After whirlwind 2017-18 season, Victor Ejdsell trying to adapt to life in pro hockey

After whirlwind 2017-18 season, Victor Ejdsell trying to adapt to life in pro hockey

It's hard to find a prospect in hockey that had a busier 2017-18 campaign than Victor Ejdsell. Let's run it down for you.

On Sept. 16, 2017, he started his regular season with HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League that ran through March 10, 2018. Two weeks before the season ended, Ejdsell was part of a package that sent him to Chicago and Ryan Hartman to Nashville. So he discovered he had a new home in the NHL.

His team was swept in the first round of a best-of-3 series the following week, ending their run on March 14.

One week later, Ejdsell flew from Sweden to North America and joined the Rockford IceHogs. He appeared in his first two games on March 23-24 for a back-to-back home stint. On March 25, he was recalled by the Blackhawks. The next day, he made his NHL debut and remained with the big club until their season ended on April 7.

At the conclusion of the NHL's regular season, Ejdsell was sent back to Rockford to join the IceHogs for their playoff run. He played in three more regular season games before the postseason started on April 21. 

Ejdsell became a huge reason why the IceHogs went as far as they did. He compiled 12 points (seven goals, five assists) in 13 contests, and scored four game-winning goals over that stretch. The IceHogs swept the Chicago Wolves in a best-of-5 series, did the same to the Manitoba Moose in a best-of-7 series in the next round and lost in six games to the Texas Stars in the Western Conference Final that featured four overtime games.

Ejdsell's individual season ended on May 28. That's nearly eight and a half straight months of hockey in three different leagues and two playoff runs. Granted, the SHL isn't as jam-packed as the NHL schedule, but it's still a mental grind when you combine it all together.

Ejdsell has found out it doesn't get any easier in the pros. The AHL is a 76-game season while the NHL’s regular season consists of 82 games, plus playoffs for each. Ejdsell is trying to find that balance of pacing yourself over the course of a long year, but also trying to make an impact every night with the IceHogs.

"That's probably one of the toughest things for me, actually," Ejdsell told NBC Sports Chicago. "I'm still used to that 52 games, two games a week, and now all of a sudden you play three games in three days and I was like, 'Wow, this is actually tough.' So you just got to adapt to that. And you got to try to find a balance between not being tired all the time and still do the things you're supposed to be doing and be good at on the ice."

This season, he’s learning that. 

Ejdsell started the year with the IceHogs after the Blackhawks felt he wasn’t quite ready to be a full-time NHL player. And that was the first time he had to go through that type of process.

"That's tough,” he admitted. “I haven't really dealt with that type of "send down" or whatever you want to call it before, so it's definitely been tough for the confidence. But I mean lately I've been learning that you've got to try to stay calm and everything takes time. It's a different situation this time. Now I live here full-time, it's just different. I've learned that you've got to stay calm and let everything come to you. You just got to work hard and you'll get back to where you're supposed to be."

Ejdsell went through a tough stretch earlier this season. He scored only one goal in 20 games before getting sidelined with a hip injury that kept him out of action for nearly a month. But that may have been a blessing in disguise as it allowed him to regroup mentally.

Upon returning from injury, he registered a point in four of his first five games and scored two goals over that span.

"I felt like in the beginning I got frustrated," Ejdsell said. "I'm used to scoring more often than I've been doing now, so I just tried to figure out what I'm doing wrong here. And then all of a sudden I started to calm down and realize that it's just not bouncing my way right now, so I just got to let it come towards me and take the chance whenever I got it. After I had an injury now, I really had a time to refocus and getting ready to play again and all of a sudden everything is starting to bounce my way. I'm being at the spots I should be and everything has been feeling easier now. So that's real nice."  

There are obviously still certain aspects Ejdsell wants to work on, such as his "intensity" and acceleration. He's content with his top speed. But moving his feet is something he's striving to get better at.

Anything that will round out his game to make him as effective a hockey player as he can be at the pro level, which includes going to the greasy areas and using his 6-foot-5, 214-pound frame to his advantage.

