There was a time when Joel Lundqvist
had bragging rights in the family, but it seems so long ago.
At the 2000 NHL Entry Draft in Calgary, Joel was selected by the Dallas Stars in the third round, 68th overall – or, four rounds and 137 picks ahead of his identical twin brother, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Can we all agree now that their career paths have gone in separate directions?
Henrik is a Hart and Vezina Trophy candidate this season after being a Vezina finalist for the previous two seasons.
Joel, meanwhile, still is searching for the magical glue that will make him stick in Dallas rather than being shuttled back and forth to Iowa of the AHL.
Henrik has earned the nickname “King Henrik” in New York. Fans chant his name on a nightly basis at Madison Square Garden. He backstopped Sweden to Olympic gold in 2006, and was voted one of People magazine’s World’s 100 most beautiful people.
Joel, the identical twin who did not make People’s list, is an anonymous checking-line forward with five NHL goals on his resume.
Apples and oranges fits right about here, don’t you think?
“I am so happy for him and I’m proud,” Joel said of his brother. “He’s really playing well. It’s awesome. I’m really, really proud of him. It’s a special feeling.”
Joel, though, vehemently denied any envy or jealousy toward his brother, but he wouldn’t mind emulating at least some of Henrik’s success.
He thinks he knows how to do it, and Dallas’ brass feels he’s on the cusp of figuring it out, too. His performance in last season’s first-round playoff series against Vancouver, when he scored two goals in seven games after potting three in 36 regular-season contests, is the evidence.
“Last year in the playoffs he played excellent. I suspect you’re going to see him grab a hold of the game and really play well for the balance of the season,” Stars co-GM Les Jackson told NHL.com. “He’s a great individual. He works. He’s hard to play against, but I don’t think he’s had as much success this year as he finished off with last year so I think once he gets over that hurdle again this guy is going to push on and become a good player.”
Stars coach Dave Tippett said it’s simply a numbers game with Joel. Right now he’s a fourth-line center or winger – preferably winger, both he and Tippett agreed – and there are certainly no guarantees being in that position.
In fact, Joel was sent back to Iowa on Nov. 2 after recording two goals and two assists in 11 games with Dallas. He was told, “They wanted to make a change and I needed to play more physical. It’s the toughest thing I’ve gone through in my career.
“I wasn’t really prepared for it. That’s why it was even harder.”
“He knows our expectations of him, and sometimes it just comes down to opportunity,” Tippett said. “Right now there are other players in that position, so the opportunity hasn’t been afforded to him. When it is, he’s got to be able to run with it.”
Another opportunity is here now, and Joel plans to take full advantage.
He was recalled on Nov. 24, just in time to play at Madison Square Garden the next day against his twin brother for the second time in their careers. Last December they became the third set of twins to play against each other in an NHL game.
He immediately was inserted into the lineup because Jere Lehtinen (abdominal strain) and Antti Miettinen (lower body injury) were scratched.
“Now I have to show them my game so they know where to put me,” Joel said after playing just 11 shifts, 7:26 of ice time, in Dallas’ 3-2 win over the Rangers. “I need to show on every shift that I want to be out there. It’s the small things you have to do right to earn more ice time. I want to be here.”
Joel said he’s gained a habit of leaning on his brother for support throughout his topsy-turvy career, especially in the last month.
“The only thing I can do is just push him and try to motivate him,” Henrik told NHL.com. “I realized it was tough for him. He worked so hard last year to be up, so it was a big surprise to get sent down. It was tough for him, but things change so fast here.”
The key for Joel is to understand his role, which he says he now does. It’s why he wants to be a winger, not a center in the NHL, because it enables him to “just go in hard and check because that’s my game.”
If the Stars see more of it, Joel won’t need another ticket to Iowa.
“He’s not a top-six forward in a sense of offense, but he has a lot of grit,” Jackson said. “He kills penalties. He’s hard to play against. He can play center or wing. So he’s a real serviceable player for the coach.”