RIGA, Latvia — Petter Vesterheim understands he might be a bit under the radar when it comes to his profile for the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on June 28-29.
Though the 18-year-old forward is not as well-known a prospect compared to potential top-10 picks Leo Carlsson, Adam Fantilli and David Reinbacher, who are all playing at the 2023 IIHF World Championship in Finland and Latvia, Vesterheim is playing for Norway and more than happy to be in their company on such a stage.
“Those guys are extremely talented and big names for the draft and really good players,” Vesterheim said. “To be in that company is really cool. I don’t have any pressure, so I feel like I can just go out there and have fun and play my game.”
Vesterheim, No. 73 on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters presented by BioSteel, is in rare territory as a member of the 2023 draft class.
“To be honest, I was kind of shocked because I came from Norway this season and didn’t expect anything,” Vesterheim said. “For me it was kind of shocking. It was really, really cool. I think you don’t have to put too much into it and just stick to your daily life and try to not get too hung up about it.”
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Vesterheim (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) is from Lorenskog, Norway, a country with 2,284 active male players, according to the IIHF, that has produced eight who’ve played in the NHL, including Minnesota Wild forward Mats Zuccarello and retired forward Espen Knutsen, who played 207 games for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Columbus Blue Jackets.
There’s hope that Vesterheim could be next. He scored two goals in 12 games this season for Mora of Allsvenskan, the second-highest professional league in Sweden.
“There’s something there,” Norway coach Tobias Johansson said. “I think it’s his drive. I’m not sure what his max is, but I’m 100 percent sure he’s going to get to the point where he’s going to bring everything out that he has. Nice kid, hard-working kid, but for me what stands out is the coachability. He wants to learn. He’s so eager to learn.
“When you have a kid that wants to learn and almost goes after us … sending video clips asking, ‘Can I do this?’ and ‘What do you want me to do there?’ even when he’s with his club team. It makes it so easy to like him. I think he has the potential to go all the way. I think an organization needs to understand his smartness.”
Johansson, a native of Ljungby, Sweden, was director of player development at the junior levels of Frolunda HC from 2017-21, the same system responsible for producing Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, and forward Lucas Raymond and defenseman Simon Edvinsson of the Detroit Red Wings. He thinks Vesterheim, who was No. 88 in Central Scouting’s midterm ranking, stacks up with some of his country’s best in his age group.
“I compare him to all the Swedish ’04’s … he’s top-12 with the Swedish forwards as well,” Johansson said. “He’s not really there with Leo Carlsson, but he’s real good.”
Vesterheim might not get the chance to fully showcase it at Worlds. As the youngest player on Norway’s roster, he started the tournament as the 13th forward and has skated 20 shifts in 13:50 of total ice time through three games entering Wednesday, but understands there’s lessons to learn from watching.
“Hopefully I’m going to play a bit, but I just want to take the chance and be 100 percent when I get on the ice and just learn from the guys, see how they take care of their bodies and how professional they are,” Vesterheim said. “It’s not only on the ice. Off-ice as well, how they treat themselves and take care of themselves.”
A valuable apprenticeship for a player hoping to become Norway’s next hockey export who had 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists) in 41 games with J20 Nationell of the Sweden junior league.
“I feel like first of all Norway has produced more young players in these last few years,” Vesterheim said. “I feel like there’s a big group coming out of Norway of young people that are talented and great players.
“I’m obviously really proud and honored to get the chance. I’m just really honored, proud and excited to be here in the biggest tournament.”
Photos: Mathias Dulsrud/Megapiksel
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