"I think that's just something that I need to take part of my game to be," Ejdsell said. "I got more tools in my toolbox right now than I had before I got here, so I just got to adapt to it and realize that I need to have those things too in order to be a better goal scorer."

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Blackhawks give thanks to Mike Gapski, who's set to celebrate 2,500th game

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Blackhawks give thanks to Mike Gapski, who's set to celebrate 2,500th game

For 33 years, Mike Gapski has been the glue of the Blackhawks' support staff. He's the longest-tenured head athletic trainer in the NHL, landing the job in 1987 shortly after graduating from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

It's been a dream come true for Gapski to work in his hometown all these years, and on Thursday he is set to be involved in his 2,500th regular season game with the Blackhawks.

Current and former players took the time to congratulate and give thanks to Gapski, and share what he's meant to the Blackhawks:

Kirby Dach:

"It's crazy, you have the same guys in junior, but it's a little bit different level here. These guys take care of us, it's unbelievable the job they do. It's a tremendous accomplishment for Gapper. Couldn't be happier for him. I've only known him for a little bit and he's a really nice guy and helps everybody out and is very kind and caring. And that's what you need in a trainer, somebody who's going to have your best interest at heart. It's good for our group and obviously he's been through a lot with some of the older guys in here. I'm sure it'll be a fun celebration for those guys and for our group as well."

Alex DeBrincat:

"He's great. He's always helping. You try to stay out of the training room, but it's always nice to go in there and talk with those guys. Gapper specifically is a great guy to have around, always fun and lighthearted around there. He obviously knows his stuff, he's been in the league a long time, he's seen a lot of injuries. He's pretty quick to help us out and know what we need to get better."

Steve Konroyd:

"Michael Gapski, congratulations on 2,500 games. You're one of the first guys I ever met when I got traded to the Chicago Blackhawks way back in 1988. You're knowledgeable, you're professional and above all else you're a great guy. I was very proud to have you as a trainer and I think the Blackhawks are very lucky to have you over all these years."

Jamal Mayers:

"Just want to say congratulations to Mike Gapski on 2,500 games. Wow. That's a lot of games, Gapper, congratulations. I know all the players that have ever had you are thankful to have you around. You're a professional, you do things the right way, you really care about the players, it comes across every single day. And thanks for keeping me together when I was 37 and 38 at the end of my career."

Eddie Olczyk:

"Hey Frank, congratulations — 2,500 games standing behind the bench for our Chicago Blackhawks. A tremendous honor, congratulations to you and your family. One thing I love about you, Frank, is you're the same guy today as you were back in the late 90s when we were working together when I was still a player. So congratulations and here's to another 2,500 more."

Patrick Sharp:

"Gapper, Gappity, Frank, Mike Gapski, thank you so much for all the years that you've put in to the Chicago Blackhawks training staff. Countless players have come through the organization, nobody's got a bad thing to say about you. 2,500 games, that's no joke. How about we do another 2,500? Congratulations on all your success. I came to Chicago in 2005 as a young man, spent my whole adult life with having you taking care of me at the rink, so thank you for everything over the years. All the best to you and your family, Frank."

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Recently retired Kris Versteeg to be honored before Blackhawks game

Recently retired Kris Versteeg to be honored before Blackhawks game

Kris Versteeg recently retired and now the Blackhawks are honoring him with the team’s “One More Shift.”

Versteeg began the season with the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, but retired in November after playing six games for the IceHogs this season.

The 33-year-old wrote an emotional letter to the Blackhawks organization after requesting his contract with Rockford be terminated.

Versteeg will be honored before Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Wild. He will join the team on the ice for the national anthem and highlights of his career will be featured in the United Center.

Versteeg won two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks, in 2010 and 2015. He is part of the Blackhawks celebrating the 10-year anniversary of that 2010 Cup win. Brian Campbell was given the same treatment on Nov. 21.

The first 10,000 fans into the UC can get replicas of the 2010 ring.

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