• VIDEO: WJC Sweden vs. Canada (Shootout Goal)
• VIDEO: WJC Bronze-Medal Game (First Goal of Game)
• Your View: Will Lindberg Be a Ranger Within Two Years?
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
Each year, the Rangers scouting staff spends thousands of man-hours tracking the progress of hundreds of 18-year-olds eligible for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
When it comes to draft day, however, the numbers dictate that only a handful can be selected. And after each draft, there are inevitably some favorite players that the scouts wish they could have landed in addition to those they have brought into the organization.
In most cases, such players of interest get taken before the Rangers get their turn to draft. Sometimes a player the scouts like is available, but there is a greater need to draft another favored player because the Rangers are already deep at a given position.
It doesn’t end at the draft table, however. Just because the Blueshirts don’t select a player doesn't mean the scouts don’t continue to monitor him. In fact, Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel, has a very long memory, and many prospects that the team misses out on at drafts are still able to begin their careers as Rangers.Ryan McDonagh
was one of those players in 2007 -- taken by Montreal in the first round before the Rangers had a chance to draft him. Fellow defenseman Tim Erixon
was another such player in 2009, but the Rangers didn’t want to miss out on Chris Kreider
at forward that year.
Last year a player the Rangers wanted -- but were unable to get -- was Swedish center Oscar Lindberg
, who had dominated his nation's junior circuit before seeing fourth-line duty as an 18-year-old Elitserien rookie with Skelleftea AIK.
|One of the highlights of 19-year-old Oscar Lindberg's eventful 2010-11 season was his first chance to play for Team Sweden at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y. Lindberg had two goals and four points in his six tournament. |
Anders Hedberg, the former Rangers star who now serves as the team's Head Professional Scout-Europe, had seen Lindberg play several times during his draft year.
"We knew a lot about him," said Hedberg. "He had been part of the Swedish Under-17 and Under-18 teams, so he was a very well-known Swedish prospect. Our scouts had seen him a lot leading up to the draft.”
Unfortunately, the Rangers didn’t get a chance to draft Lindberg, because Phoenix grabbed him with the 57th overall pick in the second round. He was off the board for the short term, but as was the case with McDonagh and later Erixon, the Rangers were determined to get their man.
On May 8, 2011, the quest for Lindberg was completed when the Blueshirts made a trade with the Coyotes to bring the skilled 6-foot-1, 190-pound 19-year-old into the organization. Lindberg can now look forward to playing his NHL hockey in New York, and he will take the first step toward that goal by attending the Rangers' Prospect Development Camp at the MSG Training Center later this month.
"It was very exciting," Lindberg said of being traded to the Rangers. "I was pretty surprised at first when I got the news, but it's going to be fun to be a part of the Rangers organization.
He’ll have plenty of company at the Development Camp, since he is one of four Swedish players set to arrive at the Training Center. Two of those Swedes, Erixon and Jesper Fasth
, were Lindberg’s 2011 World Junior Championship tournament teammates. The third, former University of Michigan star Carl Hagelin
, will be the senior member of the Swedish foursome in age.
Although he has been to New York twice before for tournaments, Lindberg’s arrival at the Training Center will be a special moment, because he’ll be sharing those first Rangers experiences with his second cousin Tim Erixon
, the son of longtime Rangers forward Jan Erixon
Lindberg's mother and Jan Erixon are first cousins, and their sons grew up together in the Northern Swedish city of Skelleftea, playing as teammates right up until the past season, when they helped their hometown club reach the Elitserien finals. Lindberg said he was truly thrilled on June 1 when, just three weeks after he was traded to the Rangers, his cousin was traded to New York, too.
Hedberg knew that Lindberg was already excited to be a Ranger even before the Erixon trade because Jan Erixon, his longtime junior coach, had made Lindberg a Rangers fan long ago.
|Growing up in Sweden, center Oscar Lindberg was an avid Rangers fan, thanks to the influence of his mother's cousin Jan Erixon. Lindberg was coached by Erixon for most of his childhood in Skelleftea. |
"European kids his age have never been traded, because there is no trading system in Europe," said Hedberg. "Usually a trade comes almost as a shock. In many cases they view it as a negative because they think it means there is something wrong with them. But in this case, it was actually the opposite. He was very excited. And all of that is Jan Erixon's influence, because Oscar was indoctrinated with a love of the Rangers. I would guess he was given a Rangers sweater when he was a baby."
As excited as he is to have his cousin Tim with him in the organization, Lindberg has more on-ice experience in common with the two other Swedes, who are also both forwards. While Fasth and Hagelin play the wing, Lindberg is strictly a center and has established himself as one of the Elitserien's top 19-year-olds at that position.
