday’s morning skate at PNC Arena, Sellgren tried to downplay the game as best he could.

“I don’t want to make too big a deal out of it,” Sellgren said in an N&O interview. “I just want to go out there, play some hockey and have some fun, to really show myself to the coaches and for everyone around.”

It could have been even more memorable. The Lightning’s Victor Hedman could have been on the ice. But the Norris Trophy winner in 2018 as the league’s best defenseman did not dress for the game.

“He’s a really big name back home and just a great example to look up to and try and follow in his footsteps,” Sellgren said.

By “home,” Sellgren meant their hometown -- Ornskoldsvik. A city of 33,000 north of Stockholm, it has produced such NHL stars as Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund, Hedman and the Sedin brothers, Henrik and Daniel.

“Must be something in the water,” Sellgren said, smiling. “We have a great hockey culture there.”

At 5-11 and 169 pounds, Sellgren is seven inches shorter and 54 pounds lighter than the imposing Hedman. He’s also the smallest of the 15 defensemen in Canes’ camp -- his defensive partner Tuesday, Kyle Wood, is 6-7 and 235.

The Canes’ European scouts liked what they saw of Sellgren, a mobile type with strong puck-handling skills and a good head for the game. Carolina was able to get him in the sixth round of the 2018 NHL Draft, the 166th player picked.

After watching his solid play for Lulea last season, in the regular season and then the SHL playoffs, the Canes contacted him and asked that he join the Charlotte Checkers, their AHL affiliate, on a professional tryout. He didn’t hesitate.

“It was an easy decision to come over and play more hockey,” he said. “It was one and a half more months, definitely more hockey,”

Talk about timing. Sellgren soon was thrust into the Calder Cup playoffs, getting in 11 games in the Checkers’ championship run. In the midst of that, he signed a three-year entry level contract with the Hurricanes.

“We had such a good team and it was so much fun to come and play,” Sellgren said.

Sellgren competed for the Canes in the Nashville Prospects Showcase this month, then took the next step by earning an invite to team’s NHL training camp.

“I didn’t have too much expectations,” he said of camp. “I didn’t want to have too much expectations. Just come here, do the best I can, show my skills and what I can contribute to the team. I want to go with the flow.”

It’s possible Sellgren could spend this season in Charlotte with the Checkers. He could head back to Lulea for another season in the SHL. But he’s done what he can to be noticed.

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
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