Predators hope top 2012 draft choice meets their goal of adding offense

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 8:01pm

Before his primary goal was a career in the National Hockey League, Pontus Aberg changed games with the seasons.

Throughout much of his typical childhood in Sweden he went from handball to floorball to soccer to hockey.

One thing, though, remained a constant. Goals.

“I think I was a goal scorer in every sport,” he said. “I think so. I started to score, at an early age, a lot of points in every game.”

The Nashville Predators hope that ability eventually will come with him all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. It is why they made the 5-foot-11, 194-pound left wing their top choice in last week’s 2012 NHL draft.

Considered by some, including the Predators, worthy of a first-round choice, he instead fell to them with at the 37th overall pick. Only twice has the franchise gone deeper into a draft before its first selection. The first time was 2006, when it took Blake Geoffrion 56th overall.

“I had a good talk with my agent and he said maybe the last part of the first round or the first few of the second round,” he said. “It really didn’t matter. It’s nice just to come to a team that really wants you and really likes your style of play.”

Aberg is one of 35 players, including all nine of this year’s draft picks, taking part in the annual prospects developmental camp, which began with physical examinations Monday evening and continued with the first of four on-ice sessions Tuesday morning at Centennial Sportsplex.

This year’s group includes seven Swedes, including 2010 fifth-round pick Patrick Cehlin, a teammate and sometimes linemate of Aberg’s last season with Djurgrden in Sweden’s Elite League. Already, that connection paid dividends as the newest members of the organization came directly from Pittsburgh, where the draft was held, to Nashville for the camp, which continues through Sunday.

“They told me I had to come here the day after [the draft],” he said. “I thought I would go home and maybe get some new clothes. But Patrick Cehlin was back home in Sweden so he brought my stuff.

“… There are a lot of Swedes here so I think that’s going to help everyone.”

It is likely that he will spend next season — and probably one more after that — back in Sweden, where he was one of the league’s top rookies during the first part of last season. If he develops as planned, though, he will be worth the wait.

The Predators never have had much success finding offensive forwards in the second round of the draft. Adam Hall (52nd overall, 1999) scored 43 goals and had 42 assists in 234 games from 2001-06. The next most productive has been Nick Spaling (58th overall, 2007) with 10 goals and 12 assists in 77 contests.

“If I’m ready I want to get a chance this year, but if not I want to go home and work on the things I have to work on and keep getting better,” Aberg said.

He added that he was 12 years old when he began to focus on hockey for his future and three years later started to compete in serious fashion.

As a 17-year-old in 2009-10, he had 29 goals and 33 assists in 36 games for Djurgarden’s under-18 team, numbers that earned him a promotion to the junior squad before the end of the season. With 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 41 games for the junior team the following season, he earned a brief audition with the top club.

“[Hockey] was the funnest thing to do,” he said. “… So I’m just glad to be playing for Nashville.”