No turning back this time for Predators' defense prospect

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 10:58pm

Make it a one-way ticket for Mattias Ekholm this time.

Unlike a year ago, when the Nashville Predators’ defense prospect comes to North America for the start of training camp, he plans to stay. With Ryan Suter headed out of town, chances that the 22-year-old Swede stays in town are that much better.

“Last year I wanted to maybe stay in Sweden and they wanted me to come over,” Ekholm said during the team’s recent developmental camp. “We agreed that I’d come over and if I don’t take a spot in the NHL I was free to go home. That’s what happened.”

The fourth-round pick in 2009 made the roster out of training camp but was a healthy scratch for four of the first five games. He played a 5-3 loss to Phoenix on Oct. 13 (the home-opener) and got another chance a week later a Vancouver, a 5-1 defeat.

The Predators were outscored a total of 7-1 in the first period of those two games and were 2-4-1 at that point. Not long after Ekholm was back in Sweden.

“We weren’t playing real good at the start of the year and that [made] it hard for me to kind of stand out and show what I got,” he said. “I got in on a bad path. I think my first game against the Kings was pretty good and then Vancouver didn’t go as good as it could have. That’s just the hardest thing to not take [advantage of] the chance when I got it.”

That brief audition included work in all situations, including a brief appearance (31 seconds) on the penalty kill and a longer look (1:07) on the power play. He managed just one shot on net and failed to register a point.

It was not quite what franchise officials wanted from a player who racked up 33 points (10 goals, 23 assists) in 55 games in 2010-11, his first full season in the Swedish Elite League.

“It took a week or two to come back to my game in Sweden, where there’s a bigger rink and everything and it was disappointing for me to go back there,” he said. “After a week or two you kind of forget that and [play] the rest of the season.

“The season went well so I’m happy to be back here this September.”

To say things went well are a bit of an understatement.

His team, Brynas IF Gavle-Sweden, won the league championship. Although his offensive numbers dipped noticeably from the previous season (16 points in 40 games) he still got an invitation to play for his country at the 2012 World Championships, which were held in Sweden and Finland.

He says he is prepared to spend the next season or two at Milwaukee, if need be. However, with good size (6-foot-4, 204 pounds) and the ability to move the puck, there is the possibility that he could help immediately offset the loss of Suter, who made headlines across North America last week when he decided to accept a free agent offer from Minnesota.

“Coming here this year, I know what everything is like — how it is to make it through camp and make the NHL,” Ekholm said. “… My dream as a kid has always been to play in the NHL. Now I’ve played two games and I know what it’s like and I know I want to have it. I want to play in the NHL for sure.”

There’s no going back.