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Lindgren dazzling in AHL, looking to take next step

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

By now, everyone knows how Dallas Stars rookie Jamie Benn has been tearing up the AHL playoffs for the organization’s top minor league affiliate, the Texas Stars, who are based in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park.

Photo Gallery: Perttu Lindgren
What Stars fans may not realize is that another significant contributor to the farm club’s storybook run to the Calder Cup Finals has been Finnish center Perttu Lindgren

Lindgren’s six post-season goals trails only Benn’s league-leading 14 on the squad, while his eight assists give him 14 points in 18 games, including a virtuoso performance when it mattered most. Lindgren scored a goal and two assists in the Stars’ 4-2 win in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals last Wednesday night on the road at Hamilton, ensuring a trip to the Finals. He capped off the club’s comeback from a 2-0 second period deficit by connecting for the game-winning goal with six minutes remaining in the third period.

“Perttu, that guy has got a great set of hands,” noted Texas winger Raymond Sawada. “He can dipsy-doodle in a phone booth with five other guys in there. He’s a tremendously-skilled hockey player and when he gets out there on the power play, even 5-on-5, if you give him some room, he’s going to do some special things with that puck.”

The display he put on in Game 7 was just the latest proof of the dynamic offensive talent the 6-foot, 185-pound Lindgren possesses. Over the course of the regular season, Lindgren, 22, registered 14 goals and 47 points, which ranked third on the team, in 73 games, and even earned himself a brief call-up to Dallas.  

“I think it’s been pretty good,” said Lindgren of his first season back in North America after spending 2008-09 with Lukko Rauma in the Finnish Elite League. “A couple of not-that-good years and I had a good summer and I was happy to be back here. I think it’s been a good year for me, especially for the team.”

“Certainly, a very, very skilled player,” confirmed Texas head coach Glen Gulutzan. “He has the ability to make high-level plays and he’s got great vision on the ice. I didn’t know much about Perttu, other than what the Dallas scouts had told me prior to the season, but he’s had a real good season. He had about 50 points, he’s certainly a guy that’s a high-level skill guy and those guys in the NHL now are hard to come by. He’s got to keep progressing in certain areas of his game - I think the one thing that Perttu needs to keep doing is making sure he plays with pace, which he can do, but on a consistent level. I think that skill package is above the majority of players.”

Lindgren is particularly dangerous on the power play, helping Texas to a 19.1 percent efficiency rating during the regular season, the league’s ninth-best extra-man unit.

“Perttu’s skill comes to the forefront on the power play,” noted Texas General Manager Scott White. “He has exceptional vision on the ice, probably the best pure passer on our team, and I think, one of the better passers in the AHL when he has the opportunity. His issue’s 5-on-5 in the defensive zone, playing harder and better in his own zone, but from an offensive standpoint, he’s got it all.”

“This year, he’s just been awesome, he’s the best skill guy on our team, by far,” added rugged Texas winger Francis Wathier. “He’s got the vision, he’s got everything. He’s been real good for us, through the season, through the playoffs, he’s solid and on the power play with Jamie Benn - which is another key to our success in the playoffs, we’re really fortunate to have him.”

His trip up to Dallas for his NHL debut back on Oct. 19 was an eye-opener for Lindgren, giving him a glimpse of just what he needs to do on a daily basis to stay with the big club.

“It’s nice to see where you’re at and what you have to do to be even better and what you have to do to make the team in Dallas,” said Lindgren, who logged 8:33 of ice time in the Stars’ 4-1 loss to Los Angeles that night. “I think we have so many good guys here and we have a little competition all the time with the guys. Of course, it would be nice to get the call-ups during the year, but obviously not too many this year. But it always gives hope when someone gets called up and you see, there’s a door open for you.”

“I think it always does, whether it’s a physical or mental thing, I think it always gives a player a good boost in the arm,” White said of Lindgren’s trip to Dallas. “I think he saw how hard it was and I think that helped him out the rest of the year. He got a lot of points for us. Yeah, there are some areas that he needs to work on, but there are some areas where he’s better than (most) guys. All in all, I think it was a positive season for him.”
Overall, Lindgren has progressed a long way from when the Dallas Stars selected him in the third round (75th overall) of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

After two full years in the Finnish Elite League with his hometown club, Ilves Tampere, seasons that also featured appearances with Team Finland at the World Junior Championships, including a bronze medal in 2006, Lindgren came over to North America in 2007-08. 

It took Lindgren a while to make that adjustment to the smaller ice surface here, but still demonstrated his considerable potential while scoring 10 goals and 34 points in 69 games for the AHL Iowa Stars. 

“It’s tough for Europeans to come over, play a new game, smaller rink, play the more physical North American game, so it’s a big adjustment,” pointed out Wathier, who also skated on that Iowa squad. “The best way for them to get involved is for them to not change their game, but get used to it as much as possible, as far as the physicality on the smaller rink. Even the first year, you could see the improvement through the second and third month of the year, he was getting the pace and used to the physicality.” 

Last season, when the Stars did not have their own AHL club and their top prospects were scattered across the league, Lindgren returned to Finland to suit up for Lukko Rauma, where he recorded five goals and 24 points in 49 contests. For 2009-10, with the Texas Stars starting up in their beautiful new building in Cedar Park, Lindgren returned to this side of the Atlantic and has enjoyed a strong bounce-back year.

Based on his recent performance, as well as some likely turnover with Dallas personnel, it would appear that Lindgren, who becomes a restricted free agent on July 1, will have a pretty good opportunity to claim a roster spot with the NHL squad next season if and when he re-signs.

“It’s hard to say right now,” Lindgren said of his future. “My contract is up right now, I have no idea what’s going on. Whenever the playoffs are done, we’ll see.”

In the meantime, Lindgren will continue to dazzle on AHL ice in pursuit of the Calder Cup, while also making a case for his inclusion in the parent Stars’ lineup in 2010-11.

“He’s a special playmaking player and he has improved over the course of the last couple of seasons and we’ll see where it takes him,” White said.

“Perttu, he’s still young, he’s only 23 years old (in August), so there’s a lot of potential in that guy,” Wathier said. “He just needs to continue what he’s doing as far as his progress and I think he’s going to be fine.”

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