HERSHEY, Pa. – It would be fair to say that Axel Jonsson-Fjallby's 2018-19 season did not go the way either he or the Capitals would have hoped.
The forward prospect gained attention in training camp with his NHL-level speed, but rather than stick around in Hershey for the full season, Jonsson-Fjallby elected to return to his native Sweden after just 16 games in the AHL. In 36 games with his SHL team, Djurgardens IF, Jonsson-Fjallby scored only one goal and nine assists.
Since then, however, things have been looking up. Jonsson-Fjallby again performed spectacularly in the playoffs, has returned to Hershey now that the SHL season is over and says he is in North America for the long haul.
"My goal is to one day be in Washington, but if not I will be here in Hershey," Jonsson-Fjallby said of his plans for next season.
Jonsson-Fjallby stands out to many because of his long, blonde hair, but in terms of his play it is his speed that really sets him apart. Already at the age of 21, Jonsson-Fjallby has the type of speed that NHL teams covet. He has often been compared to fellow Swede Carl Hagelin, a comparison that Jonsson-Fjallby welcomes.
"I really like the way [Hagelin] plays," he said. "I try to learn stuff from him also. Although he's probably better than me, I feel like we're the same type of player."
Like Hagelin, Jonsson-Fjallby always seems to bring it in the biggest moments. He was spectacular in the SHL playoffs in 2018 with six goals and two assists in 11 games. He followed that up this year with another strong playoff performance even after a difficult regular season. Jonsson-Fjallby scored seven goals and five assists in 19 playoff games to help lead Djurgardens IF to the final.
"I really like to play playoff hockey," he said. "I think it's a different type of hockey. I don't know. I just feel like I can get loose. Also, for me, I got back in the middle of the season in Sweden. I felt like when the playoffs started, it felt like a new start for me so I could just restart."
With a proven track of playoff success and NHL speed, there could be an opening for him to make the Caps' roster in training camp as the team is expected to lose some of its forward depth due to salary cap constraints.
This is where going back to Sweden could really hurt him.
"Would we like to have had him play the whole year in Hershey? Yeah, for sure," Caps' assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said in January. "You're making that transition into more of a realistic ice size and to the transition for the NHL and you're also having him being with our coaches and our development people."
The transition from the European game to the North American one can be difficult and takes time. Instead of taking a full season to acclimate to the North American game, however, Jonsson-Fjallby went home.
Still, Jonsson-Fjallby does not regret the move.
"I could have stayed," he said. "I think it probably would have been probably the same. I developed a lot, I learned a lot. I had a pretty bad regular season, but now afterward and also with a pretty good playoff I learned a lot. I think it's good that I didn't play that well. That sounds weird, but I just feel like I learned to come back from struggling."
When an NHL team runs into salary problems, promoting prospects from within the system is a simple way to save money. To do this, however, a team has to have players who are ready to make that jump.
In terms of offense, the Caps' pipeline is pretty bare. Jonsson-Fjallby is one of the few players who could have a legitimate shot and reaching the NHL club next season. The question is will he be ready to make the transition to the NHL?
But while the thought of playing on the smaller North American rink can be daunting for some, it does not bother Jonsson-Fjallby one bit.
"I kind of like the smaller rink although that's a pretty big adjustment," he said. "Also the way it's played here. With the smaller rink, it's more physical, you don't have that much time. You've got more time back home because the ice is bigger. I like the smaller rink so that's not a problem."
MORE CAPITALS NEWS: