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by Nick Nollenberger | AHL On The Beat
The San Jose Sharks selected forward Joachim Blichfeld with the second-to-last pick in the 2016 NHL draft, 210th overall, in the seventh round.
From 2006 to 2016, just 31 players who have been selected in the seventh round went on to play more than 50 games in the NHL. That’s just 10 percent over a 10-year span.
But four of the 31 were selected by the Sharks (John McCarthy in 2006, Justin Braun in ’07, Jason Demers in ’08, Joakim Ryan in ’12) and they hope Blichfeld is the next late-round steal.
Last September, San Jose loaned the Denmark native back to the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks, where he had spent the last two seasons. As a 20-year-old, Blichfeld would go on to win the Four Broncos Trophy as the league’s Player of the Year and was named to the WHL West First All-Star team after pacing the league in points (114) and shots (347), ranking tied for second in power-play assists (32), and tied for sixth in power-play goals (16).
“He drove that offense (in Portland); when you put that many points up and lead the Western League in scoring, the talent is there,” said Sharks scout Ryan Russell. “We’re really excited what he could be down the road, especially offensively.”
When Blichfeld was initially informed that he was going back to juniors, he was frustrated. He wanted to turn pro. Nothing against Portland, but he felt he was ready for the next chapter in his career.
“I was disappointed initially,” said Blichfeld. “But after letting it set in, I decided to make the best of it. Winning the scoring title in that league helped my confidence a lot.”
“He knew that if he went back to Portland, he’d have an opportunity to take over that team and development-wise we thought it was best for him to go back to juniors instead of fighting for ice time in the AHL,” said Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. “To his credit he went back to Portland with fire and dominated the first game back through the entire season.”
After the conclusion of his second full season in the WHL in 2018, Blichfeld got a small taste of the pros when he appeared in a pair of games with the San Jose Barracuda in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
That experience opened his eyes to the speed, skill, and details that are required at the next level. It also made him want to be a part of it even more.
“The game is so fast at [the AHL] level,” Blichfeld said during an interview last season while with the Winterhawks. “You’ve got to be on your toes or you’re going to get burned… but those two games gave me the confidence that I belonged.”
Now in his first year as a pro, it took the 21-year-old six games to score his first goal. But since then, he’s netted a team-leading seven goals over his last 11 games and ranks second on the team in points (13) and tied for first in power-play goals (3).
“I’m just trying to play as well as I can every game, get a lot of shots and try to generate offense because when I get a lot of shots, I tend to score,” said Blichfeld. “It took a while to get that first one but once I got it, I felt relieved and confident.”
“He’s earned the opportunity to play big minutes as a first-year pro with all the work he put into his overage year in Portland and this past summer,” said Wilson Jr. “He has matured physically and mentally and came in ready to take a top-six forward role early. He plays with confident swagger and shooters mentality that makes him dangerous every shift. He is still very young but he has a bright long-term future.”
“When I asked (goaltender) Josef Korenar who had the best shot in training camp, one of the guys he said was Blichfeld, which is pretty impressive with all the talent in this organization,” said Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer. “He’s a natural-born goal scorer with a knack for the net. It’s hard to find those guys, let alone that late in the draft.”