February 9, 2015
TORONTO– Prospect Viktor Loov is called upon by his coach most nights to shut down the opposition.
Every so often, though, he flashes an offensive side to his game that the Toronto Marlies weren’t necessarily expecting from the Swedish rookie.
“I try to be an all-round D,” said Loov. “I’ve never showed much offensive skill before. Coming up I thought defensive first, but now when I feel comfortable and (coaches) know I can handle the defensive part I try more offensively too.
“But the defensive part is what coaches want the most from you.”
Loov currently leads all Marlies blue-liners in production with four goals and 15 points in 45 games. He padded those numbers this past weekend with a goal and an assist Friday against Lake Erie and then tacked on another assist Saturday against Iowa.
“I think he’s always been categorized as a defensive defenceman, and that will have to be a staple of his game, but he does add offensive elements too,” said Marlies coach Gord Dineen.
Against Iowa, Loov showed his ability to read the offensive zone when he spotted centre Greg McKegg mid-play at the side of the net. After winding up to take a slap shot from the point, Loov altered his follow through into a slap-pass that McKegg easily tapped into a wide open net.
“I kind of saw him look up and I just wanted to get to a spot he could put it to me. It was a great pass,” said McKegg.
After almost not being able to join the Marlies this season because of contractual obligations with his former pro club in Sweden, Loov was uncertain of how his first year in North America would go once he was cleared in mid October to join Toronto. He chose to keep his goals simple, and so far it’s paying off.
“This is a learning year,” said the 22-year-old. “That was the goal for it. But of course I want to be a guy who’s bringing something to the table every game.”
Loov, who the Maple Leafs selected 209th overall in 2012, got a true taste of pro hockey with Modo last season. He believes that opportunity helped him with his transition to Toronto because it took him away from his home in Sodertalje for the first time. Unlike the Swedish Hockey League, however, the American Hockey League has a much longer schedule. And with 45 games with the Marlies under his belt, he’s already played more than he did last year.
He admits the length of the AHL calender is one of the biggest factors he’s concerned with as he moves forward with the 76-game schedule.
“Maybe 25 more games than I’m used to, so that’s a thing to learn too,” said Loov, who dressed in 42 of Modo’s 55 games last season. “I have to get better on my consistency, that’s one of my problems so far. I need to get better with that.”
Loov, six-foot-two 200 pounds, relies on his foot speed and isn’t afraid to take the body when needed in his own zone. That’s what he feels will keep him relevant within the Leafs organization.
“I try to play with aggressiveness and good skating,” he said.
The left-handed defenceman opened his season with a pair of goals— including the overtime winner in the second game of the campaign. After that he went silent in the goal column for 35 games. Numbers aside, Dineen has seen a positive improvement in other aspects of his game.
“I think his puck plays are getting better,” said Dineen. “He struggled a bit with pressure and had some turnovers in our zone early in the season but he’s getting better managing the puck. (And) he’s got such good skating speed he can skate it out of trouble a lot of times.”
“Biggest difference (in the AHL) is when I get the puck, I always got a guy behind me trying to hit me,” Loov mentioned early in the year.
Loov says he’s in no rush to suit up with the Leafs yet as he continues to adapt and work on his game with the Marlies. An opportunity could come his way, though, depending on what the organization wants to do over the next couple weeks leading up to the NHL trade deadline. Also, defencemen Stuart Percy and Tom Nilsson are both still out with injuries, leaving Toronto lean on the blue line.
“I want to play in the NHL and I think the best place to be is the AHL,” said Loov. “For me, I just want to be ready for when I get the opportunity. I want to feel ready, (but) I hope I get the chance.”