At Steve Yzerman’s request, Elmer Soderblom gets big look with Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

There isn’t a better vote of confidence for a Detroit Red Wings prospect than a directive from Steve Yzerman.

Soderblom, the 6-foot-8 forward who was part of Yzerman’s first draft class as general manager of the Wings, was earmarked to play his second exhibition game on a line with Pius Suter and Adam Erne, which slotted as the second line for Wednesday’s match against the Chicago Blackhawks. That put Soderblom in a spot to play top-six minutes. Head coach Derek Lalonde said it was “an ask from management over the weekend. A reflection of his time in Traverse. ”

More:Why Steve Yzerman believes Detroit Red Wings will be ‘a better hockey team’

Soderblom, 21, isn’t just big (an inch shorter than Zdeno Chara, the just-retired Bruins defenseman who was the tallest player in the NHL); there’s skill there, too. He scored a goal in the Wings’ 6-2 victory at Pittsburgh, a game he wasn’t even supposed to play in until Jakub Vrana called in sick that morning.

“It was a tough ask of him to play last second, especially with the fact he played three rookie games,” Lalonde said. “His actual scheduled day off was moved back a day. We called him at 9:30 and told him we needed him. He was excited about it. He skated, he competed. There are still some areas like with any young guy — puck protect, two hands on the stick, typical details with a young player. But he certainly was a positive.”

Yzerman spoke highly of Soderblom in the summer, expressing optimism he could be an NHL player. Soderblom recorded 21 goals and 12 assists in 52 games last season in the Swedish Hockey League and has taken steps during camp to adjust to the smaller North American ice surface.

“Everybody is quicker and smarter,” Soderblom said. “I have to keep up with that and just work on my game.

“I bring something to the team. I have to use my big body to my advantage and do the things I’m good at — do them even better. I think I have improved with that every single year. I am taking steps every season, now every single day.”

Simon Edvinsson, no slouch at 6-6, knows Soderblom well from Sweden, where they played together with Frolunda.

“We played against each in juniors, and he was a big guy even then,” Edvinsson said. “It was fun to play against him, and with him. He’s a big guy with skills, good skater. I think he can do everything he did in Sweden.”

The intriguing part as the Wings work their way through the preseason is to see whether Soderblom can be a factor, especially on power plays. Lalonde has stressed that his approach to preparing for the season has been to be “open-minded and starting from scratch with everyone.”

“My first look with Elmer was the first game in Traverse, and his big body and soft hands around the net, especially on the power play,” he said, “he got his stick on a couple pucks, it went through his legs on a deflection. Just high-level skill stuff, which is very intriguing from a big body.”

Soderblom weighs nearly 250 pounds, so between that and being nearly 7 feet on skates, it’s not like there’s a goaltender who is going to be able to look over him, or around him, when he sets up in front of opposing nets.

“I watched a little bit of Tuesday’s game and saw him on the ice a lot at camp,” Dylan Larkin said. “It’s pretty impressive what he can do in front of the net, with how big he is.  He’s in great shape. He’s built very well. He’s a pretty solid guy for being that tall. I’m intrigued to see what other guys think about it, how other players try and defend it and what their reactions are when they see him. It is a sight to be seen how big he is and how well he skates.

“If it all translates is what we’re going to see in the preseason. I think at some point he’s going to be a huge asset to our team. ”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her latest book, On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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