Viktor Persson will no longer be alien to North America if his pursuit of a pro hockey contract jumps ship to the Western Hockey League in September.
The Swedish defenceman, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 192 pounds, was drafted 56th overall by the Kamloops Blazers last week in the CHL Import Draft. Persson, who has never been to Canada or the U.S., is aware of the pandemic’s potential to pre-empt the WHL campaign.
“That would be a big disaster, actually,” said Persson, who turns 19 on Nov. 7. “My goal is to come to Kamloops and play. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ll be very disappointed.”
For now, the WHL aims to open training camps on Sept. 15 and begin regular season play on Oct. 2, but the league requires approval from government and health authorities in its six jurisdictions to proceed. WHL commissioner Ron Robison said a minimum of 50 per cent capacity in all arenas will be required for play to begin.
The NHL’s post-season tournament is scheduled to begin on Aug. 1 in Edmonton and Toronto.
Entering his 19-year-old campaign, Persson is pegged 44th among European skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s rankings for the 2020 NHL Draft, which has not yet been scheduled. That ranking generally denotes potential to be drafted somewhere in the fifth, sixth or seventh round.
Persson, who was absent from Central Scouting’s mid-term list, is likely to have a one-season stay in Kamloops, aiming to be selected in the draft and earn a pro contract.
“Well, of course, I want to do it [get drafted], but I don’t think of it that much,” Persson said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world.”
Sweden, the only European nation not to adopt harsh lockdown measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has been criticized for its handling of the novel coronavirus.
Persson is from Hedesunda, but moved about 37 kilometres north to Gavle, a city with a population of about 100,000, when he was 15.
He was asked for his take on how the pandemic is affecting life in area.
“Well, in Sweden, I feel like we don’t take it as serious as they do in Canada,” Persson said. “We can go anywhere we want and it’s not affecting our life that much. The schools closed, but not so much after that. We can do what we want, almost everything.”
The right-shot rearguard, who is comfortable playing both sides, has suited up for Valbo-based Brynas IF since 2015-2016. He tallied 18 points, including five goals, in 26 games last season, his 18-year-old campaign. He was toiling for Brynas IF in the under-20 SuperElit League and finished second among defencemen in club scoring.
Todd Diamond, Persson’s agent, put his client in touch with general manager Matt Bardsley and the Blazers.
“I talked to the coaches and it sounds really good, just how they see the game,” said Persson, who admires the skills of Swedish defenceman John Klingberg, who plays for the Dallas Stars. “They seem to have really good development and focus on the players. Development is No. 1 and I’ve also heard great things about the organization.”
Both the Stars and Blazers are owned by Tom Gaglardi.
The Blazers’ defence corps is expected to again be a veteran group, with Sean Strange (20), Montana Onyebuchi (20), Quinn Schmiemann (19), Persson (19), Inaki Baragano (19), Ethan Brandwood (18), Logan Bairos (17) and Mats Lindgren (16) among potential key cogs.
“I’m a big guy, I like to play physical, pretty fast, I would say, and I like to join the offensive rush,” Persson said. “I’m excited to come over and show what I’ve got.”
When not on the ice, Persson enjoys playing golf and exploring nature.
“I like going out in the forest,” he said.
“I heard there is great nature [in Kamloops] and it’s kind of like the town I’m living in now.”