LOS ANGELES – Jonatan Berggren thought he was being scolded, and then scammed, by the Detroit Red Wings.
The latest prospect the Wings are hoping will help their rebuild figured he was being called into one coach’s office for a rebuke, and didn’t answer another coach’s call because he thought it was spam. Now he’s living it up in Southern California for a few days, segueing from earning a point — and a puck — in his NHL debut to getting another look in the lineup.
“We want skilled guys to make plays,” coach Derek Lalonde said Saturday. “He did that. He did that on the rush, made a couple other plays. I love some of the O-zone puck possession. But, like the rest of our team, we still have to manage our game. There were a couple wall plays coming out of our zone that I think he still needs to work on, but we are going to try to let him succeed for what he is.”
The Wings almost didn’t succeed in even letting Berggren know he was being called up. Dealing with a rash of injuries to their forward group, they needed to yet again call up somebody from their American Hockey League affiliate. That was on Nov. 10. The Grand Rapids Griffins were in Cleveland when coach Ben Simon was informed, and it was on him to let Berggren know. But since the Griffins had just lost by three goals, Berggren didn’t think it would be good news when he was pulled aside.
“It was Ben who took me in his locker room after the game,” Berggren said. “We lost the game so I thought he would be pissed with me and like scream something or show me something bad. But when he told me I was going up, it was an unreal feeling.”
The next day, ahead of the Wings’ game against the New York Rangers, it was Lalonde who Berggren tried to dodge when he called.
“I thought it was a spam call,” Berggren said. “I get a lot of them. But he texted me, so I knew it was him and then I called him.”
Berggren turned out to be one of the few bright spots Nov. 10, showing off his offensive skills when he centered a pass that Joe Veleno turned into a goal. Berggren, Veleno and another recent call-up, Austin Czarnik, were on the lineup sheet again for Saturday’s game at the Kings, and even with Tyler Bertuzzi projected to return soon from an upper-body injury, Berggren is likely to stay in the lineup.
“I think he’s the type of player that, you don’t want to have a yoyo effect with him, where some of our other guys, they’re there for those short-term call-ups and have done an excellent job for us,” Lalonde said. “I think the year in the AHL was very valuable for him last year, and I think the handful of games he had down there this year were valuable for him. We just want to continue with that development and give him the right opportunities at the right time.”
Berggren, 22, has been high on the Wings’ list of skilled prospects since they drafted him at No. 33 overall in 2018, but his development took a detour a few years ago because of injuries. He came to North America last season, posting 64 points in 70 games with the Griffins, and had seven points in seven AHL games this season. He had a good camp, but with the Wings flush with skilled forwards, he was assigned to the minors after exhibition season ended.
“Of course it was boring, but I didn’t could do too much about it, so I just tried to be as good as I can be every day,” Berggren said. “I think I’ve adapted to the game in North America, you have a lot less space and you need to be a little harder on the puck and know what you are going to do before you get the puck. I think that’s the main thing I’ve been better at.
“I have confidence in my game. I just to be as good as I can be in the d-zone. That’s the biggest thing.”
Berggren has been to the L.A. area with the Griffins (“I took a tourist bus around town last year,” he said. “It’s an amazing spot to be, a cool city.”) but now he’s back with the swank and swagger befitting playing in the NHL.
“It’s been amazing,” Berggren said. “Like a childhood dream come true. I just try to have fun while I’m here and not think so much and just play hockey.”
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.