Lindgren, the Stars’ third-round selection (75th overall) in the 2005 Entry Draft, may have had a somewhat difficult initial adjustment to North America last year, but he straightened things out in the second half of the season and is looking to build on that with a big year in 2008-09.
The 6-foot, 183-pound center spent his first professional year at AHL Iowa, scoring 10 goals and 34 points in 69 games. The smooth-skating, highly-skilled Lindgren, who turns 21 in August, also collected just six penalty minutes on the entire season.
After the success he’d enjoyed back in Finland and internationally at the World Junior Championships, Lindgren expected a less turbulent transition, but he eventually figured it out.
“The first two months were real tough,” admitted the native of Tampere, Finland. “Everything was new here - the language, the game - so different from back home. But after Christmas, I found my game and everything went well. I’m really happy about my first season here.”
“He had basically two seasons last year,” added Stars’ co-General Manager Les Jackson. “The first part of the season, there was a big lifestyle change for him and he had a lot of struggles. The second half, he stepped up and showed a lot of consistent play, so I suspect that period passed him and he will definitely be a good player at the American League level this year.”
Besides the cultural differences in moving from Finland to Des Moines, Iowa, Lindgren had to adapt to on-ice differences such as the smaller North American ice surface, as European rinks are 15 feet wider than ones here.
“Going from the big rink, and it’s faster here,” Lindgren said of the biggest adjustments. “I like to be here, but it’s different.”
Still, he did really come on in the second half and impressed not only Stars management, but his Iowa teammates as well.
“Lindgren has improved big time from last year,” noted winger Francis Wathier
, who looks to challenge for a job in Dallas this coming season. “He arrived, the Europeans, sometimes it takes some time to adjust. He did real well with Iowa. After the second half, he was the player that Dallas wanted to see, and he just needs to work on every game consistently. He’s a great kid, he means well and he’s got great skill. He’s got unbelievable hands, he just needs to show it and work hard and combine both those things. He’s going to be a great player for the organization.”
Certainly, his recent history in Finland suggests he can eventually make the jump to the NHL, although he may still be a year away. Lindgren earned the Finnish Elite League’s Rookie of the Year Award as an 18-year-old in 2005-06 when he registered 13 goals and 37 points in 51 games for Ilves, and he has represented Finland at the World Junior Championships twice, winning a bronze medal in 2006. He also finished tied for the overall scoring lead with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in the 2007 WJC tournament.
With a forward spot or two possibly up for grabs in Dallas this coming year, Lindgren is on the edge of a group that includes his former teammates in Iowa, James Neal, Raymond Sawada
, Wathier and a few others, that will battle for them.
Lindgren, who briefly attended the Stars’ 2008 development camp from July 7-11 at their practice facility in the Dr Pepper StarCenter in Frisco, plans on working out hard this summer and coming to September’s training camp ready to compete.
“Of course, it’s always a goal to play here. I just have to play good,” Lindgren said. “I have to be better than someone else. Of course, the summer is so important, to practice and be in shape when you come to the main camp.”
Lindgren, who was suffering from a throat infection that kept him off the ice at the development camp before leaving early to get married back in Finland, will have to beat out his friends if he wants to win a job here.
“There’s however many spots and everyone’s competing against each other,” Neal said. “We’re good friends, it’s good competition and you just play hard against each other and that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to play for yourself.”
“We’re all good buddies but we’re all fighting for a spot, so it’s going to get that competitive edge out of ourselves,” Wathier added. “But in the long run, after we’re out of the rink, we’re all good buddies, but we fight for a job. It’s going to be the same thing for the veterans. We want to take their jobs and they’re not going to let us do that, for sure. That’s why it’s a great thing about hockey. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Neal thought enough of Lindgren to include him in a list of players he believes he will have to outplay for a roster spot.
“Besides Francis and Ray, there’s lots of guys you could go down the line, with (Chris) Conner, (BJ) Crombeen, Lindgren, and (Fabian) Brunnstrom I guess is coming in too,” Neal said. “Those are all guys, (Konstantin) Pushkarev, too, they’ll be all here and battling for a spot. So you got to bring your ‘A game’ I guess and show them what you got, stay focused on what you want to do and earn yourself a spot.”
As much as Lindgren will likely be in that mix, it’s probably more practical to expect him to take that step the following season, based on how Stars’ management has been charting his progress.
“I think, just being realistic, we have lots of players under contract and I don’t think he’s in that group at the start of the year,” Jackson assessed. “Maybe if he plays good, maybe he can get some games with us as the season goes along, if we have injuries. We’re hoping he can come in and get a few games but I don’t see him being an NHL player this year.”
Regardless of whether or not he makes the big club, Lindgren will be playing in a new locale next year because the Stars are no longer affiliated with Iowa. Their prospects will be sprinkled across the AHL with different teams, and that will mean another, more mild adjustment for Lindgren.
“We got them with a variety of teams,” Jackson said. “We haven’t really announced any teams, but right now, we have associations with, I think, five American League teams. They’re going to be scattered through the league. We pretty much have all our players that are under contract at that level taken care of. We do have affiliations in place pretty much for everybody.”
From the perspective of Stars’ management, not having all their AHL farmhands in the same place, while not ideal because they won’t be learning the Stars’ system of playing, can actually be a motivating factor for the players. That’s because they will have to prove they are worthy of their AHL roster spot to their new coach, who will likely not have any pre-conceived notions about him. Plus, this is just a one-year scenario, as the Texas Stars, based in Cedar Park (just north of Austin), look to begin play in 2009-10.
“I don’t worry about any of that because they have to be good players wherever they’re at,” Jackson noted. “If they learn and play good, they’ll get their opportunity, so even if they were with our team and they’re not performing and not playing good, they’re going to miss their development because they have to earn their ice. This is really just an extension of where they were before they were drafted or signed to our group. They were with their amateur teams and they have to go on their own merit and that’s a good thing.”
It just means the onus remains on Lindgren himself to perform to his capabilities and keep progressing, and as long as he keeps working hard and putting in the effort to improve, he will find himself in Dallas sooner or later.