The Buffalo Sabres liked Rasmus Asplund so much in the 2016 NHL Draft, they traded up to get him with the 33rd pick. This offseason, the Sabres signed Asplund to a three-year entry-level contract.
The 20-year-old forward comes to North America after completing his fourth season in the Swedish Hockey League. Last season with Färjestad BK, Asplund tallied eight goals and 20 assists in 50 games played. Asplund has been a noticeable player at past Sabres development camps and will look to continue his development within the organization.
I recently spoke with Johan Ekberg, a sportswriter at Värmlands Folkblad to discuss Asplund’s career to-date. Located in Karlstad, Sweden, Ekberg has been covering Färjestad closely since 2006.
Asplund quickly earned a full-time job with Färjestad. This can be attributed to two things: determination and talent. As Ekberg pointed out, the Filipstad native has always been a very mature guy.
The 20-year-old is renown as an excellent two-way center and is more than just a third line player -
“Last season he was Färjestad’s second line center with Swedish Olympian Dick Axelsson on one side and New York Rangers coveted free agent signee Michael Lindqvist on the other.
“He also played on one of Färjestad’s power-play units as well as on one of the penalty kill units. I wouldn’t say his role could have been much bigger, especially with Johan Ryno, one of the elite players in the SHL, being Färjestad’s first line center.”
With his ability to gain time and space, I asked Ekberg if he considered Asplund to be more of a goal scorer or playmaker -
“He has always been more of a passer than a shooter, but I know he has worked really hard, staying after practices to become a better shooter. In the playoffs he scored a beautiful goal after releasing an amazing shot - so maybe practice has paid off.”
Asplund has demonstrated in the SHL that he has NHL qualities by competing hard on each shift, being a tenacious forechecker, and by being a leader.
“In the locker room, he’s a great guy. A real leader. He played a big part of the season with an ‘A’ on his chest as an alternate captain, which considering his age speaks to what kind of player and guy he is. He has also been the captain in tournaments playing for the Swedish junior national teams.”
So, how will that success translate to the NHL?
“It’s always almost impossible to guess. I wouldn’t be surprised if he became a reliable third line center at the NHL-level, taking a big penalty killing role but also with the ability to produce some offense.”
Ekberg believes the time is right for Asplund to move to North America.
“He has been a professional hockey player after graduating from what can be compared to as high school. Many guys in his shoes take the step one year too early - and if he wanted to, I’m sure Buffalo would have signed him last summer after he had played three full seasons against men in the SHL.
“He stayed an extra year, had a big role on Färjestad and also got to play some games for the Swedish national team Tre Kronor. He has never been one of the biggest guys, so staying one more year also gave him the opportunity to work in the gym and put on some muscle.”
While every young player pretty much needs to work on everything, there is nothing in particular for Asplund that comes as a big weakness. Ekberg pointed out him being good at everything is one of his strengths. That could bode well for him as he has had strong development camp performances in Buffalo.
With the additions of Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, and already having two young centers in Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt, Asplund’s time may have to wait.
“To let him start in the AHL and learn the North American style and get used to the smaller rinks would make sense, and then call him up later in the season when he is more used to everything.”
Finally, we discussed his great hockey IQ. He is a really smart player and great in the faceoff dot.
“Faceoffs are one thing he takes pride in, for sure. After winning 39.56 percent of the draws in his first season in the SHL, as a 16-year-old, he has been an above 50 percent faceoff guy every season.
“His best season came in the 2016-17 season where he was 56.20 percent on draws. That year he was the ninth best faceoff guy in the SHL, winning 290 out of 516 draws.”
Our thanks to Johan for speaking with us.