The Chicago Blackhawks’ defensive depth is a positive for Robin Norell
For the Chicago Blackhawks defense, the log jam that has become the prospect group gives young players both a tough time to break through, but plenty of opportunity to get a shot at doing so. For Swedish defenseman Robin Norell, the stat sheet isn’t going to be where he makes his impression for Chicago. Norell’s defensive prowess is going to be his calling card to the NHL.
Norell was selected by the Blackhawks in the fourth round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, but before signing his entry-level deal with Chicago in March of last season, he spent his entire professional career to date in Sweden, playing for Djurgårdens IF since 2009.
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Norell made his SHL professional debut in 2013 and since then has skated in 121 games with just 22 points (5 goals, 17 assists). On top of his experience in the SHL, Norell has played for the Swedish Junior National team on multiple occasions, winning a silver medal at the 2014 World Juniors.
So to say Norell is a powerplay guy would be an overstatement. Norell’s defensive game in his own end has been a strong point for him throughout his professional time, so much so that the Blackhawks were inclined to sign him to his entry-level deal in time for him to join the Rockford IceHogs for the final eight games of last season and the playoffs.
This season, Norell is expected to again join the IceHogs in the AHL and continue to develop his game and get accustomed to the North American style of hockey.
Norell transitioning to North America
The transition from wider ice in Europe to the speed and physicality of the North American game is often a difficult situation for overseas players. For Norell, having spent a handful of games in the AHL, especially in the playoffs early on in his transition, gives him a better opportunity to prepare for what is ahead of him.
At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, Norell is a solid-bodied player but doesn’t necessarily play a physical game. He moves the puck well and is defensively sound in his own end. Over the summer, Scott Powers of the Athletic Chicago talked with assistant general manager Norm Maciver about the defensive crop of prospects in the Blackhawks system and gave this quote about Norell’s game:
"“I think Norell kind of reminds us a little of Johnny Oduya in the fact he’s an excellent skater. He’s not a real big guy, but he really competes hard defensively. He really competes for 50/50 pucks in terms of battling in the defensive zone, solid defensive player. His ability to move the puck quickly is something we really like. Is he a future power-play guy? Maybe not. But there’s a lot of things we like about his game. The one is the compete, the skating and his ability to defend. It’s something he just continues to improve on. Again, it’s just a matter of coming in and getting used to the North American game and getting better at all those little things that we like about his game.”"
If Norell is to turn out like Johnny Oduya, the Blackhawks would have yet again found a gem of a player out of Europe, and more specifically from Sweden.
If Norell is to break through the Blackhawks’ defensive prospect core and get a chance in Chicago, it will have to be with his defensive game. Positioning, puck movement and aggression on the back end are his best attributes to send him to the next level.
As far as the 2016-17 season is concerned, Norell will be spending his time with the IceHogs in the AHL, more than likely in a top-two or top-four role.