On one of his first shifts in the NHL, Simon Edvinsson stepped up at the blue line on Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon -- third in the league in points per game -- and knocked him to his feet.
"I just felt like right away, I need to be more physical," Edvinsson said with a shrug. "When I played in the preseason, I felt like I wasn’t physical, I didn’t use my size. Now I feel like I do that more, so things like that happen."
Things like that don't happen to MacKinnon. Just don't tell that to Edvinsson. In his second game, he chased down Panthers superstar Matthew Tkachuk -- fourth in the league in points per game -- and knocked him to his feet. When Tkachuk landed on top of Edvinsson's stick, Edvinsson took a few extra shots at him to get it back. This didn't sit well with Tkachuk, who confronted Edvinsson when the period ended a few moments later.
And what did he say?
"Some funny words," Edvinsson smiled.
The 20-year-old chose not to repeat them. But if he was able to get in Tkachuk's head, all the better.
"It’s hockey, it’s supposed to be like that," Edvinsson said. "It’s just fun. He’s a good player and of course you want to get in his head, and I felt like I played better as well after it. I just go out there and play."
Edvinsson is following in the footsteps of Moritz Seider, a sixth overall pick who showed up in Detroit via the Swedish Hockey League as a 20-year-old rookie defenseman last season, needled Victor Hedman in his NHL debut and proceeded to stare down stars for the rest of the year. Edvinsson's 6'6 stride just might be longer; Seider is a mere 6'4. How's that look to opposing forwards for years to come? (Now put 6'6 Sebastian Cossa in net.)
We're already getting ahead of ourselves. Edvinsson is two games into his career, summoned to Detroit under emergency conditions last week in the wake of a couple injuries on the Wings' blue line. He could be back in Grand Rapids later this week. And while he and Seider may eventually form a dominant defensive pair, Edvinsson has a ways to go to bring that vision to life. As Derek Lalonde said Wednesday, "I still think that's a lot to ask of Simon."
"Mo is establishing himself as a top-pair D-man, he’s actually doing it now, but Simon’s not there. He’s not even close to that yet," said Lalonde. "You want to get the most out of his potential, and you hope it’s top pair. If it’s middle pair, if it’s bottom pair, I know we got a really good player. I don’t like thinking in the future or about the outcome, but I can see the excitement, the buzz with the fanbase, I get it."
The buzz has been building since Yzerman called Edvinsson's name in the 2021 draft. Here was another big, young defenseman with a powerful stride, poise on the puck, prowess as a passer and a precocious feel for the game that suggested he could make a quick jump to the NHL. Perhaps the one thing missing would have seemed like a given for a player of Edvinsson's stature: physicality. But playing on the wider ice surface in Sweden, Edvinsson could get by without leveraging his size.
"It's a bigger rink, you don’t have a guy on you all the time, so you don’t need to use (physicality) that much," he said. "In the AHL, it was a big difference. It was there that I learned how to really use my advantage, and that’s what I did."
The buzz subsided, just a bit, when Edvinsson failed to make the Red Wings' roster out of training camp this season. His play was too erratic in exhibition games -- polished one shift, mistake-prone the next -- and Edvinsson would admit as much. So he went to Grand Rapids, and went to work. He adjusted to the congestion and timing of the North American game, and now he's here in Detroit, showing his growth. Lalonde called Edvinsson the Wings' "best D-man" in their loss to the Panthers last weekend.
"Great coach so far. He hasn’t yelled at me yet," Edvinsson said with a grin.
Lalonde hasn't had a reason to. Edvinsson has done everything his coaches have asked, albeit in mostly sheltered minutes. And in the odd shift against the other team's best, he's been up to the task. It's not so much the big hits that stand out to Lalonde, but the way Edvinsson has used his size to win battles in his own zone and help the Wings get up ice. And when he's had it, he's "moved the puck efficiently," said Lalonde. He's also joined the rush a couple times and nearly scored a third-period game-tying goal against the Panthers.
And regarding the Seider similarities, don't let Lalonde fool you. On the topic of Edvinsson's physicality, the coach himself said, "Being a big defenseman, it’s gotta be part of your identity. Mo is very much like that, especially early in his career, too, and it’s continued. I just think that’s part of defending the right way, being hard."
Asked how he defines a successful game for himself, win or lose, Edvinsson said, "I want to give my teammates time with the puck. Give them a good first pass, I would say. Just be a good defenseman, that’s why I’m a D. And then offensively, of course I want to make plays in the offensive zone as well, but it’s the defensive part that is my No. 1. Give my teammates time with the puck and keep it simple."
He's already speaking like his coaches. At this stage in Edvinsson's career, Lalonde said he's evaluating him on, literally, "not doing bad things." Things like "poor defensive reads and egregious-type turnovers."
"The other things, the offense, the quick transition, making plays, that’ll come," said Lalonde. "So just managing his game: proper gaps, being that big body, not letting people get middle ice on you, little things like that. Again, it’s only two games and there’s going to be many ups and downs, but so far, positives."
Edvinsson, who briefly left Monday's game with a lower-body injury, skated Wednesday and said he feels good. He could play on Thursday, if asked. In fact, he was so eager to return to the game Monday after being checked out by team trainers that he joked, "I kinda ran away and went out to play." The Red Wings, who are getting healthier on the blue line, will decide Thursday whether to extend Edvinsson's stay or return him to the AHL.
Either way, the buzz is back. In two games, Edvinsson has shown that he belongs in the best league in the world. There's no doubt, in Lalonde's view, "that from what I saw in camp to what I saw in Grand Rapids to what I’m seeing now, we’re going about the right process with him." It doesn't mean Edvinsson will stay here, or even that he should. There are bigger minutes for him to play in Grand Rapids right now than in Detroit.
Which is fine: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl -- first and second in the league in points per game -- don't return to Detroit until next season.
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