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Hard-hitting Solberg poised to make history for Norway at NHL draft


Stian Solberg rocketed up 29 spots to No. 15 in the latest ranking of top NHL draft prospects released by TSN director of scouting Craig Button. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound defenceman is the biggest riser on the list. 

"It's been a good year," he said with a smile. "I enjoyed playing all year. Just happy for the things I've done and really looking forward to the draft."

Solberg suited up for Valerenga in the top league in his native Norway this season registering 15 points in 42 games. He helped Valerenga reach the league final with nine points in 17 playoff games. 

Now, Solberg has a chance to be the first Norwegian ever selected in the first round of the NHL draft. 

"You always want to make your country proud," the 18-year-old from Oslo said. "You try to be a role model for younger guys and everything, so that would mean a lot."

Forward Michael Brandsegg-Nygard, who played for Mora IK in Sweden's second league this season and is No. 18 on Button's list, is also in contention for that honour. Either way, it's looking like an historic year for a country that has produced only 23 drafted players overall. 

"I'm not going to be mad if it's the second, third or fourth round or whatever," Solberg insists. "I think it's going to be a great experience, anyway, so just looking forward to it."

Solberg, who will join Farjestad BK in the Swedish Hockey League next season, is coming off a strong performance at the World Championship where he scored twice in seven games en route to being named one of his country's three top performers. 

Solberg was a man in demand at the recent NHL scouting combine in Buffalo where he interviewed with 30 teams. He was also among a handful of prospects invited to Toronto for additional face time with the Maple Leafs, who own the No. 23 pick in the first round. 

In a conversation with TSN, Solberg spoke about his trip to Toronto, why a "crazy" question from the Montreal Canadiens stumped him at the combine and how he picked up momentum this season. The following is an edited transcript of the interview. 

TSN: Where have you improved the most this year? 

Solberg: The way I handle the puck. The way I skate off the puck, and my physical play. My entire game. 

TSN: What allowed you to have success at the World Championship? 

Solberg: I played a lot. Played power play. Played a lot of PK. I didn't do too much, played pretty simple. I think my offensive game showed better there. I was handling the puck really well and had some really good offensive time. So, I'd have to say the way I played hard and my offensive side. 

TSN: Why did the offence come out more there?

Solberg: I don't really know. It just happened, so I can't answer that. 

TSN: Who was the toughest player you faced? 

Solberg: One of the Canadian guys. John Tavares was pretty good ... Just a really strong guy that handles the puck really well. It's hard for a defenceman when you meet with such a big guy and a good skater and a strong guy, so he was pretty tough. 

TSN: Who is your NHL role model? 

Solberg: Moritz Seider or Drew Doughty

TSN: What do you like about them? 

Solberg: The way they play hard, and they have a great view of the ice and handle the puck really well, and they are two good skaters. 

TSN: What is the toughest question you got at the NHL scouting combine? 

Solberg: There was a lot of the same questions, but I think Montreal had a tough one. It was something about a submarine and I had to make a choice if I would save them or [someone else]. It was some crazy s--t. 

TSN: What did you say? 

Solberg: I don't know. I just picked one. Just tried to get lucky and get it right. 

TSN: In the fitness testing, you finished first in the shuttle run, which evaluates multi-directional speed and agility. What does that say about your game? 

Solberg: That I'm a quick guy. I'm a big guy too, so I think that's, like, rare to be such a big guy, who can switch angles that fast and turn directions. I think that's special, and I was really happy when I saw that. But I knew I was a fast guy, so I'm just happy with how it went. I think I did pretty well overall. 

TSN: What was the trip to Toronto like?

Solberg: I had a great time there. I talked to all the [management] guys. Just a bunch of good guys there that I really enjoyed talking to. I had a really good day there. They showed me around. I could see the locker room there and the facilities and just everything was really good. 

TSN: What stands out about the facilities? 

Solberg: They have a really good kitchen there and good sofa, good TV, and a really good locker room. Big gym. Yeah, just everything was perfect. 

TSN: Coming from a small hockey country, what would it be like to be drafted by a Canadian team? 

Solberg: It's every hockey player's dream to come and play in the NHL, so, of course, that would be really special for me and for Norway. So, maybe one day.

TSN: Where does hockey rank in terms of popular sports in Norway? 

Solberg: Top five, maybe. 

TSN: How did you end up playing it? 

Solberg: We had a hockey rink really close to my home here in Oslo. I played soccer first and then there was a hockey rink right beside the soccer field and just started one day and things went on from there. I just enjoyed more being at the rink and seeing all my friends and being on the ice. I just really liked the whole thing. 

TSN: How did you become a defenceman? 

Solberg: It was at a tournament in Sweden when I was 14. This player peed in [the shower] and our coach said that you can't do that, so you can't play. 'Stian, you're playing D.' And I was like, 'okay.'

TSN: What do you remember about your first game as a defenceman?

Solberg: It was pretty good. Played first D pair and made some great passes. Just, like, a good experience. 

TSN: What do you like about playing defence? 

Solberg: Being physical and just everything. I like the way you can play as a D, how many styles you can play, and just being a great defenceman.

TSN: Where does your physical game come from? 

Solberg: Ah, I don't really know. It just happened when I changed from forward to D. I learned a way to play hard. I just really enjoy playing hard. I think it's just natural. I really like to play hard. 

TSN: The game is so fast these days. What's the key to landing a big bodycheck?

Solberg: Good gap control and timing. Just go 100 per cent into his body and just close your eyes and hope for the best. 

TSN: Do you like chirping on the ice and verbally going after opponents as well? 

Solberg: If someone talks to me I'm going to talk back, but I'm not the biggest talker. I'm more a guy who shows by example. 

TSN: Who did you look up to growing up? 

Solberg: Mats Zuccarello. I think every little boy in Norway, that's their hero if they’re playing hockey. He's our only big star that made it in the NHL. 

TSN: Zuccarello was your teammate at the World Championship. What did you learn from him? 

Solberg: I learned a lot. Just seeing how professional he is, how he talks to other people and how he is as a person. Just how he always has time to talk to the fans and just how great he is to everybody he meets. Just everything.