Borgstrom, a 23-year-old Finnish forward, and Soderblom, a 21-year-old Swedish goaltender, both signed two-year contracts with the Hawks this week.
Henrik Borgstrom’s connections to the Blackhawks, despite being Panthers property his whole career until last month, are strangely plentiful.
He attended the same Finnish high school as Kevin Lankinen. He played at the University of Denver alongside Ian Mitchell. Their Denver team won the 2017 Frozen Four at the United Center.
And now fittingly as a Hawk at last, Borgstrom is motivated to make the 2021-22 season the year his NHL career gets back on track.
“Of course that gives me energy,” he said Thursday. “Just having the thought that the team wanted me is really, really nice. [I’ll] try to work towards the beginning of the season. It’s going to be fun.”
Hawks general manager Stan Bowman wasted little time after the season ended Monday, signing two new players — Borgstrom and Swedish goalie Arvid Soderblom — to two-year contracts.
The Hawks have compiled a massive hoard of NHL-caliber players to compete for roster spots next season, even if very few of them are sure-fire stars. Borgstrom, 23, and Soderblom, 21, add to that mixture while bolstering the Hawks’ prospect pipeline.
Borgstrom is coming off a decent season with the Finnish club HIFK Helsinki, ranking eighth on the team with 21 points in 30 games, but playing overseas was not where he expected to be at this point in his career. He regrets how his Florida stints in 2018 and 2019 panned out.
“There were games there that I could have been better,” he said. “Of course, it’s always coaches and management’s decision… I was hoping to get a little more time, but I don’t like to think about it now. There’s going to be a new opportunity for me next season and I’m going to be focused on that.”
He has also been hampered by injuries, including an ankle issue last offseason.
“[At the] beginning of this season…I didn’t feel like I was really in shape,” he said. “With the whole pandemic situation going on, I thought it would be better for me to stay in Finland and play in a familiar place. Just trying to get back in the rhythm and find my game again.”
Known as an immensely talented offensive creator who has yet to overcome inconsistency and defensive flaws, the Hawks are betting Borgstrom will finally put it all together over the next two years.
“It’s going to be important for him to be a solid two-way player so we can tap into the skill he has,” Bowman said. “We’re looking for him to come in and have a strong training camp and jumpstart his career.”
Soderblom, conversely, has never before been on the NHL radar but earned his shot through impressive play.
In 2019-20, Soderblom ranked second in the Allsvenskan — Sweden’s second-tier league — with a .924 save percentage in 32 games with Tingsryds. This season, he again ranked second — this time in Sweden’s top league — with a .922 save percentage in 24 games with Skelleftea. The Hawks were in talks with him the past several months, a source said.
Soderblom will likely be Rockford-bound next season and work his way up from there. For now, he’s the only goalie the Hawks have under contract next year outside of the NHL trio of Lankinen, Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia.
Borgstrom is more likely to immediately stick in the NHL, but he’ll have far more competition to beat out first. The Hawks could have upwards of 20 forwards in camp with realistic chances to make the roster.
Alex Nylander, who fits a similar profile to Borgstrom — a former top pick with great offensive ability yet questionable defensive commitment who fizzled out with his original organization — is expected to be one of them. Bowman said Nylander is “really progressing nicely on his rehab” from knee surgery and should be “ready to go” by September.