It didn’t take long for Robin Press to make an impression with the Indy Fuel.
At 6-foot-2, his size helps him stand out on the Fuel blue line. But just as imposing is his slapshot – which he put on net 12 times in his first two games with the Fuel.
Press is the latest Chicago Blackhawks prospect to come to the Fuel, joining the team in December after signing an AHL contract with the Rockford IceHogs.He’s started the year in one of the world’s top leagues – the Swedish Elite League – and now is learning the North American game.
One of the first things that’s noticeable is his shot, which contributed to his first North American pro goal last Tuesday in the Fuel’s game against the Brampton Beast. He contributed an assist two nights later in Thursday’s contest.
“I want to help out offensively as much as I can, from all the way behind our net to the offensive blue line,” Press said.
He’ll be back on the blueline as the Fuel begin a busy five-games-in-six-days stretch Dec. 27 in Fort Wayne. The Fuel return home Friday, Dec. 30 to play Cincinnati in a 7:35 p.m. face-off at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
He had played two games in North America – making his pro debut for Rockford at the end of the 2014-15 season, after his junior season in Sweden had concluded. A seventh-round Blackhawks pick in 2013, he returned to Sweden to play for Djurgardens in the SEL.
One of the biggest transitions to North America is the ice surface – the 85-foot width is 15 feet narrower than the 100-foot wide sheets commonly found in Europe. Because of the smaller ice, the game happens a lot faster.
“It’s more of a reaction game,” Press said of playing in North America. “You’ve got to be in the game all the time and keep your head on a swivel and be ready, because there’s not much room. In Sweden, there’s a lot of room, people can cost. Here, everything’s faster.”
“When they have the bigger ice, there’s more room to make plays,” Fuel coach Bernie John said, who was also a standout defenseman as a player. “Here, it’s a little quicker, at the next level, it’s even quicker.”
Being one of two developmental circuits for the National Hockey League, the ECHL allows prospects to develop their games. Press said the smaller ice is helpful as he works on developing his skating.
“He’s an asset. He can shoot the puck. He’s got some skill. He’s a little risky at times. At the next level, he’s going to have to simplify more because you won’t have the time or this kind of room,” Fuel coach Bernie John said.
The learning curve for young defensemen can often be steeper, because of the numerous responsibilities involved in playing down low in the defensive zone, transitioning from defense to offense, leading the breakout, and making decisions at the offensive blueline. The ECHL is a league with many developing defensemen learning just those skills – in addition to working on individual skills such as, in Press’ case, his skating and footspeed – so they can contribute at the AHL and NHL levels.
“That’s why he’s here, is to better those skills and allow him to get to the next level and be a contributor,” John said.
The hockey world is small, and when Press came to Indy, he had a teammate from his hometown of Uppsala, Sweden. Jonathan Carlsson is six years older than Press, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Dec. 21. However, the two grew up in the same hockey community and system, and being teammates can allow them to have some comforts of home.
The two also played together in the Swedish second division in 2014-15. Both being right-handed shots, they are usually on different duos in Indy.
“Just having a guy from the same country, you can speak the language,” Press said. “He’s got a family and a daughter – I can spend time with them. It makes it easier to feel at home and get into it. All the other guys are great, too. It’s been a blast.”