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Borgstrom Starting From Scratch With Capitals: ‘I Have To Be Better’

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Washington Capitals Henrik Borgstrom

ARLINGTON, V.A. — On July 12, Henrik Borgstrom found himself entering unfamiliar territory. The Chicago Blackhawks had placed him on unconditional waivers for the purposes of buying out his contract, and after going unclaimed, he cleared. He was bought out and in turn, would hit free agency for the first time in his still young career. Then, he got a call from the Washington Capitals.

Borgstrom said there were a couple of other teams who reached out as well, but there was a reason that he chose to ink a one-year, two-way deal in the Nation’s Capital.

“Washington was the one that really wanted me,” he said bluntly.

The road to the NHL hasn’t been an easy one for the Finn. His father, Kim, has worked in the sport his entire life and is the chairman for Jokerit ry in the Borgstroms’ home nation of Finland. Naturally, Borgstrom picked up the game through family and quickly made his way up the ranks.

“It was there for me right from the get-go. I’ve always loved the game, and I never looked back,” Borgstrom recalled.

Playing with Jokerit and ultimately making it up to the U20 SM-liiga team, Borgstrom caught the attention of the NHL and NCAA. The Florida Panthers took him 23rd overall in the 2016 NHL Draft, citing his quick hands, hockey IQ and ability on offense. And with that selection, he chose to continue his development in North America and play college hockey with the University of Denver.

There, he thrived, dishing 43 points in 37 games his freshman year before managing 23 goals and 29 points for 52 points in 40 outings as a sophomore. After that, he would make the NHL jump in Florida. However, from that point on, things changed.

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Being around today’s stars and adapting quickly to the speed of the NHL was a whirlwind for the 6-3, 200-pound center — and he admitted it was hard to keep up.

“I was very tied up, you know?” he explained. “Just like, nervous. First time playing with the actual pros, it was kind of nerve-wracking.”

In his rookie season in 2018-19, he had 18 points in 50 games with Florida but wasn’t quite making the cut as the slated top-6 forward he was expected to be. The Panthers sent him to the Springfield Thunderbirds to continue his development, and at the AHL level, he thrived with 22 points in 24 games.

That success wouldn’t carry over to the pandemic season, though. He played just four games with Florida to open 2019-20, but he didn’t produce and ultimately went back down to Springfield, where, after a hot start, he experienced the same inconsistencies. His production dropped to just 23 points in 49 games, and the Panthers ultimately sent him to the Chicago Blackhawks, who hoped he would be a steal and benefit from more development and an ultimate change of scenery.

In 2020-21, Chicago loaned him to SM-liiga’s HIFK Helsinki, where he impressed with 21 points in 30 games. He couldn’t mimic that production with the Blackhawks in 2021-22 and had just four goals and three assists for seven points in 52 games, leading to the ultimate buyout.

“It’s been a lot of ups and downs,” Borgstrom admitted. “I’ve had my good days and then my bad days, for sure.”

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For the 24-year-old, though, the Capitals symbolize a clean slate, a chance for him to start over. In the offseason, Borgstrom worked on his speed and fine-tuning different aspects of his game.

“Everything,” he confirmed. “I know I’m not the fastest skater; I don’t have that ability. So that’s something that I’ve been working on for the last five summers. It’s not natural for me to be super fast, and the game is getting faster all the time.”

He hasn’t gone too far into detail with general manager Brian MacLellan and the front office about expectations for this season, but he sees it as another chance to prove he can be a full-time NHL player. MacLellan agreed, saying he would be an ongoing project for Washington.

“We can get more out of him,” MacLellan affirmed in July.

It’ll be a challenge though, as there is currently an influx of centers on the Capitals roster and a lack of vacancies. Taking that into account, Borgstrom knows that he’ll have to be better, but at the same time, he’s a player who needs to recapture his confidence and improve both mentally and physically.

“It’s a different game at the pro level. I know my capabilities,” Borgstrom said. “But I don’t think I’ll be the same player as I was in college… That would be fantastic [if I can be].

“I still consider myself young, and I have plenty to prove,” he added. “I have a lot of good experiences and try to work from those.”

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So, as he looks to make noise in the organization, whether it be with the big club or down with the Hershey Bears, he is taking in as much as he can from the veterans and young guys. He also looks up to Nicklas Backstrom, who he hopes to learn from when it comes to adding different pieces of his overall game while he’s with the organization, which he says does a great job of looking out for the players.

Overall, though, it’s just a matter of improving both mentally and physically and recapturing the confidence that made him one of the league’s best prospects.

“It’s a combination of both. I can’t really see the future, but there’s a lot of aspects to it,” Borgstrom explained. “Personally, I have to be better.

And, when asked if all that will take is more confidence, Borgstrom grinned, looking down at his full cup of coffee.

“Hope so,” he said.

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