A missing-in-action Ottawa Senators prospect says the reason he wants to play in Sweden this season is because his brother is suffering from leukemia.
However, it remains to be seen whether the NHL team will grant Mikael Wikstrand the opportunity.
Senators GM Bryan Murray declined to comment on that possibility when reached by Sportsnet on Tuesday night. Murray, of course, is currently fighting his own battle with cancer and is obviously not insensitive to issues surrounding the disease.
Where the problem lies with Wikstrand is the way he’s conducted his affairs — first telling Murray he was committed to playing for the organization this season at development camp in early September, only to bolt from main training camp a week or two later without warning.
The Sens immediately suspended the player and Murray spoke sharply about his situation with reporters.
“I told him that he can go home and be a grocery clerk and play in a beer league, but he could not play hockey in any shape or form if he doesn’t play for the Ottawa organization, and that’s the way it’ll be,” Murray said on Sept. 25. “I can’t stop him from going home, if that’s what he wants to do, but he’s suspended from playing hockey other than for our organization.”
It was only after Wikstrand returned to Sweden that the Sens were made aware of his brother’s health issues, Murray told Sportsnet. Even then word came through his agent.
Wikstrand acknowledged that he didn’t handle the situation properly during an interview with Värmlands Folkblad on Tuesday.
“It was a bad decision,” he told the paper. “I’m really sorry about that. I should have brought it up in a more professional way and told them why I wanted to play back home. But I’m a guy who likes to keep things to myself, keep them in the family.
“Not even my agent knew.”
Wikstrand was drafted 196th overall in 2012 by Ottawa and could be a diamond-in-the-rough find. The Senators certainly believe he has all the tools to become a NHL regular, but figure he needs a little seasoning in the American Hockey League beforehand.
They signed him to an entry-level contract in 2014 — paying him a signing bonus each of the past two summers — and allowed him to remain in Sweden last season to play for Frolunda.
The first hint of trouble came over the summer when he transferred to Farjestad, a team based closer to where he grew up, especially since there was a stated expectation that he would spend this season in North America.
But Wikstrand now says he needs to remain closer to home.
“My brother has leukemia, blood cancer,” he told Värmlands Folkblad. “Considering the seriousness of the disease, I want to spend as much time as possible with him and the rest of the family. It’s tough on us all.”
It was only six weeks ago that the player told Sportsnet “everybody wants to play here in the big show,” but it’s unclear where his future in hockey currently lies.
A complicated situation has grown even more complex and the Senators have to decide if they’re going to stick to their guns.