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01/25/2013 1:44 PM -

Scouts rave about Adam Almquist’s hockey sense. It will be up to the young defenseman to strengthen the argument that he is an NHL talent in the making.

Story and photo by Mark Newman

Gustav Nyquist jokingly complains that AHL rookie Adam Almquist – his fellow Swedish countryman and teammate – keeps all his stories to himself.

“Nobody knows about him,” Nyquist said. “He’s the man of mystery.”

In his defense, Almquist says he is just a good listener. If he’s perceived as being quiet, it’s just that he would prefer to let his game do the talking.

Nearing the halfway point of his first full season with the Griffins, it’s obvious that Almquist’s play speaks volumes.

“For a defenseman, his skill level is excellent,” said Griffins assistant coach Jim Paek, a former NHL defenseman himself. “He’s got great hockey sense and knows how to read plays and position himself. He moves really well across the blue line, has great vision and shows poise with the puck.

“What does he need to do to get better? Physically, he’s still a boy and he needs to get stronger, because at the next level he’ll be playing against men.”

If Almquist seems a bit reserved, it helps to remember that he is only 21 years old and is still getting used to a new language, a new country and a new style of hockey.

This is a kid whose Twitter account photo shows him looking rather sharp in a tux, walking under a black umbrella in the rain – on the way to his school prom.

Coming to North America is certainly a new experience for the young Red Wings prospect, one which he has heartily embraced.

Homesick? “Not at all, actually,” he said. “I can Skype with family and friends, so it’s not a problem. I really enjoy it here and I like the hockey, so it’s been kind of easy.”

He admits that there have been adjustments, starting with the language. “I learned English in school, but it’s not the same thing, not at all,” he said. “So it starts with getting used to the language.”

It’s helped that he has two fellow Swedes, Nyquist and Joakim Andersson, as teammates. They’ve helped him adjust away from the ice, whether it’s finding an apartment or buying a car to get around town.

“It’s much easier when you have someone who can talk your first language,” Almquist said, noting that they talk more in English than Swedish out of respect for their teammates. “It’s nice to be able to talk to somebody about things back home.”

The toughest thing, according to Almquist, is paying bills, although that will likely become less of a concern the longer he is in the U.S. and the quicker he achieves his goal of playing in the NHL.

Based on skill level alone, his chances are very good.

“If it all came down to hockey sense, he probably would have been a first-round pick,” Hakan Andersson, the Red Wings’ director of European scouting, said in 2009 after Detroit grabbed him with the next-to-last pick in the NHL Entry Draft. “(His) hockey sense is something else. It’s as good as I’ve seen in many years.”

Hockey sense is the ability to read and react to different situations and make the right decisions under pressure. Curiously, Almquist says he found it playing soccer rather than hockey.

“It probably came from my father,” Almquist said. “He was a very good soccer player, and he had what you could call really good soccer sense. He understood soccer and had a good sense of the game in terms of good passing and always thinking a step ahead.”

Thomas Almquist played hockey until a heart condition prevented him from playing the sport, so instead he excelled at soccer. He played a high level before he settled on being a painter (houses, not canvases) and teaching his two sons how to play.

His older brother didn’t make it past junior hockey, but young Adam continued to excel, even though he was always smaller than the other boys with whom he played.

“I’ve been a little guy since I was young, so I had to think in a different way,” Almquist said.

He found his inspiration in watching Johan Akerman, a talented, puck-moving defenseman who played 10 seasons in Sweden, as well as in Germany, Switzerland, Norway, France and Russia.

“He played in my hometown (Jonkoping) when I was like 15-17. He was such a good player,” Almquist said. “He had really good hockey sense and I just liked the way he played. I tried to do what he did.”

Akerman eventually moved on, but it was only a couple of years later that Almquist found himself following in the footsteps of his idol.

During the 2009-10 season, Almquist amassed 34 points (5 goals and 29 assists) in just 15 games at the under-20 level before earning a promotion to HV71 (Jonkoping) in the SEL at the age of 18.

“I had been having a really good year when they called me up,” he said. “I got to play for the team from my hometown. I had followed them my whole life and had gone to every game when I was younger. It was a dream come true.”

He held his own in Sweden’s top league. “I just tried to play the same way,” said Almquist, who tallied eight points in 28 games with the big club. “Winning the championship that season was the perfect ending to a phenomenal year.”

He skated in 52 contests during his first full season in the SEL, then appeared in 42 more games last year before being reassigned to Grand Rapids. He saw action in three late-season games with the Griffins.

“It did me well,” he said of his brief introduction to the AHL. “It allowed me to see how everything works here. I found it a little bit easier to come into this season because I knew a lot of the guys on the team.”

Almquist worked hard this past summer, knowing that he needs to get bigger and stronger in order to succeed at the next level.

“When I was younger, I didn’t think about the fact that I was smaller than the other guys,” he said. “But as I got older, I started hearing it all the time.”

Too much, in fact.

“That’s the way that it is – I can’t do anything about it,” Almquist said. “I certainly can’t be taller. But I know I can be stronger and I’m working on it.”

He’s adjusted well to the North American game – “It’s a lot more up-and-down hockey,” he said. He’s also found a solid defensive partner in Brian Lashoff. “We complement each other.”

Almquist knows what he has to do to earn a permanent place on the Red Wings’ blueline. “I think I need to improve everything, and obviously I have to get stronger. It’s going to take time,” he said.

“I have to work hard every day, earn my ice time, put up some points, play well for the team and win a lot of games. I have to play good here first. Then we’ll see what happens.”

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