There’s the old expression that money doesn’t grow on trees. Among NHL scouts, the same sentiment could be said toward 6-foot-5 defensemen.
That’s why Adam Samuelsson is such a coveted prospect for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. The bloodlines he comes from don’t hurt, either. He’s the son of retired NHL enforcer Ulf Samuelsson and the younger brother of professional hockey players Phillip and Henrik Samuelsson.
Adam, from Rye, N.Y., plays on the prestigious USA Hockey National Team Development Program U-18 Team based in Plymouth, Mich. In his second year with the program, Samuelsson is projected to be selected in the second or third rounds of the 2018 NHL draft.
Not only is Samuelsson enjoying individual success, but also the NTDP is having its best year in a long time in terms of competing in the USHL. The program has clinched a playoff berth, despite playing against older players on a nightly basis in the top Junior A league in North America. The NTDP U-18 team also is preparing to play in the IIHF World U-18 Championships in Russia.
“We’ve had a really good run in the USHL. We’ve had some ups and downs against college teams, but that’s expected because we’re so young. The last month we’ve done really well and there’s a huge push for Russia. It will be fun going over there,” said Samuelsson.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Samuelsson, who suffered a huge setback with a knee injury last season. It’s a difficult recovery for any athlete, but especially for someone his size.
“The knee is feeling a lot better. It’s back to normal,” said Samuelsson. “One leg is a little weaker than the other, but that’s expected. I did a lot of extra work after practice to get back into rhythm. I just try to do more reps on that leg. It’s getting stronger every day.”
The NTDP is a special program with its ability to focus and concentrate on developing elite hockey players in the United States. That individualized attention has been particularly beneficial to Samuelsson as he works on getting back to the level he was at prior to his injury. His coach this season with the U-18 team is former RPI head coach Seth Appert, who is in his first year behind the bench with USA Hockey.
“The coaches have really helped me, especially with the comeback I’ve had after the injury. They’ve been on me to do extra work with my leg. They really care about me and want the best for me,” Samuelsson explained.
As Samuelsson prepares for the draft, the biggest concern scouts have is whether or not his feet and overall skating ability are good enough to be worthy of a high-round pick in June’s draft. That’s the part of his game that he’s trying to improve the most in his final season with the program.
“Skating is a big thing for me, especially with the injury and being a bigger guy. It’s always been a main focus for me. I have to work on everything, but mostly that,” said Samuelsson, who played youth hockey with Mid-Fairfield Rangers and North Jersey Avalanche prior to joining the NTDP.
Despite not having the prototypical size and skating of an offensive defenseman, Samuelsson is prone to find his way onto the scoresheet thanks to an innate ability to sidestep forecheckers and get shots through from the point. He has six goals and 30 assists in 78 games this season.
“You just have to see if there is a forward on you. I try to look ahead and pass it to the forward who is curling up. I try to keep my head up. Walking the blue line can be scary,” said Samuelsson.
While the offensive part of the game is there, Samuelsson’s trademark size and ability to play physically is what will help him go further in his blossoming hockey career. He has 143 penalty minutes this season.
“I’m a two-way defenseman who uses my body. I have a good stick and just try to throw my weight around. I try to have a good first pass and have good vision,” said Samuelsson when asked to describe his style of play.
Samuelsson tries to watch Tampa Bay Lightning star defenseman Victor Hedman in order to pick up pointers that can translate to his own game. The two have a similar build.
“Victor Hedman really stands out. Everything he does is just remarkable,” complimented Samuelsson.
In addition to watching current NHL players, Samuelsson has been able to lean on his father and two older brothers for advice when it comes to playing the game at a high level. However, it’s a piece of advice from his father that doesn’t revolve around X’s and O’s that has stuck with him the most.
“One thing that always stuck with me is he told me to go out there and have fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s basically pointless. He tells me to just go out there and be a kid,” Samuelsson said.
With the U-18 worlds and the draft on the horizon, there is a bright future ahead for Samuelsson. He is expected to follow in his brother Philip’s footsteps and join the Boston College hockey team in September.
“It’s always been my dream school,” said Samuelsson. “My brother Philip always said it was the best decision to go there. The coaching staff is highly regarded and the education is very good. The facilities are really nice and the location is great. I love Boston.”
We hope you enjoyed this free story! For all-access to New York Hockey Journal content, subscribe below.