Having just completed his senior year at the University of Maine, it seemed logical that Mike Lundin would attend the Traverse City Prospects Tournament in early September. There would be games and practices with other Tampa Bay Lightning prospects and most likely a professional rookie season played out primarily with the American Hockey League’s Norfolk Admirals.
Arriving at the Lightning’s training camp in top condition, Lundin shined through scrimmages and preseason games as he worked his way on to the opening night roster. With the sixth spot on defense open for the taking and a handful of new veteran AHL defenseman vying for a chance to stick with the team, it was Lundin who rose to the challenge and earned a ticket to the NHL.
Quickly advancing through the ranks is something that Lundin has made a habit of in his young career. The former Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist made the transition from high school to the Maine Black Bears roster almost seamlessly. After being the only freshman to play all 44 games during the 2003-04 campaign, Lundin continued to impress through his college career.
Steadily improving his point totals, his overall game and his leadership skills, Lundin eventually earned the assistant captaincy as a senior. If there is one person who knows and appreciates Lundin’s efforts through college it is Maine head coach Tim Whitehead.
“He’s more mature than your typical 22-, 23-year-old, and I think that helps him adapt to the next level,” Whitehead said. “He’s a heck of a player, [and] a clean player and playing at this level here [at Maine] he rose to an elite level. He was able to play the power play, penalty kill and first and last minutes because he’s such a clean player. He rarely makes mistakes, he’s mobile, he’s tough, he’ll take a hit to make a play and he’s got a great stick. I think his best quality is that he has a great stick for defending, and for wristing the puck to the net and making the first pass.”
With those qualities shining throughout his college career, Lundin was eventually drafted by the Lightning in the fourth round (102nd overall) of the 2004 Entry Draft. Playing on a strong Black Bears team, Lundin had the experience of earning the Hockey East Championship, making three Frozen Four appearances and playing in two NCAA championship games.
As those experiences helped mold Lundin and his collegiate career, his skill blossomed during his final year at Maine. Lundin capped off four years of consistent point improvements by tying for the team lead in goals by a defenseman (six) and ranking second with 20 points.
However, what might be most impressive about Lundin is what may go unnoticed. As a solid blue-liner, Lundin has been praised for his poise and positioning on the ice. The consistency with which he plays often comes across as a challenge to many young defensemen.
“He makes the game look easy because he’s so poised, so smooth with the puck and he’s so often in the right position at the right time to defend – he’s very mobile,” Whitehead said. “Like a lot of elite defenseman, he makes the game look easy and that’s a rare quality when you’re young. I think because of how he trains, and he’s a tough kid, he’s going to keep getting better and better.”
Getting better is something that comes with hard work, and for Lundin hard work is the key to success. Training twice a week during the Black Bears seasons and upwards of six days a week during the summer, Lundin has regularly earned praise for his work ethic, his preparation and his focus.
“Obviously no matter where I’m playing I need to focus and put all my energy into playing well because that’s a strength of my game, to read the ice, so preparation and everything is still the same,” Lundin said.
As Lundin makes the jump to the NHL level, preparation and focus will take a new turn. Evolving from an Honors student that regularly earned Maine-Scholar Athlete honors as well as Hockey East All-Academic Team honors, Lundin will likely build on his college experiences as he looks to make the transition to the Lightning. After all, relying on those qualities of dedication and hard work earned him an opening night roster spot in the first place.
“I think so far my positioning and being able to read the ice has helped me just because it is such a quick game and there are so many skilled players up here,” Lundin said. “It helps me make up for it when I’m not as fast or skilled as the other guys out there. If I can be in the right position and stay in the middle of the ice then they have a harder time being able to beat me, and then I don’t need to catch them or chase them. If I stay in position I think that’s a key for me to play a good game.”
So far this season, Lundin has used his positioning to play a strong NHL game. In addition to recording his first NHL point with an assist against the Boston Bruins, Lundin has quietly earned more ice time through his consistency.
Aside from posting a season-high 21:31 of ice time against the Philadelphia Flyers, Lundin recorded a plus-three plus/minus rating through his first nine games. That may not seem like much until one realizes that Lundin has posted an even or plus rating in all but one contest this season.
“He continues to elevate his game,” Whitehead said. “He’s not the type of player you can see in one game. Sometimes he will wow you, but it’s just the day-in and day-out consistency of his elite play that is remarkable.”
For Lundin, the key will be maintaining that consistency through a grueling 82-game schedule. Arriving with the necessary skills, focus and commitment to preparation, Lundin has already shown that he can likely make another smooth transition to a higher level of play.
“It’s been quite an experience,” Lundin said. “I feel good, I feel lucky to have the chance to play out here and hopefully I keep getting that chance and keep proving that I deserve that chance.”