The Washington Capitals dipped into the international free agent pool last spring when they signed Swedish defenseman Hardy Haman Aktell to a one-year, two-way entry-level contract in late April. Haman Aktell had just finished up successful SHL season with the Vaxjo Lakers where he was the team’s leading scorer from the backend.
The Caps are getting their first look at the 25-year-old, left-handed blueliner at this year’s Training Camp. With veteran defender Joel Edmundson announced out four-to-six weeks with a fractured hand, attention has turned to depth players like Haman Aktell to see if they can take his minutes.
“It’s what these guys want, right?” Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery said on Tuesday. “They want to prove that they’re an everyday NHL player on a good team. So it’s right there, I love that. I mean, not for Joel’s case — but for guys that are just waiting for that one break to be able to get into the lineup. And sometimes it comes in another person’s misfortune.”
In addition to Alex Alexeyev, Lucas Johansen, and Vincent Iorio, Haman Aktell’s name was on the top of Carbery’s mind as his potential fill-in.
“The things that jump out right away [are his] size, length, and reach,” Carbery said. “He seems like a really, really intelligent defender. He puts himself in good spots and can read where the next play is going so that he’s there quickly to close. He breaks up a lot of plays whether that’s length or stick related or [due to his intelligence]. That’s what I’ve seen from the practices. We’ll be getting a long, hard look at him in the games.”
On the surface, Haman Aktell could be seen as a like-for-like substitution for the rugged Edmundson as he does have a similar six-foot, four-inch, 220-pound build. But, Carbery says running forwards into corners and stepping up into big hits are not parts of the Swede’s game.
“I wouldn’t say he’s going to be a bruiser, but I think he uses his frame in an intelligent way,” Carbery said. “From the film I’ve watched, he’s not a real punishing, physical defender. He’s a really smart, long, intelligent defender.”
One of Haman Aktell’s main competitors at camp for a roster spot, Vincent Iorio, also pointed out some strengths he has seen in the short time they’ve shared the ice together. “I know [Haman Aktell], I haven’t seen him too much but he seems like a very smooth skater, very poised with the puck,” Iorio said.
Haman Aktell met with the media for the first time as a member of the Caps on Wednesday after he spent the day practicing on a pairing with Alexeyev. Before the Caps changed up their Training Camp groups, he had been exclusively taking the ice with fellow free agent pickup Chase Priskie.
“It’s my first time [at an NHL training camp],” Haman Aktell said. “Good group of guys here so I enjoy the time.
“I feel like last season I did a lot of points and stuff like that I haven’t done before. I think my defensive game is pretty good so I think it’s the right step to come over here and try to fight for a job.”
Haman Aktell, who added that Rasmus Sandin is the only Caps player he has a past relationship with, did have a bit of an offensive breakout last year. Before tallying 36 points (9g, 27a) in 51 SHL games, he had recorded just 27 points (8g, 19a) in 100 prior games.
Haman Aktell believes his best chance at continuing that sort of production in North America lies within the Caps’ organization.
“You want to try and be in the best league so it was a good year for me to go over here now,” he said. “I had some other teams but I had a good feeling from Washington from day one. I think it’s a good fit for me.”
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
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