Hitmen superstar paving road to NHL
Roughly 7,000 kilometres from home, Victor Rask is well on his way to turning his dream of playing in the NHL into a reality.
This past spring, Rask, 18, was drafted in the 2nd round, 42nd overall, by the Carolina Hurricanes in the NHL entry draft and this fall had the opportunity to compete in his first NHL training camp — an experience the soft-spoken Swede won't soon forget.
In the meantime, Rask, originally from Leksand, Sweden — a small town northwest of Stockholm — moved to North America in the summer to play for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League.
In spite of a WHL schedule that is roughly double in length as compared to the Swedish men's league Rask was competing in back home, his adjustment to the North American game has come with few hiccups.
For instance, through the first two months of the WHL season, Rask leads the Hitmen in both goals and points.
"The language barrier isn't the factor it is with a lot of the European players," Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson said. "Victor is a player that makes guys around him better.
"He's got an unbelievable skill set. I think what's going to really allow to him to be an impact player at the next level is that he is strong on his skates."
"It will be fun to play there," Rask said. "They are a really good team and there are really good players back home in Sweden. It's tough to make the team but I'll do my best."
Williamson is equally excited for Rask to get the opportunity to compete on the world stage, despite admitting that the Hitmen would definitely miss his skill set.
"It's a great opportunity for him to go and play at that level," Williamson said. "The players when they come back are usually better players because they've been pushed to a different pace."
Rask also competed in the 2011 IIHF World Under-18 Hockey Championships this past spring. However, the United States defeated Sweden 4-3 in overtime to win the gold medal.
Despite the heartbreak, all this international experience should pave the way for the young talented Swede to suit up for the Hurricanes on hockey's biggest stage in the not-so distant future.
"He's a tremendously skilled player," Hitmen teammate Jimmy Bubnick said. "He's so good with the puck. He's strong in the corners and he protects the puck well."
Coupled with Rasks' enviable on-ice talent, Williamson said it's the other intangibles that could really take him to another level.
"Victor wants to be a player and he wants to get better," his bench boss said. "He's willing to do extra off the ice as well.
"He's not only very coachable, but for a guy coming over to a different country he shows good leadership qualities as well."
- By Derrick Newman