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Patrick Johnston: Persson part of Canucks' talent pool aiming to impress at World Juniors

Vancouver Canucks' prospect Viktor Persson, who played for Brynas U-20 in Sweden during the 2019-20 season, has his sights set on playing for Team Sweden at the World Junior Hockey Championship in the Edmonton bubble.
Vancouver Canucks' prospect Viktor Persson, who played for Brynas U-20 in Sweden during the 2019-20 season, has his sights set on playing for Team Sweden at the World Junior Hockey Championship in the Edmonton bubble.

Viktor Persson’s parents are pretty typical Swedes, he admits.

After hearing from coaches of the Swedish World Junior Championship squad that he was invited to their upcoming selection camp, before having to travel to Alberta for this winter’s bubbled-up version of the annual event, the first person he called to share the good news with was his brother.

Then he called his parents.

“They’re not the kind of parents that yell,” he said of their reaction. “But I can hear they are proud.”

They’re stereotypical Swedes, in other words.

“Ha, ha, yes! Not showing that much emotion,” adds Persson, using the patented Swedish tone that you know comes with a wry grin.

Even being in consideration for the Swedish WJC entry is a big step for the big blueliner, who stands 6-2 and tips the scales at nearly 200 pounds.

“Excitement, but a little bit nervous, it’s a big deal. It’s something I’ve always dream about,” he said. “Everybody watches the junior.”

A 2020 seventh-round draft pick of the Canucks, he’s one of 12 defencemen who have been invited to the camp, which starts Sunday. Three or four will be cut before the team flies to Canada.

Another of the invitees to the Team Sweden camp is forward Arvid Costmar, a Canucks’ 2019 draft pick. Costmar is likely a more locked-in selection for Sweden this year as he’s played for the national junior squad in the past, albeit never at the WJC.

Add Russia’s Vasili Podkolzin to the list — plus Dimitri Zlodeyev, who was in consideration for the Russian team as well before getting hurt last month — and it really is a good time for the Canucks’ prospect pool.

If Latvia was in the top tier of IIHF world junior play, goalie Arturs Silovs would likely be there, too. Last year the Canucks had Podkolzin at the WJC, as well as Sweden’s Nils Hoglander and the Czech Republic’s Karel Plasek (both are too old for this year’s edition), plus Finland’s Toni Utunen and the U.S.’s Tyler Madden.

Over the last 20 years or so, Canucks’ prospects drafted outside the first round have rarely made it on national junior squads, let alone considered.

Before junior hockey in Sweden was paused three weeks ago due to COVID-19 — Persson’s in his second season for the Brynas IF U-20 team — he was off to a flying start. He had five goals and four assists in 16 games, affirming the promise the Canucks’ scouts saw in him.

“I’m a big guy who likes to play physical, loves to play offensive hockey,” he said of what he thinks might have intrigued the Canucks.

“I was a forward until I was like 11 then I made the move to be a D. I always want to join the rush to affect the offensive game, to be good in there but also I know I need to work on my defence.”

He’s a fan of the Dallas Stars’ John Klingberg — “I like how he is with the puck” — but also can’t ignore the game of a Swedish legend — “Victor Hedman, too. He’s a big guy.”

In the new year, the plan remains for him to join the Kamloops Blazers, who selected him in this summer’s CHL Import Draft.

“It’s been a weird season, I was supposed to go to Kamloops,” he said.

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Western Hockey League paused its plans to launch the season. As it stands, WHL officials are still aiming for an early January start but as we’ve all come to know by now, things could still change overnight.

“I talked to them this week, just asking about the season. They’re pretty optimistic, they believe it’s going to start,” Persson said. “They’ve got some adjustments to make but they think they can do it.”

Being ready and willing about moving to Kamloops was a recognition he needed to embrace a new challenge. If he were at a different top-flight club in Sweden, he might be skating for the senior professional team this season.

“But the senior team (at Brynas) is stacked. We started looking at some options and this came up,” he said.

“I’ve played for Brynas for five seasons now and I felt like it wasn’t good for my development to stay on. The main part about Kamloops is it’s great for my development, discover a new style of hockey. I think it’s a big step from Swedish (junior) hockey.”

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