By Ian Oland
During the preseason, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby was on the fast-track to the NHL after being claimed by the Buffalo Sabres. Then, a week later, it was over and as if nothing happened.
Now, the Swedish forward, with the sickest of flows, will make his NHL debut for the Washington Capitals against… you guessed it… the Buffalo Sabres.
Will it be a revenge game?
“I mean, not really,” Jonsson-Fjallby said to reporters laughing. “They treated me well.”
Following a path paved by Seattle Kraken legend Vitek Vanecek, Axel began his unplanned, pseudo-vacation away from the Capitals on October 4. GM Brian MacLellan put the forward on waivers, with the intent of sending him to Hershey as the Capitals trimmed their Training Camp roster to 34. The Sabres, however, had a different idea and claimed Jonsson-Fjallby in what seemed to be a huge moment in the prospect’s career.
“I was happy at first,” Jonsson-Fjallby said. “I felt like, of course, they believe in me because they claim me.”
But Jonsson-Fjallby never had a chance to show off his skills to his new team. Jonsson-Fjallby experienced a delay in acquiring a new visa. The procedural issue kept Jonsson-Fjallby out of the Sabres’ final two games of the preseason against the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 5 and the Detroit Red Wings on October 9. AJF even took warmups with his new Sabres teammates ahead of the Detroit game but was a late scratch due to the red tape.
The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington explained Jonsson-Fjallby’s nuanced predicament:
When a player is traded, his visa carries over to his new club. However, a player must reapply for a visa if he is claimed via waivers.
“That was weird,” Jonsson-Fjallby said. “I got two practices that week since I couldn’t play in the games.”
So on October 10, the Buffalo Sabres, who were no more informed on what they had in the player, put Jonsson-Fjallby back on waivers to try and send him to their own AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans.
The Capitals pounced and claimed AJF back the next day, ending his tenure with the Sabres after seven days.
“I was in a moving car about to pick up my furniture for the apartment when I got the call that I had been claimed,” Jonsson-Fjallby said.
He added, “It was a roller coaster for sure. I wasn’t upset about coming back either. Washington is the team that drafted me.”
Nearly a month later, the Capitals, who are without injured top-six forwards Nicklas Backstrom (hip), TJ Oshie (foot), and Anthony Mantha (shoulder), are giving Jonsson-Fjallby his first opportunity to play in the NHL with the team’s all-rookie line, consisting of Connor McMichael and Brett Leason. While McMichael and Leason have both recently scored their first NHL goals, Jonsson-Fjallby is more intrigued by another part of the game.
“I’m not going to change the way I play,” Jonsson-Fjallby said. “If they let me play (the) penalty kill, that’d be nice, you know. Down there, I play a lot of PK so that’s the type of player I am.”
When asked if he wanted to be a PK specialist like fellow Swede Carl Hagelin, AJF nodded his head.
“Yeah, exactly,” Jonsson-Fjallby said. “I really looked up to Carl when I was younger and even now. That’s the type of player I’m trying to be.”
Jonsson-Fjallby was notified of his impending callup presumably before the Bears’ game on Sunday.
“I was getting ready for a game in Hershey actually and I got the call from Chris Patrick and he told me I’m going up,” Jonsson-Fjallby said. “It was fun.”
Despite seeing himself as more of a defensive forward, the 23-year-old winger has had a lot of offensive success lately, notching the second-most points on the team, seven (3g, 4a) in nine games. The season before, he finished with the third-most goals on the team (10).
“I’m really happy about [making my NHL debut], of course,” Jonsson-Fjallby said. “I feel like my game has been good this year. Finally getting a chance is really fun.”
Headline photo: Cara Bahniuk/RMNB
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