Swedish diploma in hand, Marco Kasper eyes job with Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

Marco Kasper will be showing up at Detroit Red Wings camp with a diploma — but as good as that looks on a resumé, he likely will need more work experience.

The Wings got an all-too-brief look at their prize pick from the 2022 draft when Kasper flew from Sweden to Detroit in late March, and then promptly boarded the team plane bound for Winnipeg, Manitoba. His audition only lasted a game, however, as a knee injury prevented him from appearing in more than the April 2 outing at the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It did, at least, make an impression upon the 19-year-old.

“It was a great experience even if it was just one game,” Kasper said at the Wings’ development camp in early July. “I got to see how an NHL team travels, and also getting to see the speed in the NHL and how it is to play on the small ice.”

After the season ended, Kasper returned to his native Austria, and then went back to Sweden, where he has been playing hockey and going to school for the past three years. That was a satisfying experience: Kasper, who speaks German, Swedish and English, was able to complete the assignments needed to don a Swedish graduation hat.

“It was really fun to graduate from high school in Sweden,” Kasper said. “Really fun. It’s hard to juggle school and hockey but I managed to do it with the help of the teachers and principal. I had to do a couple things before I could graduate, but got it done.”

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A typical day for Kasper had him going to hockey practice at 9 a.m., then working out, followed by lunch, school in the afternoon, and then home.

“I’m trying to become a hockey player, but it was important for me and my family to graduate,” he said. “I think it’s good for younger players to focus on other things instead of only focusing on hockey, so you can take your mind off hockey and just go to school, meet other kids, have fun outside of hockey as well.”

Kasper stands to be in for a big change now that he is transitioning to play in North America. Not just the smaller ice surface, but daily practices, games three-to-four times a week, and a demanding travel schedule. Development camp at Little Caesars Arena in early July was a good primer for Kasper to learn how much of an impact nutrition and sleep can make — and to show how far he has come in the year since the Wings drafted him. In fact, there’s an argument for him to slow down a bit.

“He does too much, if that makes sense,” Wings director of player development Dan Cleary said. “He’s wanting more and more and more. It’s like, ‘Kasper, you might have to bring it back a little bit.’ There’s no issue with Kasper’s work ethic and determination. He’s got high character. He’s just a good person.”

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Kasper’s drive — along with his skills, skating and hockey sense — are what led general manager Steve Yzerman to select Kasper at No. 8 a year ago. But as with 2021 top pick Simon Edvinsson, Yzerman isn’t going to hand Kasper an NHL job before he is ready. Trading for Alex DeBrincat and Klim Kostin and signing J.T. Compher, Daniel Sprong and Christian Fischer stocked the Wings with NHL forwards, and signaled that higher-ups anticipate Kasper starting with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

To Kasper’s advantage, he already is used to playing in a men’s league; before he was recalled to Detroit on March 30, Kasper played 52 games with Rögle BK in his third season in Sweden’s top men’s league, where he posted eight goals, 15 assists — and a team-high 72 penalty minutes.

It was evident in his one NHL game that Kasper isn’t one to shirk from physical confrontation.

“I’m trying not to back down at all and be where the goals are scored,” Kasper said. “There’s going to be scrums and I’m trying to be there and not back down and stand up for myself and my teammates.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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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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