With the contributions of players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Maxim Afinogenov, Ondrej Pavelec, and Rich Peverley, it is easy to overlook the stellar year defenseman Tobias Enstrom is having. Engstrom, in his third year with the Atlanta Thrashers, has emerged as a leader on the blue line.
No he doesn’t have the blazing slap shot that sophomore defenseman Zach Bogosian possesses, and he is not a physical presence like Chris Schubert. The things that make Engstrom stand out have as much to do with his mind as it does with his physical skills. He is an excellent skater, good with the puck, and rarely makes a costly turnover in his zone.
He is also an accurate passer and able playmaker. This season Enstrom leads the Thrashers in assists and if he stays on his current pace he will end up with well over 50 assists.
He also is a plus performer meaning the Thrashers score more goals when he is on the ice than when he is off. If you study Enstrom closely you can almost see the wheels turning in his head. When he gets the puck on the blade of his stick you can see his head turning left to right as he calculates the best route to take to get the puck safely down the ice into the opposing team's end.
The 5'10", 180-pound rearguard plays 22:30 a night for the Thrashers, and sometimes literally disappears on the ice until he suddenly shows up and dishes the puck off to a forward in full stride headed toward the opposition's net. Enstrom has also earned the confidence of coach John Anderson who has increased his playing time this season. He plays a regular shift, kills penalties, and is the primary point man on the power play.
His performance has not been totally overlooked because the Swedish Olympic team selected him to attend their training camp. Engstrom will join standout NHLers like Henrik Lundqvist, Peter Forsberg, Daniel Alfredsson, Johan Franzen, Nicklas Kronwall, and Mattias Ohlund.
Enstrom recently picked up his 93rd assist, tying former Thrasher defenseman Yannick Tremblay as the team's all-time leading scorer among defensemen with 107 points. It is a testament to the Thrashers' scouting team that they even selected Enstrom who was selected 239th in the eighth round in 2003. Enstrom did not immediately join the Thrashers line up, instead continuing to play for MoDo in Sweden.
Now in his third season Enstrom has already surpassed his total point production for the entire 2008-09 season. It is likely that Enstrom could receive residual benefits from playing on the Swedish Olympic team. When Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky teamed up to play on Team Canada, Lemieux often spoke about the developmental benefits of playing with Gretzky. Enstrom could gain the same benefits playing with Niklas Lindstrom, who plays a superb cerebral game.
The Olympics, which will be a star studded event, will bring out the best in every participant and Tobias Enstrom is no exception. The Thrashers organization will surely benefit from his participation.