Detroit — It took longer than expected, but defenseman William Wallinder finally arrived in Detroit last week for the Red Wings’ development camp.
Wallinder was a 2020 second-round draft pick, so timing was not on his side.
The Wings didn’t hold a development camp for prospects and recent draft picks during the last two years because of COVID-19 pandemic concerns. So, Wallinder remained in Sweden and met with Wings scouts and development coaches who either are based in Sweden or came through on scouting trips.
“It took a while, but finally, I’m here,” Wallinder said while meeting the Detroit media last week.
Of course, Wallinder is hoping Detroit becomes a second home.
Wallinder plans on staying in Sweden one more season, playing for a Rogle team that will also have Wings draft picks Marco Kasper and Theodor Niederbach before coming over to play in North America in the fall of 2023.
Wallinder, 19, was honest with where he believes he’s at hockey-wise. There’s still room for improvement and some catching up to do on the defensive end of the rink.
“I don’t feel like I’m there yet,” Wallinder said of being ready for North American pro hockey. “I’m going to spend another year in Sweden with Rogle and, hopefully, I’ll be ready after that season.
“It’s hard to tell (how playing in North America will be) but, hopefully, it translates pretty easy, so it’s like playing as usual.”
At 6-foot-4 and 191 pounds, Wallinder is maturing physically and already has shown aspects of his game that could translate someday to the NHL.
Last season at Rogle, playing at three different levels, Wallinder had five goals and 18 assists in 67 games, with a plus-12 rating.
Moving from second-tier MoDo to Rogle worked out well.
“It went just the way I wanted,” Wallinder said. “I got my game going and my defensive game started to work (itself) out and went in the right direction.
“I (was) really comfortable this last season. It felt like everything was coming into place. All my defensive issues from the past, everything is good now.”
Wallinder gave a glowing report on Kasper, who the Wings selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft earlier this month.
“I played with him the entire season; he works hard,” Wallinder said. “He likes to go straight to the net and be a little dirty in front of the net. He’s a tough guy to play against. He’s really skilled, too.”
Wallinder appeared genuinely excited to be at Little Caesars Arena, taking in the history and tradition of Red Wings teams and stars of the past.
Most notably, the Swedish Red Wings like Niklas Kronwall, Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg. Kronwall was an on-ice coach during the development camp and works extensively with Wallinder in Sweden.
“I know it well (Detroit’s success with Swedish players), the Swedish guys that have been here, so it’s kind of sick to be here too,” Wallinder said.
Kronwall was a player who Wallinder singled out, noting he enjoyed the way Kronwall played.
“I liked his hits,” said Wallinder, adding it’s especially special these days to have a coach-player relationship with the former Wings star. “It’s great to work with him. He has a lot of experience, so just to learn from him and listen to what he says.”
Wallinder enjoyed being around his prospective Wings teammates and soaked in the lessons the coaches imparted.
For all the players in the 2020 and 2021 draft classes, this was the first opportunity to take part in the educational camp and visit the Red Wings’ arena and practice facility.
“It’s just a great experience to be here,” Wallinder said. “It’s fun to meet the guys who maybe we’ll be teammates in the future. It’s good to get to know them.”
Wallinder is looking forward to representing Sweden in the upcoming world junior championships Aug. 9-20 in Edmonton. The tournament was postponed from its usual time in early January because of a surge in COVID cases.
Delayed until next month, many players and hockey personnel are intrigued about the potential for this tournament given players will be getting ready to begin training camps and their seasons.
This will be the first time Wallinder gets to represent Sweden in the prestigious junior tournament. The pandemic eliminated one tournament entirely and Wallinder didn’t make the final roster another time.
“It feels pretty good,” Wallinder said of finally being able to play in the event. “I missed it two times. It’s nice to finally get a chance to play there. It’s been a dream.”