Adam Boqvist is torn.
He wants to play for Sweden again in the World Junior Championship after being upset in last year’s quarterfinals by Switzerland, but he also knows if he goes that means he won’t be available for another NHL call up to the Blackhawks.
“If they let me go, I want to go for sure,” Boqvist said after the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs’ practice Monday. “It’s a nice tournament. To represent your country is huge as well. Of course, I want to be here to help the team win, but it’s my last chance to play in the World Juniors.”
Boqvist scored four points in last year’s tournament, including the game-winning goal in group play against the United States. The defenseman has high hopes for this year’s Sweden team.
“We can have a really good team,” Boqvist said. “Guys have played in the AHL, the highest league in Sweden and a lot of guys played for us last year. A lot of guys know what to do. We want to make the Swedish fans proud and happy. We have a good chance there.”
Rockford IceHogs head coach Derek King said the topic of the Blackhawks sending Boqvist to the tournament has come up, but a decision hasn’t been made yet.
“I’d like to think that if the opportunity is there for him that they’re going give him that opportunity,” King said. “I think it’s a great privilege to play for your country, especially at World Juniors.”
If Boqvist does play in the tournament — which runs from Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic — he’d likely be paired with Maple Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin on the top defensive pairing. Boqvist would miss at least five AHL games and be unavailable for an NHL call up. He scored his first career NHL goal in his second game during his six-game call up in November while primarily playing with veteran Duncan Keith.
“It was really good for me to be up (in the NHL) to see everything,” Boqvist said. “When I got sent down I had more confidence from being up there. I want to be better, win every puck, take the puck up the ice and get to the net.”
Boqvist struggled in his first game back in the AHL at Grand Rapids then collected five assists in his next two games. Rockford assistant coach Anders Sorensen said Boqvist has taken a “step forward” and the offensive production will continue to come naturally.
“He’s been more noticeable, more controlled with his shifts and has the puck on his stick a lot more,” Sorensen said. “He’s figuring out this league a little bit more and how he can utilize his skill and hockey sense to benefit himself and the group.”
The IceHogs have won back-to-back games and have a point in five of their last six games. The Blackhawks, however, have lost three straight and six of their last seven, and are in need of a spark. Boqvist could provide that from the blue line like he did in November, but if he plays in four more NHL games the Blackhawks will use the first year of his entry-level contract.
It’s not uncommon for AHL players to participate in the tournament. King knows his team is better with Boqvist in the lineup, but still believes it’s best for Boqvist to play at World Juniors.
“It’s not going to hurt his development to go,” King said. “It’s a privilege, right? It’s a chance of a lifetime, and obviously the last time he’ll be able to play at World Juniors. If it was me, I’d want to go. Obviously, we’d like him in our lineup, but if he goes I think it’s great.”