When he was acquired for Dustin Tokarski last year, it was expected that Max Friberg would bring a good defensive game and some added offence to a team that sorely lacked scoring depth. With his stint in the Montreal Canadiens’ organization at an end, his brief tenure played out in just that way, with short bursts of offence and strong play in his own zone. The man who served as the St. John’s IceCaps captain will not be joining the team as the move to Laval next season, as he signed a contract with Frölunda of the Swedish Hockey League.
Much like his linemates Stefan Matteau and Jacob de la Rose, Friberg became one of Sylvain Lefebvre’s go-to players in key situations. At even strength it was Friberg often drawing the toughest assignments against the opponent’s top line in addition to his other duties. Friberg was a mainstay on the IceCaps’ penalty kill, and he got plenty of minutes there with St. John’s’ lack of discipline this season. Throw in his usage on the second wave of the power play, and there were games where it seemed that Friberg never left the ice.
Despite his small stature, Friberg is relentless on the puck, battling hard along the boards and smartly using his stick to get the puck moving. His size is something he used to his advantage quite often, as he was able to duck under the clutching arms of opposing defenders to drive hard to the net to create chances.
His net drive allowed him to score goals all season long, while his ability to read opposing defences and smart passing made him a dual threat with the puck. A good top speed allows Friberg to speed into the zone, and his heads-up thinking lets him pick out his open teammates, often leading to a goal or prime scoring chance immediately.
Unfortunately for Friberg, with his heavy defensive workload in St. John’s his offence stagnated, never reaching the same levels he had in Norfolk. While he battled injuries and had to adjust to a new system in his first year, this season could be seen as a bit of a letdown for a team that was always seeking more scoring help. The minutes he played for the IceCaps weren’t conducive to being an offensive force, but at a certain point leaders on a team do need to step up.
It’s also likely that he was more a tag-along on his line while fellow Swede de la Rose was the play driver. While they were an effective duo on the penalty kill and at even strength, it became apparent when they were apart that Friberg couldn’t carry a line the same way. It’s not to say he was an anchor, but putting pressure on players like Daniel Audette or Bobby Farnham to make the impact isn’t fair when their other linemate has the most experience.
Despite a strong showing in the playoffs it wouldn’t be enough for the IceCaps as they fell in four games to Syracuse. It was not the way Friberg wanted the season and his time in North America to end. Unless the Canadiens choose to present him with a qualifying offer, they will lose his rights in the coming months as he returns to Sweden. It’s unclear if Friberg had an NHL future in Montreal with the glut of bottom-six options in the organization.
His departure is a big loss for the Laval Rocket, who currently need a new captain for next season and will be without a veteran leader on the ice. It’s easy to replace goals and assists, but it will be hard to replace some of the things Friberg did, especially with a young team.