Coming off a breakout season in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and signed to an entry-level NHL contract by the Flyers, 21-year-old left wing prospect Oskar Lindblom is aware of the widespread media and fan speculation that he stands a good chance to earn a spot on the Flyers' opening night roster.
Lindblom's success with Brynäs IF Gävle in the SHL and his strong play in two World Junior Championships and during a brief American Hockey League stint with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms were enough to present an opportunity to gain an NHL job with the Flyers next season. He realizes, however, there are no guarantees.
"The NHL is the best league in the world, and I know I have to earn a chance to play with the Flyers," Lindblom said during Development Camp in July. "I think every player dreams to play in the NHL. It's a big challenge but I feel like I am ready now to compete for the chance."
If things don't immediately go his way and he is assigned the Phantoms, Lindblom is prepared to work his way up.
"I'll play wherever they think is best. If it's the farm team, I will do my best to work my way up," Lindblom said.
The young player has already shown he is willing to be patient in pursuit of his NHL dream. The Flyers had interest in signing their 2014 fifth-round (138th overall) pick to an entry-level contract a year ago but the player opted to spend one additional season with Brynäs in order to feel fully ready to take his shot at North American hockey for the long haul. The same decision to wait a little longer was once taken by countrymen Mikael Renberg and Peter Forsberg, among others.
The Flyers organization respected Lindblom's decision to play one more season at home. The SHL is a good league that is comparable in competitive talent to the AHL. One year later, Lindblom appears to be an even more advanced prospect than he was entering last season.
Lindblom was selected by Ishockeyjournalisternas Kamratförening (the Swedish equivalent of the Professional Hockey Writers Association) as the top forward in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) for the 2016-17 season. During the regular season, he was second in the league in goals (22), tied for seventh in assists (25) and fourth in points (47).
"I didn't expect that. I didn't think I was going to score that much or make that many points. But the longer the season got, I played more minutes and more power play. I got more confident in my game. It felt good," Lindblom said.
In the SHL playoffs, Lindblom finished with 14 points (tied for 3rd) in 20 games, with four goals and 10 assists (tied for 1st) as Brynas fell one win short of the championship. Lindblom led all players in the finals with 24 shots on goal and also set up teammates for numerous scoring chances. Unfortunately, after scoring a goal in Game 1 of the finals against HV71, Lindblom was unable to get on the scoresheet the remainder of the series. Ultimately, HV71 prevailed in seven games, winning the deciding match by a 2-1 score in overtime.
"It was frustrating," Lindblom admitted. "One more goal [in Game 7] and we win the championship. We had the chances, but the puck wouldn't go in. It's disappointing when you feel like you had more to give. But that's how hockey is sometimes. Now I have to get ready for a new season and a new challenge."
In the three seasons since the Flyers drafted him, Lindblom's once-maligned skating has improved considerably through hard work and extra skating practice. His body has also filled out and he now packs about 200 pounds on a muscular 6-foot-2 frame. He has always been a responsible two-way player but has gotten better in applying back pressure as his skating has gotten better. His forechecking routes have also gotten shorter and crisper.
Nevertheless, Lindblom himself sees further room for improvement.
"I think my skating can still get better. I'm still training this summer to get quicker and get a little stronger. To play in the NHL, I think, these are things I can work on. You have to be good in all areas to get the [ice] time you need," he said.
Lindblom has experience playing both left wing and right wing and said he is equally comfortable on either wing. However, he has played more left wing in his career to date.
Two seasons ago, at the tail end of the 2015-16 season, Lindblom got his first taste of playing on the smaller North American rink and within its more physical style of play.
Although he said it took him a few games to adjust, Lindblom made the transition appear seamless. In eight games for the Phantoms, Lindblom produced seven points (2g-5a).
"The biggest difference is the pace. The game is faster over here, especially in the NHL, so you have to think and react quicker. To be honest, it wasn't a lot of games I was with the Phantoms but I think it went pretty good."
That was then and this is now.
The level-headed Lindblom realizes that he is starting anew and has much to prove to himself and to the Flyers as he begins his first full season in North America. Being a regular starter in the NHL is his longlong ambition but he says he's prepared for the rest of the journey to his destination whether it's via the fast line or by taking a little longer route.