Exclusive: Rangers 2020 draft pick Oliver Tärnström on getting drafted, dealing with COVID-19, and pushing to get loaned
This year the Rangers drafted just two Europeans. The first of those was 18-year old center Oliver Tärnström who plays for AIK. If the name Tärnström rings a bell with fans, it’s because his dad Dick Tärnström played in the NHL for years. Drafted by the Islanders, Dick played parts of 5 seasons for the Islanders, Penguins, Oilers and Blue Jackets.
Oliver Tarnstrom early years in Sweden
As a young boy, Oliver lived in Sweden during the summer. When the heat gave with to cooler temperatures and hockey season started he was in North America with his parents. “I started playing in Switzerland when I was 4 years old, and then played a little bit in Edmonton. Once we moved back to Sweden in 2008, I played for a local team for a few years. At age 11 I switched teams and started playing for AIK’s youth teams,” he explained about his childhood and path to AIK.
During those days he got to meet his dad’s teammates and opponents, see locker rooms all over the NHL. Oliver’s mom took him to every game his dad played. It’s a similar story to Ty Ronning, whose dad was an NHLer as well. Now, after a decade back in Sweden, Oliver Tärnström looks at those moments fondly and hopes to make it back to the NHL as a player.
Tarnstrom on joining AIK
At age 11, he was recruited by AIK to join their academy and play for their youth teams. It was an easy decision for Oliver, following in his dad’s footsteps. Dick Tärnström played 606 games for AIK from 1992 to 2013 and is always there for his son but tries not to interfere too much in Oliver’s development.
“He gives me advice but only when I ask for it. He tries to keep his distance and not put unnecessary pressure on me but when I need help, he is always there for me“, Tärnström revealed.
Tarnstrom was playing a game when the Rangers drafted him
Last month, Tärnström was playing against Väsby in Allsvenskan with AIK’s men’s team the day of the draft. When asked about his draft experience he explains he didn’t find out until after the game.
“I was on the ice when I was drafted. After the game we were about to go to the gym to lift some weights and I checked my phone,” he began. “I checked my phone around the 95th pick, and I got a lot of messages from friends congratulating me“.
Leading up to the draft, the Rangers reached out to Tärnström a few times. Without a Combine teams have been relying on video calls to assess players. Teams had to spend more time during these interviews to evaluate prospects before drafting them.
Hobbies and the number 6
During the summer Tärnström likes to be outdoors. Golfing and fishing are a big passion for the young center. In the winter months he plays table tennis with his teammates to stay busy. The winters are cold and the days are short in Sweden during that season.
One question I always look forward to asking is about a player’s jersey number. “My dad wore number 6 for AIK and he played 606 games for them. So I wore number 6 as a kid until I got to the u16 level and switched to number 9. I can find a new favorite number if I make the team for the Rangers.”
If Tärnström indeed picks number 6, he would be the first Rangers forward since Manny Malhotra to wear that number.
Tarnstrom prides himself on hockey sense
When I asked about what he feels his biggest strengths are his response was quick and its his hockey sense. I followed up with what areas he needs to improve upon.
“I am working on my strength and getting stronger. I focus on my shooting as well“, the 18 year-old center explained. According him playing professional hockey against men helps. “The biggest difference is the physical play. I have to get bigger and stronger to compete with grown men and to challenge the good players at pro level.”
COVID-19 and loan agreement
When the u20 games were cancelled for the remainder of the calendar year, Tärnström was practicing with the men’s team. “I spoke to my agent about getting loaned out to a HockeyEttan club to get some games and more icetime than I get with the AIK men’s team. I think it’s good to play against men and getting some senior hockey minutes“.
That loan was confirmed earlier this week. Tärnström will join Tyresö/Hanviken until the end of the year. His new team is only 20 minutes away, which allows for a construction in the loan agreement where he can play for either team.
“The loan is short-term and I can play for both teams. If AIK’s men’s team needs me I can play for them, and otherwise I play for Tyresö/Hanviken“.
Last week one of his teammates was diagnosed with COVID-19 resulting in the entire team getting tested. Tärnström tested positive and has been quarantined at home. Today is the first day he joins the team again for practice.
“I am starting with the AIK team this weekend. I will practice with them. Some on their team are sick and they need some players. When everyone is back I can play with the new team,” Tärnström explained.
Today, both his teams are playing and we will have to wait until the lineups are released to see where he plays this Sunday. But it’s good to have the 18-year old back on the ice again regardless of the league he plays in.
PS: I want to thank Oliver Tärnström for sitting down with me and giving me the opportunity to share this story with our fanbase.