TAMPA — Having played professionally in Sweden the past five seasons, forward Simon Ryfors has an edge on some of the younger players participating in this week’s Lightning Prospect Showcase.
Ryfors, 24, wanted to take part in the showcase — which features prospects from the Lightning, Panthers, Hurricanes and Predators — so he could get used to playing on North America’s smaller rinks.
If his first game was any indication, Ryfors will make that adjustment quickly. He had two goals and an assist in the Lightning’s 5-2 win over Nashville Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena.
“It felt good,” Ryfors said. “It’s a fast game here, and I like that. So I just wanted to just try to have as much focus as possible and try to be at the right place on the ice. It’s a little bit different, the angles and stuff, but I felt like I found them pretty quick and was feeling pretty comfortable out there.”
Ryfors had offers from five NHL clubs but was sold on the Lightning quickly after his first conversation with general manager Julien BriseBois. It didn’t hurt that fellow Swede Victor Hedman also called to tell Ryfors more about the organization and playing in Tampa.
“I had a good impression already before that, but he just confirmed everything I already felt,” said Ryfors, who signed a one-year, two-way contract in May. “It’s pretty cool to see an organization with that winning mentality and to see how well they develop players. They have brought in a few free agents who have been a pretty big part of the team. I just felt like it was a great opportunity to challenge myself.
“I didn’t want to go to a not-as-good team. I wanted a challenge. And at the end of the day, I want to win games and win championships, and I felt like if you can dream, I felt like that was the best way, to go here.”
Ryfors will have the opportunity to crack the Lightning roster once training camp starts next week, especially with the losses of forwards Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow and Tyler Johnson.
In players like Gourde and Johnson, the Lightning have shown a knack for developing undersized free agents into key contributors. The 5-foot-10, 181-pound Ryfors is bigger, older and more polished than both of those players were when they joined the Lightning.
“I’ve never seen him play before until this camp and, you know, he’s so good with the puck, he’s so smooth on his skates, and I’m trying to pick up some of the things that he does well,” said 19-year-old center prospect Jack Finley.
Ryfors worked his way up through the junior ranks in Sweden but wasn’t a heralded prospect. He improved each year, breaking out with 45 points last season with Rogle BK. His 25 goals were more than his previous four seasons with Rogle combined.
The North American game is different. The rink is narrower, so there’s more physical play. Ryfors knows he’ll have to win more puck battles in the corners. With less space, he’ll have to make quicker plays with the puck and work different angles, particularly on the power play. But his game relies on speed, and he believes he’ll be able to adapt.
Ryfors displayed that speed in Saturday’s game. He charged through the slot to corral his own rebound and scored on a wrister for his first goal, then found open space low in the slot on the power play for a third-period goal.
“I feel like I can adjust pretty quick and that I don’t feel like that’s going to be a problem,” Ryfors said. “It’s more just get a few games in me and I’m gonna be ready. I feel very mature to do this journey. I’ve been preparing for a lot of years.
“Even though I don’t have the size, I know how to play against big guys and against men, so I feel like I’ve got some experience with me. … I’m a few years older than most of the guys here, so I probably have some more experience and of course, you need to skate a lot and play fast. But sometimes you need to just be in the right position, too, and if I can find those spots here, as I did in Sweden, I am going to be very good.”
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