Widely regarded as a reach on draft day two years ago, Simon Kjellberg has silenced some of those critics after his first season in college. Coming out of the draft he played in the USHL with Dubuque. The young defenseman joined RPI in Troy, New York this past season.
I sat down with the son of Rangers scout, Patric Kjellberg and talked to him about the added pressure those family ties bring to life as a prospect in the same organization.
Simon Kjellberg, born in the USA
The son of NHL winger, Patric Kjellberg, Simon was born in Nashville when his dad played for the Predators. As a kid, he moved to Anaheim when his father was traded to the Mighty Ducks. Then at age three, he and the family moved back to Sweden.
His dad is his biggest inspiration and he looks up to him, saying: “He has helped me to be the person I am today both on and of the ice. Because he has played in the NHL, he knows what it takes to make it.” Kjellberg doesn’t remember anything from those three years in the US because he was so young.
Kjellberg on growing up Swedish
They settled in Stockholm for a few years, before moving North to the small town of Falun. “I played for a team there until I was 15. After that, we moved to Ängelholm, the home of Rögle BK and I played for their junior team for three years before a moved to the USHL”.
Kjellberg played for Rögle, a team some Ranger fans may know as the one Adam Edström, a 2019 pick plays for. Kjellberg played at every age level for the boys in green.
At age 18, Kjellberg decided to leave Sweden to make the most out of his career. “The step from junior to senior hockey is pretty big in Sweden, so I looked at the college path and felt that would be a better option for me, starting in the USHL“, he explains.
Kjellberg carves his own path
Kjellberg signed with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL shortly after being drafted by the Rangers and would commit to RPI in November of the same year. “Going to the USHL I felt like that would be a good way to transition to the North American style of hockey and get me ready for college that’s why I took that path“, he explained his choice for the USHL.
Kjellberg understands it is a bit unorthodox for a Swedish prospect to take this path to the NHL, but thinks that will change in the future. “I know is not a very common route for Swedish players but I think more and more players from Europe are looking at the college route as an option“.
The draft and and being selected by his dad
Kjellberg did not attend the draft but watched it back home in Sweden like Karl Henriksson and Adam Edström did the following year. “I had heard from my agent that there was some interest but I didn’t expect anything so when I saw my name on the board it was hard to believe“, Kjellberg explained about the experience.
When he was announced, there was some buzz about the pick because Kjellberg’s father Patric is a scout for the New York Rangers. As a fan following that draft closely, I remember the conversations that erupted regarding nepotism and how the pick was bad.
For Simon, it doesn’t change anything, and he doesn’t think it affects him. “Of course it is a little weird but I don’t think about it. It was weirder when I had him as a coach when I was younger but now when he is a scout he doesn’t have anything to do with me in the organization so I don’t feel any extra pressure from it“.
Kjellberg on what it’s like being a Rangers prospect
Kjellberg flew from Sweden to New York following the draft to join fellow countrymen Nils Lundkvist, Jacob Ragnarsson and Olof Lindbom for their first prospect development camp in Westchester.
“You have tests on and off the ice and then have a few skills practices. At the camp I really got a feel of how professional the Rangers organization is“, Kjellberg said. He doesn’t talk to the other Swedes much because of him playing in North America, but there is the occasional text to see how everyone is doing.
Last summer he met up with the the Swedes and the two others from the 2019 draft. He shared with me a photo by Adam Edström of the Swedish Rangers prospect together.
Kjellberg on the College life
Kjellberg spoke to several other colleges but ended up committing to RPI in November of 2018 and that decision was mostly based on hockey. “I spoke to a couple of others colleges but decided to go to RPI because I really liked the coaching staff and where they saw me in the team. I feel like I absolutely made the right decision“, he said smiling.
He seems confident this move was the best for his career. The Rangers have until 2023 to decide if they want to sign him. By playing a year in the USHL before committing to college, it gives the team an extra year similarly to Steven Fogarty back in 2011 and Riley Hughes, who is part of the same draft class as Kjellberg. Fogarty and Hughes both played in the BCHL after their draft, before moving to the NCAA.
Kjellberg on his goals
When asked about his goals, Kjellberg is clear: “Last year I felt like we as a team had something big going on and I think we could have gone really far in the playoffs. Next year I want us to build on the last season and get a better result. Individually I want to take on a bigger role to and be part of our team’s success“.
Kjellberg, who ranked 18th in points among teenage defensemen, met expectations for where he comes from. As a late pick, it’s unfair to expect him to set the league on fire, but with 11 points in 32 games, he chipped in offensively on top of his defensive responsibilies.
The Rangers keep in touch with Kjellberg and like other prospects, it’s usually once a month. Kjellberg, who compares himself to Jake Muzzin of the Toronto Maple Leafs, has 3 more years left in college. When the season ended, Kjellberg flew back to Sweden where he has been ever since.
As discussed in the interview with Adam Edström, Sweden isn’t on lockdown, meaning there’s more freedom there. “Of course I try to stay away from big crowds and I can’t visit my old family members but other than that I’m able to practice and train as normal“, Kjellberg explains.
Kjellberg, who his teammates call “Chelly” due to the pronunciation of his last name, will be back with RPI once things go back to normal and travel between Europe and the United States is possible again. In the meantime, he stays in shape training with other players from the Ängelholm-region.
Author’s Note: As always, I want to thank the player, Simon Kjellberg in this case, for sitting down with me and telling me his story, giving me the opportunity to share it with our readers.