Maine Hockey Journal

Pirates’ Samuelsson ready to be an impact player

Samuelsson is expected to have an impact with the Pirates this season(Photo by Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

Samuelsson is expected to have an impact with the Pirates this season(Photo by Michael McSweeney/Portland Pirates)

PORTLAND – Henrik Samuelsson steps onto the ice at the MHG Ice Centre for practice, and he looks like he is in his element.

The 20-year-old forward is in his first season as a professional playing for the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates, but his demeanor is anything but that of a rookie.

“When you grow up with it, and you’re around it every day, you’re around NHL players and NHL coaches. It’s sort of like osmosis where you just learn certain things and things come naturally,” said Pirates GM/Coach Ray Edwards.

Samuelsson has been immersed in hockey his entire life. His father, Ulf, is a retired NHL defenseman, who is currently an assistant coach with the New York Rangers. The elder Samuelsson played 18 seasons in the NHL with the Hartford Whalers, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins where he won the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992. His older brother, Philip, 23, is a defenseman in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization currently playing for their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, PA. Samuelsson also has a sister, Victoria, 18, that plans on attending Penn State next fall, and younger brother Adam, 14, that is playing for the Arizona Jr. Coyotes.

“My dad has been a big part of my hockey career since the start,” said Samuelsson. “We talk about hockey a lot during off days. Last year, he watched every single one of my games in juniors, and I don’t see him changing from that. He tells me what I did good and I where I can improve. My brother watches when he can. We have a good relationship and frequently talk .”

Samuelsson, a 2012 first-round draft pick of the Arizona Coyotes, was raised in Scottsdale, Arizona. Like his brother, he came up through the US National Team Development Program, choosing to represent the United States in international competition instead of his father’s native Sweden. He was a member of the 2011 U17 and U18 World Junior Championships, winning a silver medal and gold medal, respectively.

He played for the Swedish club MODO for part of the 2011 season before joining the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League later that year. He played three seasons with Edmonton, winning the Memorial Cup last May, before making the jump to the AHL this year.

Although Samuelsson is a rookie this season, he will be relied upon to provide offense and contribute to the Pirates’ success this season. He got off to a good start recording two goals, two assists against the Manchester Monarchs in two preseason contest for the Pirates.

“It what I’ve done my whole life and I’m pretty good at it,” Samuelsson quipped. “I’m not going to put as many points as I did in junior. But, I feel that even though I’m young I am going to try and be a big part of this team this year.”

Edwards has seen Samuelsson grow up perhaps better than anyone in the Coyotes organization. Since being drafted in 2012 he’s worked with him closely during Arizona’s development camp that’s held every July and again in rookie camp before the main training camp opens.

Edwards said he’s seen a marked difference in Samuelsson’s growth and maturity during this season’s camp versus last year’s training camp.

“He’s conditioned at a pro level now,” Edwards said. “He can still be better, but it’s night and day from where he was. He’s grown up; he’s stronger, faster and mentally he is just more mature. He’s won a memorial cup so understands the pressures of playing in front of people in a Canadian market. He’s just matured a lot as a hockey player over the last year.”

The 6-foot-3, 219-pound forward acknowledged that it’s a learning curve coming from the juniors to the pro game, and that he still has plenty to learn before being NHL-ready.

“I know I need to make adjustments because this is a way better league than any junior league,” he said. “It’s a faster league out there. The practices are more intense, you can’t take a day off like you could in junior. If you had an average night you could still put up points, but here you need to be consistent and that’s one of the things I need to work on especially.”

“Even from last year’s training camp I wasn’t very close to playing in the NHL. I thought this year I had a really strong camp and did well for myself and left (Arizona management) with a good impression. The biggest difference from then to now is I’ve learned to make plays under pressure.”

Samuelsson played in five preseason games with the Coyotes and gain tremendous experience which he felt has prepared him for coming down to Portland, and contributing in hopes of getting a shot back in the NHL whenever that might come.

“I think I’ve taken some pretty big steps compared to last year,” he said. “It was a really good experience and thought that I handled myself pretty well out there during the preseason. They’ve told me to keep working on my quickness and my decision making.”

“Just coming here and learning to play against men day in and day out and learning those good habits that they want up there is the biggest thing I can do to get back to the NHL.”

Samuelsson is keeping the family tradition alive and well.

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