The Erie Otters will have their Maple Leafs quotient increased this season when Norwegian forward Sondre Olden joins the junior team in September.
Otters general manager Sherry Bassin confirmed that Toronto’s third round pick (79th overall in 2010) has signed to play in the OHL this season.
“We talked to him and he’s excited about coming,” said Bassin, who drafted Olden 31st overall in last week’s CHL Import Draft. “We’re excited about it too.”
The centre will be joining fellow Leafs prospect Greg McKegg, who was taken in third round (62nd overall) at the same draft, with the Otters. Bassin said it’s too early to think about the possibility of the pair playing together.
“We expect him to be a top forward for us and that’s all we can say right now,” said the long-time general manager.
Bassin says he’ll head to the Leafs’ prospects camp on Wednesday to see the 19-year-old in action, adding that he had a “good feeling” that Olden would report to the OHL club.
Having former NHL head coach Robbie Ftorek behind the bench for the Otters apparently sealed the deal for Olden, his family and his advisors.
“With Robbie Ftorek’s background and experience – the kids are aware of a guy like that,” said Bassin on Tuesday afternoon. “(Olden) was pretty excited about getting a chance to at least play for him.”
Listed at a lithe 6-foot-4 and 180-pounds, Olden will definitely need to bulk up for any foray into the NHL.
“(The Leafs) want him developed,” said Bassin, who has been in contact with Toronto management. “The key word here is ‘future’ and the whole idea is developing him for the future.
“He’s a big kid that can skate, but he also likes to share the puck – almost too much – he’s not selfish enough almost. I think what he has to learn, and he’ll be taught with us, is he has to drive the net… I think he’s got to learn to get to the net as quick as possible in a straight line and get there in a bad mood.”
Olden spent last season playing junior in Sweden with Modo (J20) though he did make it up to the big club in the Swedish Elite League for three games. The native of Oslo, Norway scored seven goals and added 15 assists in 33 SuperElit games with Modo’s junior side. He played with the Norwegian side at the 2011 world junior championships in Buffalo, N.Y.
In addition to the adjustment of coming to a new country, Olden will have to get used to the much longer 68-game OHL schedule in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
“You literally on our side (of the conference) can’t take a night off, that’s a fact of life,” said Bassin. “That’s what Sondre Olden will have to learn.”
The Otters have a history of developing Toronto draft picks. In 2002, then-Leaf prospects Brad Boyes and Carlo Colaiacovo helped guide the Otters to their first OHL championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup. Centre Tim Connolly, whom the Leafs acquired over the weekend, also played his junior hockey in Erie with the Otters.
“We think that what (Olden's) got to learn is teachable,” said Bassin. “The issue is not only adapting but how quickly you adapt – I’ve seen a lot that do (adapt) and a lot that don’t and that will be a big determining factor as to whether he’s going to be a player or not.”