When news broke earlier today that Dion Phaneuf had been traded to the Ottawa Senators in a surprise nine-player deal, there weren’t a lot of people concerned about Tobias Lindberg. It’s understandable… Did Toronto retain salary? No? Ok, well who’s coming to the Leafs? Michalek? Ok, and Cowen? Alright. Cool.
Lindberg’s name, of course, was there. It was listed right beside that 2017 second round pick. But Lindberg wasn’t one of the typical “main pieces” coming back, not worthy of a ton of initial discussion in the same way that nobody in Ottawa is getting all gung-ho about Casey Bailey or Matt Frattin or Cody Donaghey or Ryan Rupert.
The truth of the matter is that Lindberg, along with the draft pick, is the real return for Phaneuf. The rest is just money in, money out. So let’s talk about the newest Leafs prospect and where he fits in.
Lindberg came up through the Djugardens system in Sweden, spending time with their J18 and J20 teams (with brief call-ups to the Allsvenskan here and there) before being drafted by the Senators in the fourth round of the 2013 NHL Draft. Lindberg would spend one more season in Sweden before the Oshawa Generals selected the 6’2, 216lb winger with their first pick in the CHL Import Draft, bringing him over to help bolster their offense in a “going for it” type of year. Lindberg didn’t disappoint, scoring 32 goals and 78 points in 67 games last season, good for 20th in OHL scoring. As our own Tom Hunter pointed out in our initial trade reaction post earlier today, Lindberg played an instrumental role in shutting down Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters in the OHL Championship series. Oshawa would win the series in five games, and go on to take the Memorial Cup tournament as well.
This season, Lindberg’s taken another step forward in his development. In his first year of (North American) professional hockey, Lindberg has scored 22 points in 34 games with the AHL Binghamton Senators. It’s a solid debut for the 20-year old, and it should only improve after moving from the North Division-worst Senators to the North Division-leading Toronto Marlies, the hottest offensive team in the league by a fair margin.
At the NHL level, should Lindberg make it, it’s unlikely his offense will be his calling card. Lindberg has the size and defensive acumen to potentially become a valuable middle-six winger that carries out a lot of the dirty work and acts as the responsible party while his centreman and his other winger go off and score all the points. And that’s totally ok. Good teams need players like that.
So, with all that taken into consideration, where does Lindberg fit into the organization exactly? Just last month, the TLN crew updated our Top 20 Prospects rankings and I’m fairly confident that had Lindberg been around at the time, he would have factored in somewhere between the #12 and #15 rankings.
Similar to currently Marlies winger Nikita Soshnikov (who ranked 12th, with 25 points in 43 games this season), Lindberg has a nice amount of offensive pop but doesn’t project quite as high as a bonafide top-six winger. Behind Soshnikov, we ranked Andrew Nielsen in 13th, Martins Dzierkals in 14th and Rinat Valiev in 15th. I believe Lindberg belongs in that group, as a secondary prospect behind blue chip forwards like William Nylander and Mitch Marner, and just behind others like Connor Brown, Dmytro Timashov, and Andreas Johnson.
Twist my arm, and I’d tell you Tobias Lindberg is the 14th best prospect in the Leafs system, slightly edging Dzierkals based on what I perceive to be a higher probability of carving out a career as a modern day bottom-six forward.