Feeding The Fire is a Chasing Dragons series providing a scouting report on Blaze’s new arrivals this season. Today, we look at their new young gun on defence, Kenny Kallstrom
Kenny Kallstrom is a 23-year-old, 6’3, 194lb defenceman from Avesta in the Dalarna province of Sweden. He joins the Blaze from Black Star Strasbourg of the French Ligue Magnus, having spent his first season outside his home country there last year after spending the rest of his career playing for Leksands JuniorElit squad, Leksands IF in the Allsvenskan (Swedish 2nd Division) and Karlskrona at the 3rd level of Swedish hockey.
At first glance, Kallstrom appears a little less experience than some…only four years ago he was still playing Swedish junior hockey in the JuniorElit division. However, he’s been performing on a national stage in the Swedish system since the age of 15, when he played for his province in the TV-Pucken, one of the top children’s hockey competitions in Europe. From there, he made his way through the Leksands Junior SuperElit teams, playing with and against some of the best young players in the world. The SuperElit is one of the top junior hockey divisions in the world, and Kenny performed well enough to be called up to the full Leksand men’s team, making his debut in the Allsvenskan at the age of 18. By 2009/10 he was playing full-time in one of the best second-tier leagues in Europe, and considered good enough to pair and indeed mentor NHL draft-pick and current Phoenix Coyote Oliver Ekman-Larsson, one of the best young dmen in Europe, as well as being trusted to cover for the team’s top d-men when injury struck.
The next two years saw Kenny continue to rise through the ranks, playing 41 games in 2009/10 and 49 in 2010/11. Let’s not mince words here-you don’t play for (and stick with) an Allsvenskan team as a teenager and 20-year-old unless you’re very good indeed-during his time in Leksand Kenny played in the Kvalserien (promotion playoffs) twice, meaning he’s played against SEL opposition-some of the best outside the NHL.
He scored 17 points that season in the league from defence (for comparison, Rob Dowd scored 24 points as a forward the following season)
However, in 2011/12 Leksand strengthened for a run at promotion and Kallstrom was loaned to Karlskrona in Swedish Div 1 (third tier)-where he helped them gain promotion.
2012/13 saw Kenny leave Sweden for France’s Strasbourg…however, an injury-shortened season saw him play only 11 games in the Ligue Magnus, where he was used as the team’s top offensive D and still managed to score 8 points on a struggling squad (they finished 12th of 14), He comes to Coventry to be coached by fellow Swede Matty Soderstrom, for his first season in the EIHL.
Kallstrom is a big, skilled offensive defenceman. He can skate very well indeed and has excellent vision-in Leksands and Karlskrona he was used primarily for his offensive instincts. He has a hard shot and can think and react quickly…indeed all of the attributes that Blaze desperately needed to replace with the departure of Mike Schutte. Sadly, it’s difficult to find any suitably-edited clips (Allsvenskan and Ligue Magnus teams tend to provide game highlights in bursts rather than player-focused ones) but watching him, he LOVES to go forward…expect him to pop up in space in the offensive zone all the time to provide another shooting threat and be key in starting rushes.
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
Kallstrom has hands and skating many forwards in the EIHL would envy. Being good enough to play regularly in the Allsvenskan as a teenager is hard enough-being able to stick there and contribute as a teenager means you’ve got some serious skill. He’s a big lad at 6’3 & 194lbs too, which is always useful-if you’re big and mobile as Kallstrom is, you’re suddenly a very big handful as an offensive D indeed.
FLIES IN THE OINTMENT
Scout reports on Kallstrom emphasise that while he’s an excellent offensive D, his youth means that his defensive skills and nous are still developing and he loves to go forward-so pairing him with a solid defensive D would be an advantage. It’s also mentioned that he may need to use his size more in the EIHL-but both are minor worries when compared with his upside.
SO WHERE WILL HE FIT IN?
Kallstrom will likely step into Mike Schutte’s role of leading the offense from the blue-line along with Sean Erickson. Expect him to be paired with the calm and steady influence of Mike Egener or the defensive Benn Olson and given free licence to roam forward, using his hands and vision to create plays. He’ll also be one of the keys to the Blaze powerplay, giving a creative touch from the blueline that means the Blaze can run two creative dmen on the PP unit should they wish, with both left and right-handed shots from the point.
With this signing, Matt Soderstrom has moved away a little from the “traditional” Blaze template and has reached back into his native country (and even his old junior club-Soderstrom played SuperElit J20 for Leksands between 1994 and 1997) to sign only the first Swede since Erik Hjalmarsson in 08/09 & only the seventh ever to play for the Blaze-and he may have pulled out an absolute gem.
Kallstrom is young, hungry and already tested at a level equal or higher than the EIHL in the Allsvenskan. He’s perhaps less experienced than Schutte, who he’ll be seen as replacing, but he’s a very talented kid indeed.
To me, this signing is yet more clear evidence, if any were still needed, that the Blaze are now truly Matt Soderstrom’s team. It’s also evidence that this is a team that will look to entertain as much through fast, flowing Euro-style hockey as through big hits-this is a team that will play but can hit if needed, not a team that will hit and can occasionally play a bit.
And that, frankly, is one hell of an exciting prospect.