NHL job would be sweet for Junland

by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com

Many young hockey players grow up with a trophy room in their house.

Peoria defenseman Jonas Junland was even luckier. He had a chocolate room in his family abode in a suburb of Linkoping, Sweden.

Both of Junland’s parents work for Cloetta, one of the most well-known chocolate companies in Scandinavia. There were a ton of samples brought home and stored, which made Junland one of the most popular kids in his neighborhood.

"We had a big room back home where we kept all our candy," he said. "Our friends liked to walk in, take a peek, get a couple pieces. We always had chocolate back home. It was hard to stay away from it."

Years later, Junland has taken his sweet show on the road. His parents visited him over the Christmas break, lugging with them a suitcase full of chocolate for Jonas to enjoy and dole out to his teammates.

"Everybody liked it, but most of them loved it," he said. "Especially during the summer, I try to stay away from (overindulging). During the season, we practice and play so much, I eat as much as I want."

It’s not exactly the snack of champions, but there isn’t any clamor among the Rivermen to choke off their Willy Wonka supply. And Junland’s game certainly has the pep of someone on a sugar kick.

The second-year defenseman is orchestrating a power play that ranks fourth in the AHL at 20.6 percent. He’s second among defensemen in power-play goals (10) and is ninth among defensemen with 39 points (13g, 26a).

"He’s sort of the defenseman teams are looking to have — real good puck mover, always looking to step up in the play," said Kevin McDonald, assistant GM of the St. Louis Blues. "He’ll be a guy right now that next year is planning to make (St. Louis) and stay in the NHL for good."

It’s a goal that Junland, 22, thought he had tucked in his back pocket twice only to watch both chances slip away.

Junland, a 2006 third-round pick, wowed St. Louis in training camp last season, and McDonald said Junland was on the cusp of making the team. But a separated shoulder detoured him to Peoria, where he had 13 goals and 31 points in 70 games, and was named an AHL all-star.

"He looked at it in a positive way. He knew he could play at that level," McDonald said.

"I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how good I could be," Junland said. "I did a little better than I should have done. I think they would have played me (in St. Louis) from the beginning of the year if I stayed healthy. There’s nothing I can do about it."

Actually, there was. The 6-foot-2, 198-pounder returned to St. Louis a month early last summer to attack the Blues’ conditioning program. It was an investment that kept him healthy for the most part this season — although he’s battling a mild concussion now — and helped him push even harder for a season-opening NHL spot.

"It’s just nice being in St. Louis, seeing what it’s all about. They put more effort into working out," he said.

Junland didn’t get nearly as long a taste of the NHL atmosphere as he planned. He thought he made a successful argument to stick this preseason, but the Blues saw it another way and sent him back to the Rivermen. This demotion stung even more because it came right before the team played an exhibition game in Junland’s hometown against his former team.

"I was mad for a while. I was looking forward to that," he said. "It’s just the life of a hockey player. I guess I wasn’t good enough. I guess I played well during the preseason, but I guess someone else played better."

Very few AHL defensemen this season can make that claim. Junland bolted from the starting gates with six goals and nine assists in his first 13 games and was named the league’s player of the month for October. And, again, he was selected as an all-star.

"I’m an offensive guy. I should produce," Junland said.

"He’s always had the offensive ability," said McDonald. "I think as an organization what we’re most excited about is that after the first 20 or 30 games this year, he became a lot better in his own zone and can be used in all situations. "I think this year, we’re seeing a difference. I think he’s adjusting to the schedule. He’s gotten stronger. That’s where he’s really helped himself as a prospect."

Junland motivates himself by focusing on another number that characterizes his season — one. It represents the single game he’s played with the parent team for the second consecutive season.

"I think I deserve a chance at some point. I’m going to keep going here in Peoria," he said. "Hopefully, my time will come soon. I feel like I need to play well here for the last few games of the year. I expect myself to keep playing good both ways on the ice."

Junland may have to get by on adrenaline alone. The chocolate supply is dwindling, and is in danger of running out if the Rivermen rally for a postseason spot. There are no plans to request the shipping of an emergency package from home.

"I don’t want them to send more," he said. "I’m just going to stop eating (it), I guess. I’ll buy myself some ice cream instead."

Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.