If you were to ask Andreas Karlsson, the best way to succeed in hockey and in life is to adapt.
On the ice, he had to adjust to playing in the smaller North American rinks after being drafted 148th overall by the Calgary Flames in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft.
After spending seven seasons with Leksands IF (of the former Swedish Elite League), he finally broke through to the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers (2000-2002) and Tampa Bay Lightning (2006-2008) where he played 264 games and recorded 51 points.
It took lessons learned from someone who would become a mentor to help make that a reality.
“The one thing that changed my life quite a bit was that we had a Canadian coach who came to Leksands, and his name was Wayne Fleming,” Karlsson said.
Originally from Alberta, Fleming was the head coach of Leksands from 1992 until 1996. He went on to build a 33-year coaching career that included stints as an NHL assistant coach for the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Fleming also represented Canada as an assistant coach, winning Olympic silver in 1992 and gold in 2002 as well as the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.
“The professionalism he brought to our club and the whole community was amazing,” he added.
His career was cut short though, when Wayne passed away from brain cancer in 2013 at the age of 62.
“He touched a lot of people. It changed the way I look at hockey. He raised me in many ways and was a great influence on a lot of players.”
Since retiring as a player in 2010, Karlsson started his coaching career with Frolunda’s J20 super-elite team (including three years as the squad’s head coach) with a similar approach.
“The main thing is that every player is different, so they have different trigger points,” Karlsson said, adding, “They all have different backgrounds, so it’s important to get to know them first and build some trust, I think that’s the first step. And then you can start to dig in a little more and push them a little harder.”
In 2013 and 2014, he led the team to a first-place finish in the regular season and a playoff semi-final appearance.
The following year, Karlsson joined the coaching staff of the York University Lions men’s hockey team and helped guide the squad to an Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Queen’s Cup championship and an appearance in the University Cup championship.
By the summer of 2017, he was signing on the dotted line to join the Rangers staff as an assistant coach.
“I also ask for help from coaches that I trust and have known from the past,” Karlsson said, reflecting on his career trajectory.
Despite only being 44 years old, the native of Sweden sounds somewhat fatigued when thinking about the increase in time needed to provide technological aids for players – specifically film clips.
“It’s just so much video these days,” Karlsson admitted.
“You might think that being a hockey coach is just going on the ice and teaching the kids, but you’re doing a lot of stuff with video. I’ve been coaching for over ten years now, and that’s probably been the biggest change,” he said.
“These days, you have to spend a couple of hours trying to get the clips together to prepare for a meeting that’s maybe two minutes long. It’s just the way it is, though. You have to adapt because it’s a big part of the job.”
All the tedious work aside, it’s the relationships that are created from that effort, which makes it worthwhile. Take, for instance, his new friendship with Arizona Coyotes prospect and fellow Swede Axel Bergkvist.
“He’s great. It feels like he’s 30 years old,” he said with a laugh, adding, “He’s very mature, so you can have an adult conversation with him, but, at the same time, he’s still a kid.”
“He’s inquisitive and wants to learn. He wants to get better and loves the game, so I think he has a bright future.”
He is also optimistic about what the future holds with this year’s Rangers squad as a whole.
“It’s a tight group now. We went through a tough run early this year. We lost a lot of games, and it didn’t feel right. We got together as a group and worked on a lot of team-building,” he said.
“We’ll see how it goes, but I’m excited about the next few months here.”