Silfverberg proving to be a quick study

If you ask Jakob Silfverberg how he’s adjusting to hockey in North America, he’ll tell you he’s having a terrible time.

Silfverberg proving to be a quick study

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — If you ask Jakob Silfverberg how he’s adjusting to hockey in North America, he’ll tell you he’s having a terrible time.

It’s mainly the smaller ice surface. After you’ve played your entire life in Sweden, where rinks are four metres wider, it’s a big change. So he says he is having to relearn the game.

“You have to be so much quicker in everything you do,” he said. “As soon as you get the puck, you have to know what you want to do with it. There’s not a lot of time to think, ‘Do I want to go there, or do I want to go there?’

“I feel like I’ve played solid defence, but I haven’t been creating as much as I want offensively. I just have to keep working and not get frustrated.”

But when he steps on the ice, you wonder: What the heck is he talking about? He’s a natural.

For example, in the opening minutes in Friday’s game here against the Marlies, he put a behind-the-back pass from behind the Toronto net onto Shane Prince’s stick in the slot for a 1-0 lead.

Four minutes later, he jumped on a loose puck at the Binghamton blue line when defenceman Jake Gardiner fell, then outraced and outmuscled Toronto’s second defenceman, Mike Kostka, to make it 2-0 Binghamton. It looked as if he was going to beat Toronto on his own.

He allowed that it was his best game so far this season, but when he was asked if that meant he was getting used to the North American game, he hedged.

“I don’t know about that,” he said. “But every game I learn something and I’m getting more and more comfortable out there.”

If and when the NHL lockout ends, the math suggests that Binghamton will lose two defenceman and one forward to Ottawa.

The competition for that forward spot will be between Silfverberg, picked in the second round of the 2009 draft (39th overall), and Mark Stone, picked in the sixth round (178th overall of the 2010 draft.

Both of them made their NHL debuts in last spring’s playoff series against the New York Rangers, Stone in Game 5, Silfverberg in Game 6.

Stone won that competition, picking up an assist on Jason Spezza’s winning goal.

But Silfverberg is in the early lead here, with three goals and six assists, to Stone’s one goal and five assists.

Silfverberg’s early play shows why the Senators so much wanted him to come to North America last season and were so disappointed when he didn’t, even if he had a splendid year in Sweden, winning the elite league’s most valuable player award and player of the year honours.

If he had come over last year, there wouldn’t be a question about who would be joining the Senators. It would be Silfverberg.

In the Swedish playoffs last season, he scored 13 goals to break the previous record of 12 held by Daniel Alfredsson, from the lockout season of 2004-05. It looks as if he’ll be a capable replacement on the right wing when Alfredsson retires.

Binghamton head coach Luke Richardson says Silfverberg and fellow Swede Mika Zibanejad are slowly getting more comfortable, but they also have to contend with being targets.

“I think it’s been a big adjustment for them, but I can see they’re starting to get to know their surroundings a little bit, especially on the power play,” said Richardson. “They’re making plays in small areas quicker and getting used to it. But these guys also have a reputation following them. They’re world-class players, so people are trying to get on them quicker and give them no space.

“People recognize what they can do, so they’re ready for them. That makes it difficult for a guy.”

As for life away from the rink, Silfverberg says that hasn’t been a problem. Sweden is a lot like Canada and the United States, and he’s living near his Swedish teammates: Zibanejad, Robin Lehner, Fredrik Claesson, and Andre Petersson.

So all is good.

“It was very exciting for me to come here to play,” he said.

“I’ve been playing in Sweden my whole life and I wanted to try something new.

“So now I’m here and I’m liking it a lot, learning new things and getting more experience as a hockey player.”

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