It’s easy to get behind a young man like Joel Persson, who took the long route to training camp with the Edmonton Oilers – he worked as a teacher with special needs children in Sweden along the way — because he’s a feel-good story.
What Oilers’ fans want to know, though, is whether the 25-year-old from Kristianstad has enough game to land a roster spot alongside countryman Oscar Klefbom this season. That, we don’t know for sure yet, but we got our first pre-season look at him in a 2-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place Monday in an effort that falls into the so-far, so good category.
Persson, making the transition to smaller ice, played 21:37 in the lefty-righty pairing head coach Dave Tippett is looking for with Klefbom against the Jets. He played on the penalty kill, had six shots on goal and picked up a pair of assists (as did Klefbom). The early returns are promising. Emphasis on early.
WHAT THEY SAID
Persson with two assists. He’s very good with puck on his stick. Moves puck well and reads the play nicely. Good first game, but it is only first preseason game and facing very few NHL players.
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) September 17, 2019
“I thought the pair of them were real good,” Tippett said. “I thought our whole team, everybody was getting their legs under them a little bit, but as the game went on, we got stronger and stronger. That pair was really good. Klef’s just stable, you know, steady. Persson, he’s really smart with the puck, really smart. They had a good start.”
“I thought he played a solid game,” Klefbom said of Persson. “It’s fun playing with another Swede. It’s going to take some time getting some chemistry going, but I think we’re off to a good start and you can really tell what kind of potential he has on the ice.”
Persson, who spent two seasons with Vaxjo HC back home in Sweden, comes in billed as a guy who can move the puck, has a good shot and can work a power play from the right side. He had 53 assists in 101 games over two seasons. How that translates here we can’t say for sure, but Tippett has already said Persson is going to get every opportunity to give us an idea this pre-season.
“It took a couple of shifts to get into it, but I felt better and better during the game,” Persson said of adjusting to the pace and the smaller ice. “You need to gap-up further and quicker and those things, but like I said before it was better as the game went on.”
On playing with Klefbom: “We can read off situations,” he said. “We see where the other player is. If the other player has a better opportunity to go on with the forwards, then they, of course, go. The other one takes care of the other things . . . first game, I think it was good.”
THE WAY I SEE IT
Communication being as important as it is — on and off the ice — we’ve seen some young Europeans struggle with language in trying to make the jump to the NHL. In addition to being able to speak with Klefbom (and Adam Larsson) in Swedish, Persson has a good command of English, so he’s got a running start.
We’ll see how that translates for Persson, who is on a one-way contract, during the balance of pre-season. There is, for the first time in a long time, some real competition for jobs with the likes of Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear also looking for a spot alongside Klefbom. Then, there’s Matt Benning and Caleb Jones.
Like I said off the top, it’s easy to pull for a late-bloomer like Persson, who not so long ago thought his future might be in the classroom and not the ice, especially the NHL variety, but here he is right in the middle of the mix. So far, so good.