Lindsay Kramer | NHL.com correspondent
Feb 5, 2007, 12:00 PM EST
At first, Manitoba Moose forward Lee Goren had teammate Alex Edler’s back big-time.
Asked whom Edler, a 6-foot-3 rookie defenseman from Sweden, reminded him of, Goren started right at the top.
“I think he’s the Nicklas Lidstrom of the American Hockey League,’’ Goren said. “He’s steady, good at everything. When you have a defenseman who is that big and can move that well and is that skilled, it’s a huge asset. He’s come in and he’s been solid from the start.’’
Pause. Wait for other shoe to drop.
Well, is there something he’s not that good at?
“He’s not that great of a soccer player,’’ Goren said. “We play soccer right before games. He usually gets beat. It’s his national sport. And I’m beating him at his national sport.’’
Edler, standing nearby, usually doesn’t have much to say about anything. Except now, short and to the point.
“My national sport is hockey,’’ Edler said.
Maybe, maybe not, but Edler, 20, is carrying his country’s banner with grace and ease. Then again, that’s the way he’s doing everything. There are few, if any, products in the AHL as polished as Edler.
To watch him on the ice is to see the very definition of harmony on skates. He is long, but the complete opposite of gangly. His arms and legs don’t move, they flow. Combining his mobility and reach, you have to change area codes to get around him.
With 16 games already played in Vancouver, he is a mere rental to the Moose.
“Going into the year, I didn’t know if I was going to make the AHL team or not,’’ Edler said. “When I got called up, I felt like, yeah, I can play here. The last three years, everything has been going fast. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t have time to think back.’’
Here’s a quick synopsis: for a player so big and obviously talented, he pulled off the near-impossible task of coming out of almost nowhere.
Or, in this case, from the lower levels of Swedish hockey. That’s where he was playing as recently as three years ago, with a third-division team in his homeland. Thomas Gradin, Vancouver’s European scout, unearthed him and highly recommended him to the Canucks. That organization plucked him in the third round of the 2004 draft.
But it wasn’t until last season, playing for Kelowna of the WHL, that Edler really hit the charts, contributing 13 goals and 40 assists. And, all the while, trying to stiff-arm a longing for home.
“It was a big decision to move over here. I really don’t regret it now, but it was hard,’’ he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I was a little bit homesick. I like Canada, too. But when you’re homesick, you miss everything.’’
At least Edler quickly became an obvious pro prospect. Or not.
“I just remember him from training camp last year and the player we see now versus that player is night and day,’’ Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault told the Vancouver Province newspaper. “If you would have asked me last year if I thought this guy would ever play in the NHL, I probably would have said no.’’
The 180-degree swing in opinion comes down to confidence and cognition. Edler tested himself against the best last season, both with Kelowna and playing for Sweden at the World Juniors. Edler said he could sense his improvement in playing better without the puck, and throwing himself into the physical side of the game.
“It’s good to be big. But I’m not that strong. I have to be stronger,’’ Edler said.
When Moose coach Scott Arniel got a look at him this year, he was amazed when he saw a rather large, versatile sponge.