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Senators prospect thrives after move from Sweden

by Chris Stevenson

OTTAWA -- Tobias Lindberg had to make some adjustments after he left Sweden to play for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League last season.

"I was a rookie, but I was still 19 years old. It was a bit of a learning situation there. Should I pack the bus; should I not pack the bus?" Lindberg said of the junior hockey tradition of having rookies move the equipment bags on and off the bus.

So did he?

"A couple of times in the beginning to show I was a good teammate," the Ottawa Senators forward prospect said, "but in the end they said, 'No, you don't have to do that. We have 16-year-olds to do that.'"

Then there was the language barrier.

"In the beginning, it was hard," said Lindberg, who participated in Senators development camp June 30-July 6. "You want to be able to talk with the guys, and if you're a little bit slow, they kind of move on to the next subject and you're sitting there like, 'I've got this funny joke, but I can't say it.'"

Everything worked out quite nicely for Lindberg, who became a key player for the Generals in their run to the Memorial Cup championship and earned an entry-level contract with the Senators. Lindberg showed himself to be a strong two-way player, helping shut down No. 1 NHL draft pick Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters in the OHL final and assisting on the winning goal at the Memorial Cup final.

"It was just a magical story that we won it all," Lindberg said.

Ottawa assistant general manager Randy Lee said Lindberg may not have received a contract offer from the Senators had he stayed in Sweden.

"If he didn't make that jump and play like he did, there's a chance we wouldn't have signed him, because we didn't like his game," Lee said. "When he was in Sweden, it wasn't just the Swedish game; he didn't have a great relationship with the coach. It wasn't going the way we wanted.

"We said, 'These are the adjustments you have to make in your game to show to us that you can earn a contract.' A lot of guys would come to us and say, 'Yeah, give me a contract, I'll sign and then I'll go to Oshawa.' He didn't do that. He said, 'I'll go to Oshawa and I'll earn a contract.'"

The Senators selected Lindberg (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) in the fourth round (No. 102) of the 2013 NHL Draft. They acquired the pick along with forward Cory Conacher in the trade that sent goaltender Ben Bishop to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Lindberg said he accepted the Senators' request that he play for Oshawa because he recognized it could help advance his development.

"It was mostly a decision about playing time because they told me I could get up to 25 minutes and I wasn't sure how much I would play back in Sweden," Lindberg said. "That was the biggest reason why I chose [to play] here. I heard great things about the OHL, but I didn't know what to expect. I had no idea how good it would be or how much I would improve, I think."

He got some tough love from Generals coach D.J. Smith.

"Here is a more north-south style of hockey," Lindberg said. "It took me a while to get used to that. Our coach, D.J., was very hard on me, but after a couple of months, I felt like I developed my game, and now it feels like home, playing the North American style."

Lee said Smith's approach was what Lindberg needed.

"Since they wanted him and they were going for it this year, they played him in a big role and they forced him to play a certain way," Lee said. "Some coaches would say, 'OK, Ottawa sent you here, so we're going to sort of massage you and give you kid gloves.' But they didn't. D.J. went right in his face and D.J. said you've got to play this way.

"It was tough on him, but look at him. He got better as the season went on and he was a really good player in the playoffs. In the Memorial Cup, I thought he was great. He was one of their most important players."

A left-handed shot who plays the right side, Lindberg could be set up for a job with the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League. Binghamton has only one right-shooting forward, so there are positions open on the right side.

"I'm going to show up for training camp in the best shape of my life and try and really make a good impression and just see how it goes," Lindberg said. "Nothing should hold me back and there's no limit how far I can take it."

Before training camp, Lindberg will make another trip to Oshawa at the beginning of August to pick up his Memorial Cup championship ring.

He said the difficulties in the first couple of months making the transition from Sweden to Canada were worth it.

"After two, two-and-a-half months, I was in the team and now they're some of my best friends in that team," he said. "Winning together makes strong connections."

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