February 5, 2020

Interview with a champion, Rangers prospect Karl Henriksson

Henriksson (NYPOST)

While every Rangers fan was focused on Kaapo Kakko when he was drafted by the Blueshirts 2nd overall, I was focused on someone else that weekend. I flew to Vancouver to attend the draft and day 2 is always my favorite day to experience. The Rangers drafted a Swedish kid in the 2nd round who I had followed a bit previously and I was eager to try and find him after his name was called. Unsuccessful in my quest, I was able to meet up with almost every other player selected by the Rangers that day. That Swedish kid? Karl Henriksson.

This week I had a chance to sit down with the young center who not only celebrates his 19th birthday today, but also won the Champions Hockey League final last night with his team Frölunda. My first question of course was related to that Saturday in June in Vancouver and I immediately got an answer that explained why my search for the Swedish kid was unsuccessful. He wasn’t there. “I wasn’t at the draft in Vancouver. I was back home in Sweden with my family” he told me. It was a great day for Henriksson because while being back home, he found out he was drafted by the New York Rangers and he couldn’t be happier.

Early Years

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I grew up watching them and yes it was a dream come true.

Karl Henriksson on being drafted by the Rangers

As a kid growing up, he watched the Rangers a lot. The early 2000s the Rangers were quite popular in the country that has produced quality centers like Nicklas Bäckström (more on him later), defensemen like Erik Karlsson and of course the best goalie in Rangers history, Henrik Lundqvist. Henriksson, born a year after Lundqvist was drafted, grew up watching the Rangers, so when he found out out of the 31 possible teams it was that team from the Big Apple that drafted him, it was a dream come true.

It was a hectic summer for Henriksson with the Summer Showcase in Plymouth, MI, where he played in 5 games, followed by the Rangers Prospect Development camp. That’s where Henriksson got acquainted with the rest of the talent pool, including fellow Swedes Nils Lundkvist, Adam Edström and others like K’Andre Miller, Matthew Robertson and many more.

Was a really fun tournament, the tempo was high and the players good. It was a real good experience.

Karl Henriksson on the Traverse City Tournament

Pro Camp

Henriksson was expected to fly back to Sweden after that, but Rangers management wanted to keep him in North America a bit longer which led to a strange situation. Henriksson was the first Europe-based player to participate in the Traverse City Tournament without signing an entry-level contract. It’s a sign that the front office has high hopes for Henriksson, who only 3 years ago played 2 sports at different age levels. Aside from hockey, he was also playing for the national soccer team at different age levels.

His extended stay in North America meant that he would miss the group stage of the Champions Hockey League where his team traveled to Austria and the Czech Republic in early September. While this would have been a great experience for the young center, staying with the Rangers for the Traverse City Tournament might signal him coming over sooner rather than later. Henriksson, who played in 2 SHL games last season, was sent back to Sweden in mid-September and played mostly in SuperElit, the Swedish junior league, before being loaned to Södertälje in the 2nd tier of professional hockey, Allsvenskan. While the production wasn’t what some may have hoped, it was valuable experience for Henriksson, who finally got to play professional hockey for an extended period.

Was my first time playing real pro hockey, so it was a bit of an adjustment both on and of the ice.

Henriksson on his time with Södertälje

Close Contact

Throughout the season, Henriksson has been in close contact with the Rangers organization. As other players have told me in previous months, the organization talks to the players on a monthly basis, and sometimes even more frequently. “I would say that I speak monthly with people from the Rangers”, he said.

Meeting Karl Henriksson in Helsinki last November

When I was in Helsinki in November for the u20 Four Nations, I spoke to Gordie Clark and Nick Bobrov about the 3 Rangers prospects in that tournament (Aaltonen, Lundkvist and Henriksson), and what other scouts said to them about Henriksson was that his hockey sense is apparent, and that he drives the play. Henriksson plays with 2 kids who are projected to be top picks in the 2020 NHL draft, in Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond. The latter, Raymond also plays for Frölunda.

WJC

Near the end of the year, Henriksson left for the Czech Republic with the u20 national team to participate in the World Juniors. Playing on the 3rd line with Holtz and Raymond, he put up 3 points in 7 games while Sweden finished in 3rd place, taking home the bronze. After the tournament he returned to Göteborg and joined Frölunda. Which leads me to this week. Karl Henriksson has lifted a trophy on the evening before his 19th birthday. Frölunda traveled to Hradec Kralove, where they played in early September and he wasn’t able to join, and beat the hosts Mountfield HK 3-1 in the final. Henriksson had a small role on the 4th line but nonetheless he was part of the team that can call themselves “Champions of Europe”. It’s the 2nd time in 12 months he can lift a trophy and bring home a gold medal, after winning the gold at the u18 WJC in 2019.

Karl Henriksson (far right) celebrating winning gold at the u18 WJC

It’s something Henriksson is extremely proud of, especially the u18 gold medal. He did what his favorite player growing up, couldn’t. Of course I asked him who that was and he was quick to answer “Nicklas Bäckström”. The now 32-year old Swedish center won gold at the men’s World Championships twice but never at the u18 or u20 level.

Idolizing Backstrom

It’s also the player he likes to emulate and mold himself into. Henriksson acknowledges what the scouts have said about him. His hockey sense and situational awareness are his biggest strengths. “I think my biggest strenghth on the ice is my hockey sense, so I mean, I like to play a little bit like Bäckström.”, Henriksson continued.

My favorite player gas always been Nicklas Bäckström, for his fantastic hockey sense on the ice, and for the good guy he seems to be of the ice.

Henriksson on who his favorite player is

What number Henriksson would pick if he makes the Rangers team in the future is one thing I was wondering during the interview, and of course I had to ask. He was assigned number 70 in camp, used number 20 and 21 for the national team, number 21 for Frölunda and Södertälje, while using 22 for Frölunda’s junior team. He was quick to say that he would go with number 22. That number is available at the moment after the buy out of Kevin Shattenkirk. Henriksson would be the first forward since Brian Boyle and the first European since Austrian Thomas Pöck to wear number 22 if that happens.

“I have been playing with 22 for a couple of years now so would say that.”

Karl Henriksson on what his favorite number is

From the writer:

I would like to thank Karl Henriksson for taking the time to talk to me and make this interview possible. I will be sharing this story on Twitter and am giving away one of the pucks he signed for me back in November to one of the lucky followers who retweets me. Check out my profile: https://twitter.com/StatBoy_Steven

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