“When I got the puck I was like ‘oh my god, maybe I’ll score here,’” said Freddy Claesson, recalling his scoring chance in the first period against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night. “But I got in so quickly and the goalie didn’t really move that much. It was a tough one, but I’d be really happy if I could get my first NHL goal here.”
It’s been less than a year, but the Senators defensemen’s play is night and day from his first stint in the NHL in the 2015-16 campaign.
Last season, Claesson seemed a tad overwhelmed in his own end, especially with the puck, and not aggressive enough to create offense in the other end. Through his first seven games, he recorded nine giveaways and a minus-eight rating. The Stockholm, Sweden native looked afraid to lead the breakout and unsure of his own decisions.
Fast forward to now, and Claesson is playing much more consistent hockey with a boost in confidence.
“It’s something I have to work on and get better every day,” said Claesson of his offensive abilities after today’s morning skate. “I think last year I was thinking more defensive. But I think I can jump up in the play more and get involved, so I should keep doing that.
“For every game you play, you feel more confident. You can do more with the puck.”
With Mark Borowiecki still out with the same illness that has relentlessly made its way through the Senators’ lineup the past couple weeks, Claesson will make his fourth start in a row when Ottawa plays host to the Washington Capitals tonight. He’s spent quite a lot of time in the press box this season, but Senators head coach Guy Boucher says he’s been impressed with how easily his seventh defenseman has transitioned to playing on a nightly basis.
“I like the fact that having not played in a long, long time, being able to come in and do what he did, that doesn’t happen very often,” said Boucher. “It takes a special individual to be able to do that.
“On the ice, Boro’s a tough guy that works hard and challenges the opponent, so Claesson’s able to take a big portion of that. I like his quickness on pucks, I like his commitment. You’ve got a player coming into the lineup, hasn’t played in a long time, what you want is somebody that’s not afraid to make mistakes. Go out, make the mistakes and make them because you commit yourself, not because you omit from doing and being scared to do something. The attitude is there, the work ethic is there and definitely the discipline, so he deserves to be in the lineup and he deserves the ice time he’s getting now.”
Claesson has spent an equal amount of time with a number of different partners this year, but he’s found some success as of late playing on the left alongside Erik Karlsson and Chris Wideman.
“Both Chris and Erik are really good passers and skaters,” Claesson acknowledged. “I feel like it’s way easier to play on the left side than on the right side when I was playing with Boro in the beginning of the season. You just have a better look up the ice and it makes it more simple. Both of those players are really good, so I’m just happy to be playing with one of them.”
Everything seems to be falling into place for the 24-year-old. He’s finding his rhythm, getting some well-deserved playing time and proving he’s capable of NHL minutes in a particularly important contract year.
Less than two weeks ago, he was told by Senators management to get an apartment in Ottawa because they were keeping him for the rest of the season. After four full seasons in the AHL, Claesson had finally broken through.
“(It’s) just a real comfortable feeling knowing that they believe in me and that they want me here. I’m really happy, but I still have to work harder every day, so I’m going to keep doing that.”