There’s this hockey player that seems to have gone missing around Thrasherville. He’s Swedish…about 5’-11”, 190-pounds-ish…was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 2005 draft…came to the Thrashers last February along with Johnny Oduya and Patrice Cormier in exchange for Anssi Salmela and…and…snapping fingers…oh yeah, Ilya Kovalchuk.
Maybe you’ve heard of him…dude goes by the name Niclas Bergfors.
Rumor has it he still is on the Thrashers roster, however his presence on the ice has been quite scarce of late. Since the 4-2 loss to the Avalanche back on December 10th, he’s suited up for all of one game in the past seven played. But in the one game he was allowed to participate in…the 3-2 shootout loss to Carolina…he spent all but 7:40 with his backside affixed to the bench and was limited to only a couple of his 11 shifts late in the game.
For the season, he’d been averaging over 14 minutes TOI and just under 19 shifts per game.
Because of this, there has been some speculation that he’s fallen out of favor with coach Craig Ramsay…even to the point that general manager Rick Dudley might be shopping the forward to interested teams. However, while it is clear he’s found himself in Rammer’s doghouse, I don’t think the team is about to give up on the kid anytime soon.
At the bottom of this Craig Custance piece that deals primarily with contract discussions with Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien…which in and of it’s self is good news…Dudley admits that he’s fielded calls from other GMs about Bergfors. But he also added, “We have assets but we’re not inclined to give people away”.
Taking those comments under consideration, one could get the impression that they aren’t looking to kick Bergie to the curb…not just yet, at least. But if Dudley and Co. are indeed intent on keeping him around, what then do we make of the lack of playing time?
Well, as I said before…it’s quite obvious he’s drawn Ramsay’s ire. And the good coach has made it clear that playing time is directly linked to effort and hustle. However, if you take into account his numbers of late, Bergfors isn’t suffering from the infamous sophomore slump. In fact, he’s “playing” at the same level he was last spring after coming to Atlanta. And as you’ll recall, that was a level that had us all singing the kid’s praises.
Consider the following…
Back then, Bergfors scored 8 goals and 9 assists in 27 games played with a –3 rating. Now, he has 7 goals, 11 assists and is a +1 in the same amount of games. That’s one more point and an improvement of +4 in the +/- column.
His 18 overall points in just 27 games are equal to those accumulated by Nik Antropov and Bryan Little. They’ve played in 35 and 30 games respectively. Plus, in his last game played before finding his way to the press box buffet for six of seven games he actually netted his seventh goal of the year. In his last eight games he has 2 goals, 2 assists and is a +2.
Also, Bergfors isn’t prone to taking silly penalties in games. For the year he has one minor to his credit, a holding call out in L.A. back on October 12 and the Kings didn’t score on the ensuing power play.
So as you can see…if viewed strictly from a statistical perspective… he’s not exactly dropping heaping, steaming piles if FAIL out there. So it has to be something more.
Based on a couple of conversations I had recently with a few individuals close to the team, what’s going on here is that coach Ramsay is trying to get Bergie’s attention…trying to drive home a point or two with the young forward. And he feels the acoustics found in the press box are just right for that message to come through loud and clear.
What’s the message, you ask? Well, among other things, the coach feels he’s not playing “tough” enough and not “battling” for pucks along the boards.
As to just what it is Ramsay is looking for from Bergfors, look no further than what he told Chris Vivlamore earlier this week about one of the players who is getting some of the playing time that Bergfors is missing…Tim Stapleton.
“Stapleton is very good without the puck. He’s going to score, but he’s been good defensively. He made a couple of solid plays the other night”, Ramsay said to the AJC’s fine Thrashers beat writer..
“The first game [Stapleton] played was in Washington and he ends up out against [Alexander] Ovechkin a couple times and got the job done. That helps a lot”, the Thrashers head coach went on to say. “ When you see that he participates defensively, you feel good about putting him out there.”
Ramsay then concluded his comments by saying, “The pucks along the wall, he wins the wall battle. He didn’t turn it over. You can see that if he can play along the walls, and he can play at any time against anybody, that’s a key issue.”
Playing hard on defense…battling along the boards…being smart off the puck…working hard even if you’re matched up against one of the premier players in the league. These are qualities Ramsay sees fit to use for a player like Tim Stapleton and is why he continues to use him… even though he has zero points to his name this season. It’s also fairly easy to read between the lines that these are exactly the same traits he feels Bergfors needs to display in his game.
How long will it take for Bergie to work his way out of the press box? I guess really that depends on how quickly his work ethic improves to his coach’s liking. But both Ramsay and the Thrashers have time to teach and mold the kid into the type of player they are looking for him to be.
And it appears they will give Bergfors ample time to receive the message in coach Ramsay’s own little sound booth…the press box.