It’s no secret that New York Islanders goaltending prospect Linus Söderström is an immense talent. Could he join the professional ranks next season?Last November, readers of the weekly magazine Sports Illustrated were surprised to see an article about the growing intersection between sports and autism.
The writers, Jon Wertheim and Stephanie Apstein, explored studies, statistics and real-life examples of athletes on the spectrum. Linus Söderström, the Islanders’ selection in the fourth-round of the 2014 draft, was one such athlete, to the shock of many.
Söderström, 20, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD when he was just a child. Despite his limitations, he has blossomed into one of the world’s most promising netminders. “Hockey,” he says, “has always been there for me.”
So how has Söderström, who’s on the brink of becoming the first autistic player in NHL history, done it? Wertheim cited Söderström’s ‘unmatched work ethic’ and ‘astonishing attention to detail’ as possible reasons. To emphasize this point, Nizze Landén, the junior national team goalie coach, recounts a video session in which Söderström told him that he missed a shot.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” the coach replied. “No, I didn’t.”
“At 2:03 in the second period,” Söderström said. Sure enough, he was correct.
These attributes have helped Söderström garner a bevy of accolades. “There are a lot of people who are in my situation, so to be honest, it was not about me,” he says. “It was all about trying to become a role model for some kids and sending a message: Life can be tough for you right now, but just keep working and make sure [in] the thing you do—your hobby, or your job, or whatever it is—you have a lot of fun, and never let anyone step on you.”
Söderström was the starting goaltender during two of the last three under-20 IIHF World Championships, propelling Sweden to the silver medal game in 2014. This past season, he led the Swedish Hockey League (SweHL) in goals-against average and save percentage.
The Hockey News provides a brief scouting report on nearly every prospect in the world. In reference to Söderström, the website is fairly optimistic: “Owns tremendous size for the goaltending position at the National Hockey League level, so he projects to be able to play 60-plus games in the big league once he fills out and fully develops.”
Goaltending has been a recurring issue for the Islanders dating back to the early 2000s. Even now, with the rebuild purportedly over, the team still has consistency problems between the pipes. The future is bright, however, with Söderström and Russian prospect Ilya Sorokin nearing the professional ranks.
Will Söderström emerge as a star at the game’s highest level? That’s certainly the hope. Journalists have speculated that once his contract in Sweden expires at the end of the season, Söderström could ink a deal to play for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League.
After that? Well, maybe, just maybe, Söderström could make a little hockey history.