Jesper Lindgren kicks off the main theme of the prospect rankings, and that theme is Swedes. Eight of the prospects who made the list are Swedish nationals, and four of them are defensemen.
The interest in Lindgren as a prospect comes from a few places. The first being that the Leafs have had a solid track record with development of Swedish prospects, and defensemen in general. Carl Gunnarsson, Anton Stralman, and to some extent Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen speak to the successes the organization.
Another point of interest is definitely that Lindgren shoots right, and there is no doubt that shooting right has become an asset and puts some excitement behind his development.
Finally, the fact that Lindgren arrived in North America after the end of his season in Liiga proves that the Leafs want to see what they have in him and think they can use him in either the NHL or AHL.
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Last Season Lindgren ranked 18th on our list.
Jesper was drafted in the 4th round, 95th overall in 2015 and Lindgren will be 21 throughout the 2018-19 season, so he’s still got a bit of time on his side. As mentioned previously, he shoots right, and that’s an organizational (league) need. He’s not the biggest player, standing at 6’0 and only weighing 175 lbs, so it’s hard to imagine that putting some weight on won’t be a priority for him.
Perhaps the most interesting things that I can take away from these basic stats are the jump that Lindgren made from the SHL to Liiga, and the fact that Lindgren didn’t play for the Marlies in the playoffs during the Calder Cup run.
Both of these things can be explained reasonably, as there is a good chance that there was a better opportunity for icetime with HPK than with MODO, and the Marlies had a stacked blueline that regulars couldn’t find a place on during the playoffs, let alone newly brought over rookies. If Lindgren was someone the Leafs envisioned as a top pairing defender, failing to establish himself on MODO or the Marlies as a top guy would be an issue, but given that Lindgren is likely developing towards a role further down the depth chart, we’ll cast these higher expectations aside, and let him keep on doing his thing.
Lindgren made the interesting choice to leave his native Sweden to play in Finland, signing with HPK for two seasons (which would include 2018-19). The intention was that Lindgren would get to play a larger role, and have the chance to use his offensive puck carrying skillset more than he was in the reduced role his was playing for MODO in Sweden.
While that move may not have translated into ridiculous point totals, that’s really not going to happen for any defensemen in Europe, and Lindgren held his own in the role, and warranted a four game sneak with the Marlies once his season ended. I think it’s safe to say that the lesson learned is that Lindgren is still a work in progress, but will benefit from a larger role in an environment that utilizes his strengths.
Has his progression been as expected?
If we set the bar ridiculously high for Lindgren, and expected him to be challenging for a job in the NHL next season, he’s certainly not lived up to that. If the expectation has been steady progression that keeps us intrigued about him, he’s lived up to that by playing a full season in a top tier league for the first time in his career and getting a taste of North American hockey. Since the Leafs have drafted him he’s seen his time in top tier leagues increase every season, and when he was eligible to represent Sweden in the World Juniors, he was selected. He’s done good so far, but the real talk is the next step he takes needs to be his biggest.
As Seen on TV
Uhhhh…..I guess there’s this:
The best comparable is probably sitting in the Leafs organization right now, and that’s Jordan Subban. Both are undersized with offensive flair, who need a bit more time to see if they can be NHL players, but with the very real acknowledgement that it will be a longshot for them to become NHL regulars.
The reality is Lindgren is still under contract with HPK and the Marlies blueline is fully staffed, so Lindgren is likely playing out the final year of his contract. It seems reasonable to expect an upward trend in points this year, and that he’ll give us another Marlies cameo in the spring. That may be underwhelming, but it’s probably the story for 2018-19.
Hopefully over the course of the next year Lindgren can add a bit more size, so that he won’t be treated as too small for North American rinks, and when he’s a full time Marlie in 2019-20, he won’t be limited to a sheltered role.
It’s entirely possible that a quick start to season for Lindgren, or Marlies injuries could lead to us seeing Lindgren in Toronto sooner rather than later, but the theme with Lindgren seems to be that there is no rush and we’ll see him when we see him.
All of that might feel a bit underwhelming, but he is the organization’s 16th ranked prospect so taking it slow isn’t a kiss of death.