By Travis Betts
Despite leading the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in goals last year, David Ullstrom cannot afford to rest on his laurels. His 24 tallies in 2011-12 turned heads around the AHL, and he challenged for the league lead for much of the season.
Ullstrom’s goal totals are especially remarkable when you consider he played 29 games in the NHL with the Islanders. The Jonkoping, SWE native was with the parent club down the stretch last season, scoring four goals and four assists. Now he finds himself in Sound Tigers Training Camp with the task of proving that he's an elite scorer once again, this time to Head Coach Scott Pellerin and the rest of the coaching staff.
“He’s one of the guys who has impressed me the most,” Pellerin said. “He’s really brought his conditioning to another level and handled his offseason training like a true professional. His skating tests as well as his off-ice testing were off the charts. You can really see the commitment level.”
Perhaps it was the work ethic nearly every pro athlete has to have to make it to the top, and maybe it was the taste of the NHL that fueled Ullstrom to take his conditioning to another level this summer. Whether it’s in the NHL or AHL, the third-year pro has clear goals in mind.
“I need to work on my consistency level,” Ullstrom said. “There’s a lot of games in the season, so I want to play my best every single night and try to be one of the best players out there every night. I want to be a better hockey player, and obviously I want to continue scoring a lot of goals.”
The 23-year-old forward played three seasons at the beginning of his career with HV71 of the Swedish Elite League, increasing his goal total to five during the 2009-10 campaign. It wasn’t until he joined the Sound Tigers in 2010-11 that his offensive output took off, and he ranked fourth on the team with 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists) in his first season in North America. He increased his scoring pace to 30 points (24 goals, six assists) in 40 games last season.
Sound Tigers forward Casey Cizikas says he benefitted from the times he played on a line with Ullstrom.
“He was definitely one of our most dangerous offensive players,” Cizikas said. “When you have a guy like him playing on your team, it definitely makes it easier because you know if you get him the puck, he’s going to make something happen. He’s fun to play with.”
So far during Training Camp, Ullstrom has been centering a line with Colin McDonald and John Persson, a departure from his role last season, when he was playing on the wing. Ullstrom has a history of playing in the middle, and says that no matter the position, he will step in and do his best to produce.
“I was playing wing all last year,” Ullstrom said. “I don’t know how it’s going to work this year, but if the coach wants me at center, that’s where I’ll play. I’m familiar with the center position. I’ve just got to do my best wherever I play.”
Cizikas watched Ullstrom make the original transition from center to wing in Bridgeport, and remembered how the switch helped the 6’3, 192-pound forward take advantage of his natural skill set.
“He handled the move well,” Cizikas said. “He’s got unbelievable speed going down the wing. He burned a lot of defensemen out wide. He’s real dangerous on the side.”
While Ullstrom has certainly proved he has the speed and shot to play in the top league, Pellerin wants to see him – and everyone else in camp – work hard at playing a sound overall game.
“I’m going to demand that he be a 200-foot hockey player who can play at both ends of the rink,” Pellerin said. “Obviously with the pace of our game, his offensive skill is going to come out and he’s going to be asked to take on a real strong role on the offensive side of the puck. But he’s going to have to be a fully-rounded hockey player to get to the next level.”