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Playing against professionals prepared Asplund for World Juniors, NHL

Central Scouting’s top-ranked Swede in this year’s NHL Draft has skated at the HarborCenter for the past week, but it isn’t the well-publicized Alex Nylander. He was considered a North American skater since he played in the OHL.  Instead it’s his former linemate, Rasmus Asplund, a player the Sabres traded up in the second round to land at this year’s draft.

Asplund doesn’t have gaudy numbers, four goals and 12 points in 46 SHL games last season, but he does have experience – a year and a half of it – playing against men that are 10 to 20 years older than him.

Asplund debuted in the SHL as a 16-year-old, getting the call-up from Färjestad BK’s U20 squad to the main team. He played 35 games in Sweden's top league that season, scoring two goals and three points.

The physical side is obviously a huge adjustment for any player, but playing professionally so young is a mental game as well. Asplund was used to being a point per game player, scoring 25 points in 19 games with the U20 squad that season. The call-up meant he had to start over at the bottom of the totem pole.

“You’re 16 and you have always been a great player,” Asplund said. “When I come up there, you’re just one player out there. You’re not the best player.”

He's taken being the youngest player on the ice well, both with his club team and internationally. Two years ago he nearly made Sweden’s roster for the World Junior team despite nearly all his competitors being older than him.

He made the cut in 2016, when Swedish coach Rikard Grönborg placed him alongside Alex Nylander on the team’s second line. Asplund scored three goals and five points in seven games, while Nylander scored scored four goals and nine points for the gold-medal winning Swedish squad.

The line, completed by Toronto’s Dmytro Timashov, became the offensive powerhouse of the team. Asplund said he and Nylander had instant chemistry. As a two-way center, Asplund was able to drive puck possession, allowing Nylander plenty of opportunities to dazzle.

“I’m tracking the puck, winning the puck back,” Asplund said. “I put it up to him, and he can show the crowd what he’s made of. We really compete together.”

The two Swedes have played in opposite groups at Development Camp and in the scrimmage Saturday. While Nylander scored twice in penalty shot attempts in the scrimmage, Asplund was able to score in the traditional manner, the only 2016 draft pick to do so.

He’s played on the North American surface a handful of times with Sweden, but not enough that it’s entirely comfortable. There were a few instances in the scrimmage where he couldn’t fully pull off a move or quickly turned the puck over after he completed it.

“You have less time out there if you compare it to Sweden,” Asplund said. “You really need to stay focused every shift and be ready mentally to step up every shift and be the best player on the ice.”

Like all European prospects, Asplund could return to Europe or play in the AHL next season if he doesn’t make the Sabres roster out of camp. He's said in the past he thinks he could use one more season in Sweden to develop, but that it’s up to the Sabres to decide what’s best for him moving forward.

“They’re my boss now.”

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