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Brandsegg-Nygard hopes hard-hitting game leads to history for Norway at NHL draft


When he attended the NHL Scouting Combine earlier this month in Buffalo, it was the first time Michael Brandsegg-Nygard had ever been to the United States. 

"It was pretty cool to see what it was like there," the 18-year-old Norwegian winger said before cracking a smile. "I play Grand Theft Auto, and the police cars are equal to the game, so I thought that was cool."

Brandsegg-Nygard returned to the United States this week. This time the destination was Las Vegas. And on Friday the 6-foot-1, 207-pound prospect from Oslo will look to go where no man from his country has gone before: the first round of the NHL Draft. 

"That would mean a lot to me," he said proudly. "It's a dream. It's cool to maybe be the one that makes history in Norway."

Marius Holtet, who went 42nd overall in 2002, is currently the highest draft pick from Norway. 

Brandsegg-Nygard, who produced 18 points in 41 games with Mora IK in the second Swedish league this season, has competition as good friend Stian Solberg, a hard-hitting defenceman who played for Valerenga in the top league in Norway, is also projected to go in the first round. 

"There's always competition between us two, but we'll be happy either way," Brandsegg-Nygard said. "I've been ranked higher than him this whole season, but it can go both ways."

Brandsegg-Nygard came in No. 17 on TSN Hockey insider Bob McKenzie's final ranking, which is based on a poll of scouts. Solberg isn't far behind at No. 20. 

In his final mock draft, TSN director of scouting Craig Button has Brandsegg-Nygard going to the Chicago Blackhawks at No. 18 and Solberg landing with the Nashville Predators at No. 22.

"I'm just happy to be here," said Brandsegg-Nygard, who will play next season with Skelleftea in the Swedish Hockey League. "It will be cool to see Solberg get picked in the first round and, of course, me in the first round too."

In a conversation with TSN, Brandsegg-Nygard shared what this moment means to the Norwegian hockey community and also explained why he is effective at getting under the skin of opponents.

The following is an edited transcript of the interview. 

TSN: What are you feeling now that the draft is so close? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: The nerves are getting higher maybe. It's exciting. I'm looking forward to getting started. 

TSN: How would you describe the excitement in Norway?

Brandsegg-Nygard: I feel like it means a lot. Me and Solberg get a lot of attention in the regional media, and in Sweden too. You feel like when you're going into the rinks in Norway, everyone has an idea of who you are. It's just cool.

TSN: Do you remember staying up late to watch the NHL Draft as a kid? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: I don't remember what year it was, but with Emilio Pettersen from Norway [who was picked by the Calgary Flames in the sixth round in 2018], I watched that one, and last year too. 

TSN: The draft starts at 3 a.m. in Norway, but how many people will be staying up late back home? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: I can't count. Everyone I met says they will watch, so that's cool. 

TSN: Hockey isn't the biggest sport in Norway, so how did you get into it? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: It was my dad [Kjell Richard Nygard]. He played and I always looked up to my dad. He played for my home team. 

TSN: What's the biggest thing you learned from your dad about hockey?

Brandsegg-Nygard: Work 100 per cent. In a game maybe the skills and the passes and the shots don't go your way, but you can always give 100 per cent and skate all you can.

TSN: You came in No. 17 on Bob McKenzie's final list. When do you expect to get picked? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: Ah, I have no idea. It's so hard. Hopefully top 15, 17, I don't know. I don't want to jinx anything. 

TSN: What songs did you choose to play when you are picked? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: 'Hate it or Love' it by 50 Cent. And I picked one from The Hangover movie, when they are driving into the city from Kanye West ['Can't Tell Me Nothing']. 

TSN: Did you consider a Norwegian song? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: I did but, ah, I felt like maybe an English one was better. 

TSN: What did you like the most about your season? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: When I played with Mats Zuccarello and Patrick Thoresen in the World Championship. 

TSN: What advice did Zuccarello give you?  

Brandsegg-Nygard: Just to go out there and have fun. I mean, you have to be serious with hockey and have focus, but maybe have a balance between having fun and being serious about it. 

TSN: What was it like watching him when you were growing up? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: He's from the same town as me and every time I saw him at the rink in the summers I thought it was cool. It's fun to have a Norwegian guy that is so good in the NHL.  

TSN: Five points in seven games at the World Championship. What did you take away from the experience? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: That everyone is stronger, and the passes are always on the tape. I have to try and be quicker on rebounds. I remember when I played against Canada, they always got to the puck first after the shot, and every pass they had was on the tape. 

TSN: Who was the toughest player you faced? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: Who is No. 55? The D. 

TSN: Colton Parayko?

Brandsegg-Nygard: Yeah, Parayko. I remember I 'met' him on the power play. I was on the half wall and saw him coming, so I tried to hold it a bit and pass it to another guy and take the hit. But, I mean, if the wall wasn't there I think I would fly out the rink.

TSN: How would you describe your game?

Brandsegg-Nygard: I'm a big, two-way forward. A power forward that likes the physical part of the game. My offensive side is the best with my shot and my hockey sense. I feel like I can read the play well and be at the right position to get the puck and shoot. I feel like I'm a good defensive forward too. On the forecheck I'm quick up and finish the guys, and good with the back check too.

TSN: What makes you good defensively? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: I have a long reach and pretty strong. I feel like I can read the play well and try to read where the puck is going. 

TSN: What do you like about the physical side of the game? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: I mean, it's always cool to hit a guy so he falls, so you feel like you're the bigger man. I just feel like that's cool to watch on the TV too. 

TSN: Are you one of those guys who likes to get under the skin of the opponent? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: Yeah, I feel like I'm pretty good at that. I also know where the line is, so I do not get penalties. I play with a guy in Mora who is always getting in trouble, so I join him a lot in that. 

TSN: Who is it? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: Noah Steen. He's a good friend of mine. He likes to get up in faces. I remember one time we played against Jordie Benn in Sweden, and he was screaming something at him. Benn said he was going to punch his teeth out. Noah just screamed, 'Do it! Do it!' When I was sitting at the bench and he came over, I said, 'Okay, you gotta chill. He's really going to kill you if you keep going.' 

TSN: Are you a trash-talker like your friend? How do you get under the skin of guys? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: I mean, I'm always physical. I try reverse hits. I feel like when you always have your stick on someone they're starting to get pissed at you and maybe try to talk to you. I just try to laugh in his face or something. I can trash-talk too, but maybe not as often as the other guys.

TSN: Who is your NHL role model? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: I always had Alex Ovechkin as my role model, so I'm still going with him. When I was younger he was so tough and had a really good shot. It felt like he just wanted to go out there and just beat guys up and play hard. 

TSN: Is there anyone in the NHL who plays like your style? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: I heard that I'm a bit like Chris Kreider.

TSN: Do you like that comparison? 

Brandsegg-Nygard: Yeah. I started to watch him a lot in the playoffs, and I think he's good, yeah. He's a really fast forward and good around the net. 

TSN: You produced 10 points in 12 playoff games. What did you like about your performance in those big games?

Brandsegg-Nygard: I felt like it was pretty heated games and I really like that part of the game. I feel like I'm always playing better then. I just liked the moment and played as hard as I could, and it paid off.