Nick Sorensen is making himself irreplaceable.
This summer, Quebec Remparts coach-GM Patrick Roy expected Sorensen and Tampa Bay Lightning second-rounder Nikita Kucherov to fill his import slots while Buffalo Sabres top pick Mikhail Grigorenko graduated to the NHL. The intractable NHL lockout put the Remparts one import above the limit. Kucherov's late-October return from a shoulder injury means someone will have to be scratched or traded, leading to speculation Sorensen would be moved. Roy, though, stated Monday that for now, he will emphasize keeping the youngest member of his European trio in the lineup in the short term. Sorensen is playing too well in the early part of his draft season to be parked in the press box.
"The only thing I can do is try to bring my A-game every night," says Sorensen, who has four goals and 11 points in nine games. "Try to do my best every day at practice. Come with a great attitude. The only thing I can control is what I do when I am on the ice. Patty is going to make his decision based on what is best for the team."
The trade speculation is not even the biggest bump along the Angelholm, Sweden native's path to the draft. In his eighth QMJHL game on Oct. 28, 2011, Sorensen blew out his knee thanks to a dirty check from Acadie-Bathurst's Jonathan Lessard, ending his rookie season. He's showing no ill effects, which is especially fortunate for him since he plays a skating game.
"I'm very happy for Nick, it was a tough year for him last year, getting injured," Roy says. "The way he's playing right now, it's fun to see him to do it. All the players are behind him and they all want to see him doing well. He's a super person. He worked extremely hard in the off-season. He deserves a lot of credit for the way he's playing right now."
Roy also praises Sorensen, who turns 18 next week, for maturely handling the extra-import scenario.
"He made great comments in the paper," the Hockey Hall of Famer turned coach says. "He is dealing well with it, we'll see how it goes with the lockout."
Sorensen's shortened 2011-12 accounts for why he didn't have as much draft buzz as several other QMJHL talents, including fellow Remparts forwards Adam Erne and Anthony Duclair (currently out with a sprained ankle). However, at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds he resembles the classic rangy yet graceful Swedish forward who has the wheels to blow by defenders, but also has the reach to protect the puck. The scouting service HockeyProspect.com believes Sorensen could be a first-round pick in June.
Sorensen's goal last Friday against Gatineau epitomized what sets him apart from many of his peers. First he found space to take a lead pass so he could start an odd-man rush; after the defence stopped the initial attack, he then drifted to the high slot and got open to bury a pass from defenceman Ryan Culkin.
Moments such as that help Sorensen forget the pain of last fall and winter after his knee injury. Idle time is not something a teenage hockey player looks forward to.
"It was a tough 2-3 weeks, I couldn't even leave the couch," says Sorensen, whose mother, Kristina, lives with him in Quebec City. "It happened on October 28 and I had to wait six weeks for surgery because they said there was one part of the knee that was crunched and they had to wait or it wouldn't recover fully.
"I'm happy with how it's gone so far this year. Patty's getting me in good shape, pushing me really hard."
1. At your age, there's no skill you can neglect, but what do you really want to improve at during your draft season?
"I really want to work on my intensity. Get tough in the corners and get better at turning quick in the small, small spaces on the ice. That's my main focus. And, of course, build some muscle."
2. Whom in the NHL do you watch closely because he plays a game similar to what you will have to do to reach that level?
"I don't know, really, because I have a pretty special style of playing. I try to skate a lot. But right now I look for tips from Sidney Crosby because he's probably the best in the NHL at protecting the puck. I try to look at him, how he does it, then work on it before practice and after practice."
3. Help us get it right, you were born in Denmark but are actually Swedish?
"My dad is Danish and my mom is Swedish. I was born in Denmark and lived there the first two years of my life. I have citizenship in both. I played one tournament for Denmark, under-16. After that, I had a great season and Team Sweden and I made the team that was one year older [under-17]. After that they didn't want me to play for Denmark. It's a pretty long story.
"I had my dad over here last year and my mom over this year. It helps a lot to get the same food that I have at home. It's not tough for me, the organization treats me great, but it's nice to have someone to talk to. When everything doesn't work out and you have some tough practices or games, it's good to have someone to talk to."
4. What is a better treat, Swedish meatballs or Swedish tea ring?
"Oh, Swedish meatballs. My mom always makes it."
5. Favourite TV show or movie?
"Favourite movie? American Pie."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.