By Ron Rop
For Rasmus Bengtsson, this upcoming Muskegon Lumberjacks’ season is going to be vital in his development as a hockey player.
Bengtsson, 19, wants to get bigger and better as he prepares for what he hopes is a long and successful career in professional hockey.
The native of Landskrona, Sweden came to Muskegon this past January after starting the season for Rogle BK. He played in 34 games, scored three goals, assisted on 11 others and finished with two penalty minutes.
This season, the second-round draft pick of the NHL’s Florida Panthers is hoping to have a solid USHL season, and a year from now, head into the NHL camp with the goal of earning a roster spot on their American Hockey League affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage.
“One more year here and hopefully take the step to the AHL,” Bengtsson said. “That is my goal. I have to get bigger and stronger and all that stuff. It’s a long process.”
Bengtsson has to set his sights on playing professional hockey because he is not eligible to play in college. He played pro hockey in his native Sweden at the age of 17.
He said he made good money, too. In fact, he made more than many of the players on the team because he was a top prospect. Most of the players on that Rogle BK team, which played in the second tier last season, were about 25 years old. The oldest was 36.
“I was making more money than the older guys, but you don’t play for money when you’re 17,” Bengtsson said.
His defensive partner, Kristoffer Persson, was 26 and was helpful in Bengtsson’s development.
“He was a mentor to me,” he said. “He was a stay-at-home defenseman.”
And when Bengtsson’s playing time began to diminish, his advisor and Lumberjack owner Josh Mervis worked out an arrangement to bring the 6-foot-2, 194-pound defenseman to the Lumberjacks.
There’s no argument last season was a tough one for everyone in the Lumberjacks’ organization. Two days after Bengtsson arrived here, Coach Kevin Patrick got fired. This year, Bengtsson is hopeful the Jacks can make a run at the championship.
“I am excited for camp,” he said. “I’ve never been in a tryout camp. It’s going to be a fun experience. We’ve got guys from last year and we’ll get to know the new guys. It starts here and hopefully ends next May with the finals.”
The Lumberjacks will be putting a huge amount of responsibility on Bengtsson along the blueline.
“He’s got good size, he skates well and he sees the ice real well,” Lumberjacks’ coach Jim McKenzie said. “He’s a very solid defenseman and as last year went on, it got more confidence. I think we’ll see more offensive upside than he’s shown before.”
Following the Jacks camp, Bengtsson will head to a development camp run by the Panthers. That starts July 1.
“You just have take this year by year because you never know,” he said.
* The Invite Camp concluded on Tuesday night and that left the Lumberjacks’ coaching staff discussing which players to keep around for the Main Camp, which starts Wednesday afternoon.
* Some of the returning players and several draft choices who arrived early had a chance to hit the ice Tuesday afternoon for a little scrimmage.