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Lindblom Leaving His Mark

Flyers rookie Oskar Lindblom making an impact despite bad luck on the scoresheet

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer
In his native Sweden, a player experiencing what Flyers rookie left wing Oskar Lindblom has gone through over his first 11 games in the National Hockey League would be called "oturlig." In English, it's often described as "snakebitten."
Whatever you call it, Lindblom has performed at a much higher level than the zeroes in the goals and assists column would suggest. The 21-year-old forward has played strong hockey on both sides of the puck, with nothing yet to show for it.
Offensively, he's gotten himself regularly to the high-punishment, high-reward areas below and inside the dots in the offensive zone for scoring chances. He's been effective on the forecheck, creating turnovers, winning battles and protecting the puck while forging almost instant chemistry with linemates Nolan Patrick and Jakub Voracek. He's mostly made smart plays in knowing when to push the attack and when to put the puck to safe areas rather than take low-percentage risks. While not the fastest of skaters, he has the hockey smarts to find the quickest routes from point A to point B.
In short, Lindblom is generating plenty of offense. He's had 15 shots on goal thus far. Unfortunately, not a single puck has yet gone in the net with him getting credited with a point.
"I'm getting chances. I just have to keep going here. Not trying to be too negative. I feel like I am playing good," Lindblom said.
When he hasn't had the puck on his stick, Lindblom has been diligent about providing back pressure. A regular all-situations player (including penalty killing duties) during his time in the American Hockey League with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Lindblom prides himself on his two-way abilities.
While hockey is a bottom-line business in which results needs to follow process at a certain point, the coaches and organizational decision-makers gain insight into a player, especially a "skills guy" whose role includes expectations of relatively frequent point-production, by how he handles dry spells. Does he let it drag down other facets of his game? Does he start to force ill-advised plays that only compound the lack of points?
In Lindblom's case, the young player has shown considerable mental toughness while continuing to push for his first NHL point.
"Quite frankly, that's why a guy like that stays up [in the NHL] versus maybe another guy who's not producing and turns pucks over. Oskar's going to break through at some point," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said.
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, who has stuck with Lindblom in the second line at even strength and the second power play unit, expressed a similar big-picture outlook. He's been encouraged overall by what he's seen, which is why Lindblom has been entrusted with an average 14:58 of ice time per game.
"You start thinking, 'When is one going to go in for this young guy?' Sometimes, you start to see young guys start to squeeze [the stick] a little bit if they don't score. You don't see that in Oskar. He just continues to do things the right way and this time of year it's about winning your puck battles. Making good smart plays with the puck. Being in spots where you are going to get good offensive opportunities and going to the hard areas and he does all of those things. So, he is going to get one soon enough and until he does he continues to be good and strong player for us," Hakstol said.
Lindblom experienced a similar situation with the Phantoms at the start of the American Hockey League regular season. Despite playing well and earning considerable praise for his work from Lehigh Valley head coach Scott Gordon and assistant coach Kerry Huffman, Lindblom found himself pointless through six games and goalless (with two assists) through eight.
Over his next two games, Lindblom finally got his first two goals of the season. Every goal counts the same on the scoresheet, but both of these were puck-luck bounces. One went in off his skate, the other off his shin pad. It might take something similar for Lindblom to break loose in the NHL.
"It's probably going to be one of those, where it just bounces and goes in," said Lindblom.
Lindblom went on, as the AHL season progressed, to score his fair share of goals in which he shot the puck into the net from the slot, scored off deflections or by bunting aerial pucks just below the crossbar (he has an uncanny knack for both of these, owing to good hand-eye coordination and sheer hockey sense). He was also quick to loose pucks near the blue paint. He had streaks of five goals in six games in late December and in three straight games just prior to his NHL recall to the Flyers.
More than his 16 goals and 32 points in the 46 games - near the top of AHL rookie scoring during that span - that followed his frustrating first nine games, it was the same well-rounded all-around game that earned Lindblom a spot in the American Hockey League All-Star game in his first full season of North American pro hockey.
Veteran forward Matt Read, now back with the Flyers, played on a line with Lindblom and rookie center Mikhail Vorobyev for much of Lindblom's final month in Allentown before his first NHL recall. Read said that he saw something special in the young left wing.
"He's a very smart player. He's really good on the walls and in tight spaces; he makes those little five-foot passes really well. He reads the play well, and he gets to the scoring areas. He's got a really shot, too. He's going to be a good player up here, same as he was in the A. He did the same things there that he's doing here. It's going to pay off for him," Read said.
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