Liam Ohgren was 2 years old when he stepped on the ice for the first time.
That’s also when he believes he initially thought of making the NHL.
“I don’t remember that,” he said Saturday, “but it’s always been hockey or nothing. I want to do this as my living and obviously play in the best league in the world.”
Now at 19, his dream is getting closer to becoming reality.
A first-round draft pick a year ago, Ohgren is one of the Wild’s most prized prospects, an all-purpose winger with his head on a swivel, who has a knack for manufacturing goals.
He is coming off a constructive season in his native Sweden and is poised for another in the country’s top league, following this weekend’s stint at Tria Rink in St. Paul for the Wild’s development camp.
But skating among hockey’s elite isn’t Ohgren’s sole motivation. He wants to win.
“The Stanley Cup ring, that’s the biggest goal I have,” he said.
Ohgren has always been competitive.
Growing up, he battled his younger brother, Noel, in board games like Monopoly; the two even raced to see who could reach the car first.
“That’s the worst feeling when you lose to your brother,” said Ohgren, whose father, Andreas, is a personal trainer who has worked with NHL stars such as Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog and Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom.
In hockey, this mindset means Ohgren wants to win every battle, and he has had plenty of success.
During the lead-up to last year’s draft, Ohgren, who is from Stockholm, captained Sweden to a gold medal at the under-18 world championship, scoring twice and adding an assist in the final against the United States. He was also recognized as the best forward in Sweden’s junior league after leading all players in goals (33), points (58) and plus-minus (plus-41) in just 30 games.
NHL Central Scouting compared him to Toronto superstar Auston Matthews, the 2022 league MVP when he was a 60-goal scorer, and the Wild used their first of two first-rounders to draft Ohgren with the 19th overall selection — the pick the team acquired from Los Angeles just a week earlier in the Kevin Fiala trade.
“What I want to do is produce offense and be that line that everyone wants to stop,” Ohgren said.
After a slow start in which he was injured, Ohgren displayed that impact toward the end of last season.
His team, Djurgarden, was vying to return to Sweden’s top tier after being regulated, and during qualification action, the 6-1, 196-pound Ohgren was dynamic; the eight goals he tallied in 17 games were almost as many as he registered during the previous 36 games, when he potted 11.
“I wanted to be at my best level at the playoffs, and I think I did that,” said Ohgren, who had another injury in February that sidelined him for a month. “It felt really good.”
Despite Ohgren’s clutch performance, Djurgarden didn’t advance.
“We lost Game 7,” Ohgren said, “and now I never want to lose a Game 7 again.”
For two days he dwelled on it, wondering what he could have done better.
As much as he despises losing, Ohgren knows there’s a lesson to be learned. And occasionally, when times get tough, he thinks about “little Liam,” remembering why he’s committed to hockey, and that helps him.
“This is my life,” he said. “I never wanted anything else.”
Although Djurgarden isn’t moving up to Sweden’s best ranks, Ohgren is.
He switched to a new team that’s in the SHL because he and the Wild felt that’s where he needs to be — an opportunity for even more progress in his play. What does Ohgren want to improve? His defense.
“After that season,” Ohgren said, “I hope I’m ready for the next step.”
Joining the pro game here after one more season in Sweden is the plan the Wild have in mind for Ohgren, and based on what they have seen so far, they are encouraged he is on the right track.
“Absolutely,” said Brad Bombardir, Wild director of player development. “We are really excited about him. He’s a tremendous young man. Great character. Hard worker. Incredible shape.
“He checks all the boxes for everything.”
Again, suiting up in the NHL isn’t Ohgren’s only objective.
“I want to win a Stanley Cup,” he said. “That’s what motivates me the most.”
But before he can get on the ice to play for the Cup, he has to make his childhood dream come true.
“I think I have a good chance making the team next year,” Ohgren said. “I’ll do everything I can.”