Welcome to the final Prospect Ranking of the week. (Don’t worry, we’ll be right back at it with #17 [REDACTED] on Monday.)
We continue our European kick, but today we’re venturing out of Russia and into Sweden to discuss Jesper Lindgren, an average-sized, smooth-skating defenseman who boasts good vision and a dash of creativity to go with it.
As a fourth round pick from two years ago, you’ve probably heard his name, depending on your level of fanaticism, but as he’s been playing overseas, Leafs fans may not have been following him as closely as they have with more accessible prospects.
The main thing you need to know? The boy has pretty excellent hair, and I do not say that lightly.
Okay, fine, we can talk about his hockey too.
Ryan Fancey: 16
Evan Presement /// Jon Steitzer /// Dylan Fremlin: 17
Ryan Hobart /// Megan Kim /// Scott Maxwell // Shawn Reis // Hayley Hendren: 18
Adam Laskaris /// Bobby Cappuccino /// Brayden Engel: Unranked
|DEFENSE||UMEÅ, SWE||6’0||161||R||MODO HOCKEY||2015 DRAFT (4-95)|
2015 was a fairly good draft class for the Leafs. (I’m choosing to believe that was because of my personal hero, Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas.) That year, Toronto drafted — in order — Mitch Marner, Travis Dermott, Jeremy Bracco, Andrew Nielsen, and Martin Dzierkals. And after that? That’s right, your dude Jesper Lindgren.
Lindgren is a product of MODO Hockey, which is a longstanding institution that has produced some players you may recognize, including Peter Forsberg, the Sedin twins, and Victor Hedman. Also, William Nylander. Right, that guy.
If it behooves you to know, Lindgren names Erik Karlsson as his idol.
It’s also worth noting that Lindgren signed an ATO with the Toronto Marlies at the conclusion of his seasons in Sweden, but he didn’t crack the lineup during his time in North America.
(That’s a lot of rows for six seasons, but such is the way of Sweden’s organizational structure.)
Throughout his career, Lindgren has shown that he is the offensive defenseman he describes himself as. It’s been noted before, but in his pre-draft year, he posted pretty comparable numbers to Erik Karlsson’s in his pre-draft year respectively. Now, nobody’s claiming that Lindgren is the next EK65, but his numbers are pretty encouraging.
Last season, Lindgren spent the majority of his time with MODO’s professional team. Normally, that would mean that he played the year in the SHL, but remember how I mentioned earlier that MODO is a storied franchise with a lot of history behind them? Well, they hadn’t been relegated from the SHL to the Allsvenskan since 1983… And then last year happened. Which means Lindgren played in Sweden’s second-highest league this season, which in turn means that the quality of hockey being played was not quite as high as it could have been.
Also, all due respect to MODO Hockey, they were not good this past season, finishing 12th (out of 14 teams), so quality of teammates was probably suspect as well.
Still, there’s quite a bit to be optimistic about. Firstly, ignore that minus-5 there. Nobody gives a flying heck about plus/minus. Per Allsvenskan’s website, Lindgren averaged 19:19 minutes per game, good enough for fourth on his team and second among MODO defenseman. This wasn’t a season during which Lindgren barely touched the ice or was heavily sheltered in terms of playing time. Match-up data isn’t readily available, but one can assume that Lindgren had his share of facing some tough opponents.
What’s even more encouraging is that Lindgren made good use of all that TOI and lived up to the player he’s supposed to be. While he’s never been physical (and still wasn’t this year, with just 7 hits credited to his name), he also takes very few penalties, accruing just 12 penalty minutes in 50 games played.
In terms of offense, Lindgren stayed consistent to his game. He led all MODO defenseman in points (24), assists (21), and shots on goal (76). And after the end of the professional season, Lindgren dropped back to the MODO J20 squad, bolstering their blue line and winning a SuperElit title to finish off his year.
The Eye Test
Lindgren is doing what he needs to be doing. As mentioned above, Lindgren was MODO’s top-producing defenseman, and it’s not just that the rest of his team is bad. His numbers stack up well to the rest of the league. He ranked seventh overall among defenseman in total points and fourth overall in assists. And remember, he did all that as a 19 year-old playing among men in his first professional season.
Touted as fast, creative, tenacious, and an offensive force to be reckoned with, Lindgren has yet to skate on North American ice. It’s a shame that the Marlies didn’t work him into a game while he was here on an ATO, although not too surprising.
In his draft year, Lindgren was described as being “fleet of foot” and “creative while making smart decisions on the ice.” That description remains pretty accurate, and this past season was a solid step forward in his development.
As Seen On TV
Look, if you are a human who enjoys defenseman who contribute to offense in fun and exciting ways, Jesper Lindgren is a dude you should watch.
Above, you can see him winding up for a one-timer and clapping a pass across the royal road for a tidy power play assist.
Lindgren has thus far proven to be more of a pass-first kind of guy, but he isn’t afraid to get off a shot when he sees a scoring opportunity. (Opportunity: Fully seized up there. Look at him wide open there at the top of the circles!)
This might be one of my favorite plays I’ve seen from him. He goes down on a knee to make sure he keeps the zone, and with pressure mounting, puts the puck on the tape of an open teammate right in front of the net.
While it would definitely be nice for Lindgren to make his way over to North America for the 2017-18 season, it looks like the current plan is for him to play with HPK in the Liiga. The Liiga, as you may know, is Finland’s top league and has been turning out more and more high-profile prospects as time passes.
While not quite as strong as the SHL, it’s a better landing place for Lindgren than another year with a still-struggling MODO club in the Allsvenskan, and the higher level of competition should continue grooming Lindgren into the defenseman he’s got the potential to be.
And hey, chances are pretty good we do end up seeing him here in the spring with the Marlies. He might even crack the lineup once or twice.
Lindgren took a really nice step in 2016-17, what with a strong performance in his first professional season then ending his year as a SuperElit champ. That being said, there’s still a bit to go before we can consider him an NHL-ready prospect. Luckily, this year should help in that regard. He turned 20 in May, and the heightened level of play going from Allsvenskan to Liiga should be another good test for him. So far, he’s risen to the challenge.
In the end, Lindgren is a fourth-round pick with a fair amount of offensive upside. He’s smart, fast, and has good vision on the ice, all of which bodes well and works in his favor as he moves through the ranks. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him in the NHL at some point in the future — and by future, I mean in a few years, not a few months — but even if he never does make the show, this was a savvy pick by Leafs brass.
Keep an eye on this one, guys. No offense to the previous two players in this year’s prospect rankings, but Lindgren is the first prospect that I can picture in the NHL, even if he’ll never be a top-pairing guy.
Previous Prospect Rankings
Hayley Hendren covered the big and physical Vladimir Bobylyov at #19. You can find that here.
Adam Laskaris kicked our rankings off with a look at a seventh-round flyer who isn’t a bad gamble at all, Nikolai Chebykin. Read it here.