|Although few people would have expected Mike Lundin to be playing in the NHL at this point his career, the Tampa Bay rookie defenseman is proving that he belongs with his stellar play.
Watch Tampa's Mike Lundin in action
Mike Lundin would have been content living in Norfolk right now and playing for Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate. A spot on the Admirals roster would have meant his career was progressing, he was developing, and maybe there was a future for him in the NHL.
“I think that would have been OK,” Lundin told NHL.com.
For Lundin to play hockey in Virginia anytime soon, something would have to go terribly wrong, because halfway through the season, Tampa’s rookie defenseman remains one of the League’s remarkable, how-did-he-get-here success stories.
“Obviously my spot here isn’t secure or anything, but I’ve been trying to get more comfortable and play with a little more confidence like; ‘Hey, I’m supposed to be here,’ ” Lundin said. “That’s been a focus of mine, trying to realize that I’m supposed to be here.”
Lundin, who played four full seasons at the University of Maine from 2003-07, has become a regular on Tampa’s blue line despite the fact that Lightning coach John Tortorella hadn’t seen him play before training camp opened this past summer.
Using his simple-is-effective style, he’s averaging more than 15 minutes of ice time per game and has only six penalty minutes through 46 games. He’s still seeking his first NHL goal, but he has five assists and owns an plus-1 rating more than halfway through the season, which is remarkable considering the Lightning have struggled defensively.
Lundin likely won’t steal any votes from Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews for the Calder Memorial Trophy, but the simple fact that he can is amazing considering he nearly had his ticket punched for the ECHL before his impressive training camp.
“He brought two things to the table that we as a staff noticed immediately: One was his mobility, and the other was his smarts,” Lightning assistant coach Mike Sullivan told NHL.com. “His game is uneventful. It’s simple and efficient. As a young defenseman if you can get through an NHL hockey game and go unnoticed you’re doing something right. He’s a guy that does that for us.
“He makes simple, smart plays at the right time and under pressure. And, I think his mobility allows him to get to pucks and it allows him to defend when he does get beat. That’s why he raised eyebrows when he came to training camp.”
Ever since, Lundin’s life has changed dramatically. He’s traded in his sweat suits for designer duds. Instead of scrounging together cash for a quick meal with some college roommates, he dines at fancy restaurants with veterans while on road trips.
“I had to buy some nicer clothes. I couldn’t just wear sweatpants anymore,” Lundin joked. “It’s a totally different lifestyle going from college and living with your roommates and scraping together money for food to the NHL lifestyle.
“Life has definitely changed.”
Considering Lundin’s path to Tampa, that’s the mother of all understatements.
* He remembers researching NCAA Division III programs as a junior in high school because the Division I programs weren’t calling yet.
* In four years at Maine, he was never named one of Hockey East’s top players. He finished his career with only 13 goals, 56 assists and 42 penalty minutes in 160 games.
* He was only a fourth-round pick by the Lightning, 102nd overall, in the 2004 Entry Draft.
* He still has never played a shift in either the ECHL or the AHL.
“He came to camp in shape and proved himself through the exhibition games and really opened some eyes of some of the other players,” Lightning defenseman Paul Ranger said. “He’s logging a lot of minutes and he’s making some smart decisions out there. There are a couple of mistakes here and there, but that’s expected. Even our veteran guys make mistakes every once on a while since we play an aggressive style.”
“He has a good awareness of where his teammates are on the ice and where the pressure is coming from,” Sullivan added. “For the most part he makes pretty good reads and pretty good decisions.”
“When I get the puck, I try to make the simplest play without turning it over,” Lundin said.
Lundin, who holds a finance degree from Maine, is also one of Tampa’s best students. Since he’s not a natural talent, he has to listen, learn, and apply what is being preached.
In that regard, he’s an All-Star.
“His eagerness to learn and actually accept criticism has been his best asset. He’s like a sponge,” Tampa defenseman Brad Lukowich said. “He just sits there and absorbs everything. When the pressure is on and it’s time for him to take action, he gets it done.”
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.