When training camp broke and Oscar Lindberg had made the Rangers Opening Night roster, head coach Alain Vigneault wasn't quite sure what he had just yet in the Swedish rookie. Even after Lindberg scored four goals in the first three games of the season, Vigneault downplayed his role as an offensive force on the team.
Now 27 games, and more than two months, into the 2015-16 campaign, Vigneault seems on the verge of elevating Lindberg off the third line and into a top-six role with Derek Stepan missing the next 4-6 weeks with broken ribs.
"Oscar feels more comfortable with more responsibility," noted Vigneault after Saturday's practice at the MSG Training Center in which the rookie centered a line with Rick Nash on the right wing and Chris Kreider on the left.
"This might be a good fit for (Lindberg)."
With Stepan missing from the lineup, plus the fact that the Rangers have scored only ten goals in their last six games, the hard-working Lindberg is now getting a look with two of the team's top offensive forwards. Lindberg has earned this opportunity by playing an extremely solid and effective two-way game, while also being a regular contributor in the offensive end of the rink.
"Obviously that's two really good players, and one of the top players on the team (Nash), to be able to play with them is exciting and fun," Lindberg told BlueshirtsUnited.com on Saturday. "There'll be a little more ice-time for me, but I'm not going to go out there and try and change too much. Just play and see how it goes."
Lindberg is second on the team with 10 goals so far this season, which is also tied with Detroit's Dylan Larkin for most among all NHL rookies. The 24 year-old pivot is also tied for first on the Rangers with two power play goals and ranks third with 17 points--all of this accomplished while averaging only 12:34 per game.
"He's been one of our best forwards," Nash said of Lindberg, who has scored three goals in the past five games. "Not only does he have the skill and the talent, he puts the work in. He finishes his checks, he's in on the fore check, he's pretty sound defensively, as well."
Nash has gone four straight without a goal, or even a point, after scoring six goals in his previous four contests. Kreider has one goal in his last ten games, and only four the entire season. The hope is that the steady and confident Lindberg can help elevate his new linemates' level of production.
"He's detail oriented and gets to the right spots at the right times," Kreider said of Lindberg. "He doesn't cut corners, and does all of the little things. Obviously it's really paid off for him."
Vigneault altered the look of all four forward line combinations on Saturday, though he did say he was not committed to them for Sunday's game against the Ottawa Senators just yet. However along with the Lindberg line, the Rangers had Derick Brassard centering Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes, while Dom Moore was between J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast, and Jarret Stoll centered Tanner Glass and Viktor Stalberg. Emerson Etem skated as the extra forward at practice.
"We've got a really good group, a really easy group to play with," noted Kreider. "There are guys who are communicative right down the line and who work hard, so it's exciting that anyone can play with anyone else in this lineup."