BUFFALO – After the Washington Capitals demoted Axel Jonsson-Fjallby earlier this week, he began preparing for his fourth season with the Hershey Bears.
Jonsson-Fjallby, who had to clear waivers to join the AHL team, traveled to Pennsylvania and found an apartment Monday. He and his girlfriend were driving to pick up furniture when he learned the Sabres had claimed him off waivers.
“At first, I couldn’t really believe it,” an excited Jonsson-Fjallby said Tuesday in KeyBank Center prior to the Sabres’ 5-4 road shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Jonsson-Fjallby, 23, said he turned the car around and drove to Buffalo.
“I’m so excited,” he said. “I’m really happy to be here.”
Paperwork prevented Jonsson-Fjallby from making his Sabres debut Tuesday.
“We couldn’t get the paperwork in time for the game,” Sabres coach Don Granato said on a Zoom call following the game.
Jonsson-Fjallby skated Tuesday morning at left wing beside center Arttu Ruotsalainen and Victor Olofsson, a fellow Swede.
While Jonsson-Fjallby practiced beside two scoring threats, he views himself as a checker.
“I’m trying to bring speed to the game,” he said. “I don’t see myself as a half-wall power-play guy. I’m just trying to bring the speed and good defense, good penalty kill.”
Jonsson-Fjallby sounded energized by the opportunities the rebuilding Sabres offer him. He has never played in the NHL, making him a unique waiver claim.
Veteran talent with the Capitals, a perennial Stanley Cup contender, prevented him from cracking the lineup.
“It’s been tough,” Jonsson-Fjallby said of his limited chances in Washington. “I’ve only been there, so I don’t know anything else.”
The Sabres, meanwhile, have openings at every position. They must try to unearth talent.
“Just the fact that they claimed me shows that they believe in me,” Jonsson-Fjallby said. “And that’s just a really good feeling for me.”
Jonsson-Fjallby is one of five Swedes on the Sabres’ training camp roster.
“It’s a lot of Swedes,” said Jonsson-Fjallby, who was teammates with defenseman Rasmus Dahlin during the 2018 World Junior Championship. “I’m not used to that.”
The Capitals drafted the 6-foot-1, 192-pound Jonsson-Fjallby in the fifth round in 2016, 147th overall. He arrived in North America three years ago, playing 16 games for Hershey before returning to Swedish Hockey League for the rest of the 2018-19 season.
“I stayed in Hershey for two months,” he said. “Then we decided to go back to Sweden for the remainder of the season.”
Jonsson-Fjallby spent all of the 2019-20 campaign with Hershey, compiling 12 goals and 23 points in 61 games. He began last season with Vasterviks IK, a team in Sweden’s second-highest league, recording four goals and 15 points in 26 contests. After the AHL season started, he scored 10 goals and 15 points in 31 outings with Hershey.
“I had a bit of a head start because I played back in Sweden before the AHL season started,” he said of last year. “So that was good for me.”
Jonsson-Fjallby has compiled 24 goals and 41 points in 108 career AHL games.
The Sabres jumped out to a 2-0 first-period advantage and led 5-4 late before Kasperi Kapanen scored the tying goal with 53 seconds left in the third period Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins won a nine-round shootout, outscoring the Sabres 4-3.
Olofsson and wingers Brett Murray, Vinnie Hinostroza and Anders Bjork scored for the Sabres in regulation. After the Penguins tied it at 3, Bjork put the Sabres back up with 8:00 left in the third period.
First-period goals by Murray and Hinostroza helped the Sabres grab a rare early lead.
Center Dylan Cozens, who struggled early in the preseason, recorded two assists. Meanwhile, rookie winger Jack Quinn also enjoyed his best outing, setting up Murray’s goal and scoring his second shootout goal of the preseason.
Goalie Dustin Tokarski started and stopped 15 of 16 shots he faced. Aaron Dell relieved him halfway through the game and stopped 19 of 22 shots in regulation and overtime.
“I’ve spoken a lot about allowing the players to play the first three games and then starting them to work with film,” Granato said. “And there’s a lot of film here that things could be simplified. We used a lot of film from last night’s game (a 5-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets) to do some things differently tonight that I thought we were better in.
“And then, obviously, there’s a lot in this game, specifically defensive zone exits, where we really, really struggled. We were actually pretty good defending because we spent so much time in there after turning over pucks.”
The Sabres are 1-3-1 this preseason. They close their exhibition schedule Saturday afternoon at home against the Detroit Red Wings.