Philip Broberg has earned invitation to stay with Oilers this summer

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Philip Broberg, pictured above playing for Sweden at the world juniors. (Codie McLachlan/CP)

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers invited young Philip Broberg to this unique, summer training camp just so the 19-year-old could get some experience.

Come on over from Sweden, live at Adam Larsson’s house, and you’ll be the 11th defenceman at this oddly timed camp. Begin the process of getting to know your future teammates, and we’ll send you home by Aug. 1 when the NHL playoffs begin.

Then veteran D-man Mike Green pulled out, and Caleb Jones was late to join the main squad after testing positive for COVID-19. That left Broberg, who turned 19 on June 25, with more rep’s in the first week at Oilers camp than he was supposed to get in his entire visit.

And something happened there.

Something that has left Broberg as the talk of Oilers camp thus far — both with media and those inside the organization.

“You can’t walk away from a scrimmage saying that he doesn’t fit (in the NHL),” admitted head coach Dave Tippett. “If anything, you walk away saying he does fit.”

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Broberg scored twice in Saturday’s post-practice scrimmage, one an end to end rush and the other a slick one-timer off a James Neal feed. He has gone from being Edmonton’s 11th defenceman to (at worst) No. 8, passing William Lagesson and Evan Bouchard on the depth chart. He may even have leapfrogged Jones, though we’ll give Jones some time to get his game back.

“He looks to me like a player right now that you can put on left D, right D, right wing, left wing, centre,” said Tippett. “He’s a young player that’s trying to come in and make an impression, and he’s certainly doing that.”

So, let’s take a step back.

This is only training camp, right? We always see young players who stand out in training camp, then fall back when the competition level rises.

Well, kind of.

Remember, this isn’t a normal camp in the sense that there are a bunch of junior kids who get a week, then go back to their CHL clubs. And several more farmhands who get a couple of pre-season games, then go down in time for the start of AHL camp.

This camp is like walking into a normal NHL training camp on Sept. 27. When there are 28 players remaining for 23 jobs.

It starts with Broberg’s superior skating. He had a stride we identified at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament two years ago, a gait you don’t see twice in 30 trips to watch elite prospects play.

Add in his offensive instincts, his bucked-up size at six-foot-two, 203 lbs., and thus far Broberg has guaranteed an invitation to stay with the Oilers for as long as they last in this summer tournament. In terms of actually playing in an NHL playoff game, that bet has gone from longshot to 45-55, depending on how long Edmonton lasts and how many injuries they incur on defence.

“I came with the mindset that I would compete against other guys,” Broberg told the media on a Zoom call. “Take advantage of the opportunity here. Take it day to day and see what’s happening.”

From our socially distanced spots on media row, you can clearly see that Broberg’s confidence has risen exponentially from last Monday through the weekend.

“Yes,” he agreed. “Always when you play a little bit you get more confident. I’ve had a couple of months now where I’ve been really working out, back in Sweden. I’m feeling really good physically, and mentally.”

Mentally is the key word there, for me.

When a player this young steps into a dressing room inhabited by Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and a full slate of genuine NHL players, he can’t help but be intimidated. When that teenager has never played an NHL game — and has not even begun the process of learning how to defend on the smaller North American ice — that intimidation can push the player into simply playing everything safe.

But where some players would simply try not to get beat, Broberg wheeled around veteran Kris Russell on Saturday, taking quite the opposite approach by beating the veteran cleanly.

“It’s a fine line (between) playing your style of hockey and showing the coaches and the team who you are as a player, and simply growing your game,” said Oscar Klefbom, a fellow Swede who lived through what Broberg is experiencing today. “He has a lot of potential, a lot of confidence with the puck. But sometimes the easy game is the best game.

“It’s a fine line between wanting to show off and keeping it smart and simple.”

Does Broberg need a second year with Skelleftea, the Swedish team for which he scored just one goal and eight points in a 45-game rookie season last year?

“It’s very individual,” said Klefbom. “For me, I was in a really good spot in Sweden. A really professional, big organization (Farjestad) that really believed in me. I played a lot of minutes and felt like I was in a great spot to grow my game, and not to be stressed about coming over here.

“You get a nice NHL contract and you want to get over here as soon as possible, to prove to yourself and your teammates in North America that you’re good enough to play here. But, it’s very individual.”

The decision may get made for Broberg if his trajectory continues, the Oilers win a few games, and he finds himself in an NHL playoff lineup this summer. If his game survives that, or perhaps thrives, then he will have played his last game in Sweden.

He has already passed Bouchard on the Oilers depth chart. Meanwhile Broberg’s landlord — the quiet, stay-at-home Larsson — knows that he may yet be part of an Oilers blue line that dresses three Swedes among its starting six.

“The sky is the limit for him,” said Larsson. “He skates so well for being such a big guy. Big, strong, good hockey sense… He has all the keys, all the tools to be a really, really good player in this league.”

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