Comets' defenseman Tom Nilsson is searching for healthy consistency.
Over the past four seasons, Nilsson's hockey career has played musical chairs. Utica could be where he sits down, at least for the foreseeable future.
As the All-Star break put a halt to teams' ice time for a few days, Nilsson could be one of the few who could have done without the AHL posting a "closed" sign out. With 34 games remaining on Utica's regular season schedule, every opportunity to have a spot on the bench during game time is welcomed.
A myriad of injuries thus far with the Comets have limited Nilsson to just lacing his skates up for 11 games. Over the past three seasons (two in Sweden and one with Toronto's AHL affiliate), Nilsson, 23, has average 43 games of playing time. To miss his average by one, Nilsson would have to suit up for all remaining Comets games.
Perhaps, 42 should be Nilsson's personal motivator?
"I've been injured a lot," explains Nilsson, who has been paired alongside Chad Billins by coach Travis Green on the Comets' blueline as of late. "I didn't get to practice much. Over a nine-week span, I injured my ankle, then left groin and then my right groin. It's been a struggle."
Remaining healthy is the very least that athletes hope for when wanting to prove their worth.
But, it is in Utica where the Swede wants to be. On his own since age 16, turning pro a year later, hockey is what defines Nilsson. The Comets and their parent team, the Vancouver Canucks, are banking on Nilsson's history to make a return. Three years back, signing with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League caught scouts' attention.
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2011 (100th overall), Nilsson gave the AHL a try during the 2014-15 season. He was part of a dominating Marlies crew that ran up a 40-27-0-9 record. Viktor Loov and Petter Granberg, teammates in Toronto and fellow defensive Swedes, contributed to Nilsson's comfortability factor skating in North America. But, it was back to Frolunda the following season, looking to regroup.
No longer requiring FaceTime (at least temporarily) to check in back home, Nilsson contemplated his next career move.
"Being here (Utica) was my obvious choice; my only choice," says Nilsson who is from Tyreso, Sweden. "With (Frolunda), we traveled a lot by bus, not long trips. The longest trip was between three or four hours. Maybe, we had one flight and that wasn't longer than an hour and a half."
So how did Nilsson decide relocating his skills to Utica?
Henrik Tommernes, a fellow defenseman last season with Frolunda, put in a good word on the Comets and Utica area. For Comets' fans, Tommernes should have a familiar ring to it. He skated in Utica during the team's first two seasons. "When I signed with Vancouver, I asked (Tommernes) him little things, like where to eat."
According to Nilsson, he broke his contract with Toronto, to go home and re-evaluate the direction of his career. Now, after three moves in as many seasons, Nilsson is confident that he has landed with the team that should lead him to the NHL.
His toughest challenger since settling in Utica remains staying healthy. So far, Nilsson earns an "A" for effort. Having played before the break on Friday night against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at The AUD, Nilsson didn't dress the following night, when the Syracuse Crunch visited Utica. Performance and having consistency in his game; the ability to go night-in and night-out is front and center for Nilsson, who grew up 15 minutes outside of Stockholm.
Seeing his name show up in the box scores, and not on the scratch lists, as the Comets make a push for Calder Cup playoff positioning, has never been more invigorating for Nilsson to be healthy.
Written by Don Laible