Axel Jonsson-Fjällby entered last summer’s development camp as a fresh breeze, impressing Capitals brass right away. He then did rather well at the “big camp”, and a future in the NHL seemed not that far away for the teenager from Stockholm, Sweden. We all know what happend next. After a lukewarm start in Hershey, Jonsson-Fjällby decided to return to his native team, Djurgården in the Swedish Hockey League, where things didn’t exactly flourish.
Not an unusual choice for young Swedes, who often spend an extra year in Sweden to gather extra experience, playing against men in a known area, in order to cross the Atlantic, better prepared. Nicklas Bäckström did it, as did Peter Forsberg, Mats Sundin and many other NHL players from Sweden.
So it wasn’t too surprising when Axel Jonsson-Fjällby wanted to do the same thing. After all, everything had gone very fast for him the previous year. He then entered the Djurgården team from nowhere and quickly established himself, taking big leaps in a short period of time. And maybe playing in the NHL, only a year after, was a bit unrealistic for him.
Off course, stories like that have happened in the past. For example, Devils forward Jesper Bratt went from playing second-tier hockey in Sweden to the NHL right away. But it doesn’t happen that often.
Jonsson-Fjällby returned “home” with a reputation such that Team Sweden coach Rikard Grönborg selected him for an upcoming national team tournament, shortly after his arrival. Now 34 games later in Sweden, Jonsson-Fjällby is noted for seven assists and no goals, averaging just under 14 minutes per game in total. His ice time has gone down lately, and at the moment he resides in a checking line.
Both Caps fans and Djurgården fans are disappointed in the kid, but rightfully so? I’m not sure. Jonsson-Fjällby had his breakout party last year, and I believe that in some ways we can view this as a so-called “sophomore slump”. You can’t criticize his compete level. He is skating like never before, and is working hard. The goals haven’t come, which probably weighs him down.
Off course one could ask for more, production-wise, but also we need to ask ourselves what kind of a player did we expect him to be? Yes, he really has the vibes of a potential star, and maybe he could elevate his game. But we need to remember that most scouts, and also our own GM, Brian McLellan, projected Jonsson-Fjällby as a player in the bottom-six. And even though a player in that department produces points, other tools like skating, work ethic, defensive awareness and physicality can count more. And you really can’t argue from watching him play this year, that any of that is missing. It’s that extra bounce, that bit of confidence that is missing.
So, I believe we all should calm down our expectations a bit. Jonsson-Fjällby is on his own path to becoming a good hockey player. Yes, this season might be considered by some a bust, but like Swedish journalist Hans Abrahamsson tweeted the other day about his season, “a bad season could also be a good season”. There is a lot to learn from a season like this if you use it right. There are still a few games remaining in the regular season, and after that a playoff run awaits Djurgården and Jonsson-Fjällby, a type of play which suited him particularly well last year. He could still end the season on a high note.
I believe that a year in Hershey is likely for him next year, and I hope he takes the opportunity to adjust to the North American game there. His energetic and physical game really should suit the smaller rinks as well.
By Jesper Svensson