The New York Islanders are continuing their quest for their fifth Stanley Cup in the bubble in Toronto. While that has been going on, they announced that they have sent former 2017 first-round pick Simon Holmstrom to Vita Hasten HC of the Swedish League. He is eligible to return once the 2020-21 NHL training camp opens as the teams prepare for the future as well.
At 18 years old, Holmstrom was one of the youngest players in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers this past season and recently turned 19 in May. This will give him some more competitive hockey experience as the AHL is not scheduled to start until December, while the Swedish League is expected to start back up in October.
Holmstrom played mostly with two former first-round picks in Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom. He scored 8 goals and registered 7 assists in 46 games before the season was cut short due to COVID-19. Holmstrom also played with the Sweden U18 National Team and won a gold medal with three goals and six points in seven games.
It was a slow start for him, though, as he had just one point in his first 10 games after an injury-riddled 2018. His scoring started after recording goals in back-to-back games on Nov. 2 and 3 against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Then nearly a week later, he scored a beautiful goal assisted by Wahlstrom. This all came after he got his first taste of development camp with the Islanders earlier in the season.
“It has been unbelievable. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m very grateful to be here,” Holmstrom said of his first development camp. “I’m just trying to look and learn as much as I can, try to take in as much as I can. Take from the guys who have been here for a long time. Listen to the coaches.”
HC Vita plays in the second tier of the Swedish National Ice Hockey System. He previously played with HV71 and had 7 goals in 21 games. HC Vista finished in sixth place last year and is adding one of the most talented players in years with Holmstrom.
It’s not likely Holmstrom will make the NHL during the 2020-21 season. He does not have a ton of experience, and both his linemates in Bellows and Wahlstrom appear to be higher on the depth chart than him. The Islanders also have depth and could use him in a trade. He will benefit from a full season in the AHL and some time in training camp — he could be on the radar in 2021-22 when the Islanders opens up their new arena in Belmont. It will also be an adjustment as it once was coming over from a different league.
“The game here is a little bit different than Sweden. I think I have to play more north-south game, drive to the net harder and play a bit tougher,” Holmstrom said. “I think I matched up pretty good [against prospects at development camp]. I know I have a lot more in me to give. I know I can match better. I think it was an okay camp. I have more to give. I’m really looking forward to it.”
The Islanders have had many first-round draft picks fail in the last decade, but Holmstrom is on the right track. He will need to continue to grow and mature and, despite being a surprising first-round pick, may end up having a strong career with New York.