Like Fasth, Lindberg was born in the final months of 1991. His Oct. 29 birth date missed the Sept. 15 cutoff for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft -- as well as a chance to share draft day with his cousin -- and had to wait until last year to be selected by an NHL team.
While Erixon was a veteran of the World Junior Championships, Lindberg got his first taste of the tournament in the 2011 event at Buffalo, and he was very impressive in posting two goals, two assists, and a plus-3 rating in six tournament games. His 22 shots on goal were tied for second on Team Sweden despite the fact that he was playing mostly third-line minutes.
“When he got picked to go to the World Junior, he was clearly a player that had made a step in the right direction,” Clark said
Watching the World Junior tournament, Rangers scouts became convinced that Lindberg had solid NHL potential, which he certainly showed in Sweden’s bronze-medal game loss to Team USA. Promoted to the second line for that game, Lindberg scored the afternoon's first goal at 11:38 of the second period -- only to see the score tied by Kreider just under two minutes later.
Lindberg led all players in the bronze-medal game with eight shots on goal. Like his cousin Erixon, he enjoyed playing on the NHL-sized ice surfaces used at the tournament.
"I found it pretty fun to play in the smaller rinks, because it was much faster," he said. "I liked it."
|Oscar Lindberg was a key player fo rSweden when it came to shootouts at the World Juniors. He didn't score on this shot vs. Russia, but had the decisive shootout goal in a dramatic 6-5 win over Canada. |
Lindberg went on to complete the Elitserien regular season with five goals and nine assists in 41 games for Skelleftea despite being the team's second-youngest player. It was a big enough jump from the two points he scored as a fourth-liner in 2009-10.
"He didn't have a great draft year production-wise," said Clark. "But we liked him for other stuff he did. He looked like he really knew how to play the defensive part of the game, and he worked hard"
What made this past season even more impressive was how Lindberg came on in crunch time. He registered two goals and four assists over Skelleftea's final 10 regular-season games and then raised the bar even higher with three goals, four assists, and a plus-5 rating in 18 postseason games.
"He was a third-line type of player on that team, but he managed very well, and his development curve was better than fine," said Hedberg. "In my opinion, his value certainly increased this year, even though he was already a pretty high pick as a second-rounder."
Two-way play is his strong-suit because Lindberg did, after all, learn the game from Jan Erixon. Despite the reputation for defensive awareness, Lindberg also has a knack for delivering offensive gems in big situations.
At the World Juniors, he scored in an overtime shootout for what proved to be the winning goal in a thrilling 6-5 victory over Canada on Dec. 31. He also had some really big moments in the Elitserien playoffs.
Skelleftea was pushed to a Game 7 in its first-round playoff series against Linkoping, and Lindberg ended up with the series-winning goal when he put AIK up 3-1 in the second period of a 3-2 victory. In the next round, against Lulea, Lindberg had an assist on the Game 3 winner at 4:56 of overtime.
His most notable point of the season came in the Elitserien finals, as Lindberg set up the Game 2 winner against Karlstad at 17:55 of double-overtime. It would prove to be Skelleftea's only victory in the five-game series.
Although he emerged as a scoring threat in his second Elitserien season, Lindberg was hardly an unknown when he entered the league. One of the top Swedish juniors over the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, he was NHL Central Scouting's No. 7-ranked European skater eligible for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
The 2010 International Scouting Service pre-draft report on Lindberg called him a "quick and skilled skater" with "very good offensive instincts." The report also noted his abilities as a perimeter set-up man and his skill as a backchecker.
"He is a more, well-rounded player”, said Hedberg. "He works well in the whole area from deep in his own end to deep in the offensive zone."
Faceoffs are another strong part of Lindberg’s game. With Skelleftea's junior team, Lindberg led Sweden's SuperElit Junior league in face-off percentage two years in a row -- winning 63.4 percent of his face-offs in 2008-09 and 60.4 percent in 2009-10. This past season, he won 50 percent of his faceoffs as a 19-year-old in Sweden's top league.
"I would say I'm a two-way center who likes to play in the offensive zone, but I have also developed my defensive game," Lindberg said when asked to describe himself. "Hopefully, I will have a bigger role on the Skelleftea team this year and hope to play on the power play and stuff like that. I would like to be more of an offensive player, but right now I'd call myself a two-way center."
Lindberg remains under contract to Skelleftea for 2011-12, and will continue his development in Sweden’s top league. After his stint at Development Camp, he will return home for another Elitserien season but could be vying for a spot on the Blueshirts' roster as early as the team's 2012 training camp.
"I think it's every hockey player's dream to play in the NHL, but it won't be this year" said Lindberg. "We will see how the season goes and what happens. ... I'm pretty happy with where I am at, but I will hopefully get a bigger role for Skelleftea, and that's why I'm working really hard in the summer to be ready for next season."