Lukas Bengtsson is a prospect Penguins brass has had their eye on for a while. He was never drafted by any NHL team, but Pittsburgh always liked him.
When Bengtsson got off to a hot start to 2015-16 in the Swedish Hockey League, he says the Penguins were calling. Even when knee surgery sidelined him for 20-plus games before the playoffs, Bengtsson claims the Penguins still showed faith. When Frölunda’s championship run came to an end last summer, Bengtsson and Pittsburgh came to terms on an entry level deal for him to join the organization.
So when the 22-year-old defenseman needed just 21 seconds to score in his first game action with the Penguins on Friday, it must’ve felt pretty good for both Bengtsson on the ice as well as the scouts seated above.
“Of course, that was a good start,” Bengtsson said with a big smile when reminded of his goal. “We wanted to have a good start, and that was it.”
The Penguins fell in their first game of the 2016 Rookie Tournament in London, Ont., but Bengtsson stood out as one of the team’s strongest players early on. His skating prowess was evident, and while paired with Connor Hall, he showed some snarl and physicality against attacks, as well.
And there was that goal, too.
After a first-shift forecheck jarred a puck loose for the Penguins, it found its way back to Bengtsson who lifted his stick as if he was ready to blast a slapshot, only to bring it back down to the ice and hang onto the biscuit for an extra second. The pump fake fooled a Canadiens player who soared out in an attempt to get in the way of the forthcoming blast, and Bengtsson made a swift shimmy to the left and then let his real shot fly. Off the post and in, teammates’ arms rose in celebration. Bengtsson made it look easy.
“When the guy comes out that fast, and I see he’s trying to block, I try to fake,” Bengtsson said. “The one thing I really like to do is one-timers, but I keep trying to get better at the fakes on the blue line and then a wrister. You don’t always have a lot of time for the big slapper, so I try and practice every day to get the fake and the quick release. I’m really happy it went in today.”
Though he looked like one of the Penguins most impressive players in Game 1, there’s still room to improve. Bengtsson willingly admits that he lacks experience on the smaller ice surface of North American rinks in contrast to the wider pastures in European arenas.
“There’s still a lot of stuff to learn,” Bengtsson said. “The situations, the timing, it’s not the same as in Sweden. But after more games, I think I will start to get it.”
But Bengtsson has made transitions seamlessly before. He grew up a forward, and made the change at the suggestion of his coaches at 16-years-old. So his blue line idols weren’t famous defensemen on the 90’s like Scott Stevens, Nicklas Lidström, or Scott Niedermayer. Bengtsson said since he (unwillingly) made the switch to defense, he wanted to be like current superstars Erik Karlsson and the Penguins’ Kris Letang.
“They move the puck and they’re offensive defensemen,” Bengtsson said. “I look at those guys and try to learn from them every day. And I tried to watch as many games as I could back in Sweden.”
Mixing his blend of offense and defense is something Bengtsson will continue to work on as he marches forward in his quest to be an impact player for the Penguins organization in his first season in North America. He made the most of his first opportunity to show off that recipe, and after Friday’s game, he was chomping at the bit to whip it up again.
“It was special,” Bengtsson said. “What can I say? I was so happy to play my first game for the Penguins, and I can’t wait for the next game.”