I feel like we’re getting very close to the end of where we have to annually write about “Leafs prospect Jesper Lindgren.” I think I said that last year too, and writing about him always feels like drawing the short straw. It feels like he’s been a part of the organization a lot longer than 2015 and my brain keeps associating him with being a Burke or Nonis pick. That being said, here’s the same Jesper Lindgren scouting report you’ve been reading every year. If you want to skip it, assume I just said we’ll see what he does in North America before deciding what he is, and then hope we have a more interesting prospect tomorrow, no one will blame you. If you want to trust that last season was a special one for Lindgren (it kinda was) then you can keep on reading.
TLN Ranking from 2018: 16th
Drafted: 2015 4th round (95th overall)
Why is Lindgren in this tier?
The most obvious reason is that at no point over his time as a Leafs prospect has he been particularly bad. There’s just the opposing issue of that fact that he hasn’t stood out either.
You can argue some of that changed last year as Lindgren put up his career bests in a top tier European league, with 19 points for HPK in the Finnish Liiga, and he picked up 2 assists in 4 games for the Marlies during the AHL playoffs, and some of this can point to being an encouraging development, but that doesn’t really change the fact that he’s 22 and the Leafs haven’t rushed him over from Europe. Depth may have prevented that, but good prospects don’t often become victims of depth.
The fact that Lindgren is a right handed shot will probably help keep him in the Marlies lineup this season, and with fellow Swedes, Sandin, Liljegren, and fellow Liiga alumnus Teemu Kivihalme he should be fairly at home.
If we don’t start by talking about Jesper Lindgren’s 58.3% Corsi For % on the champion Liiga team, HPK, we are doing a huge disservice to our nerd audience. In fact, even those of you who don’t care about that stuff should care a little, because this is just for the context of saying that he’s worth a look in the AHL.
The differential in shots a gap with celebrating as Lindgren was on the ice for 608 shots for, and only 435 against in 5 on 5 situations, this is while Lindgren was the third highest defenseman on the team for ice time.
Since the Liiga website is nice enough to provide us with it, let’s celebrate that Lindgren’s ice time increases as the game goes on. He averaged 6:05 minutes in the first, 6:10 in the second, before making the modest jump to 6:27 in the third. Lindgren was rarely used on the penalty kill, but was second of the HPK defensemen in power play time, presumably putting him on their second unit. Of Jesper’s 19 points last season, 11 of them came on the powerplay.
Lindgren attempted 155 shots last season, which put him 10th on HPK, and 3rd amongst their defensemen. Of those shot attempts, 67 were saved, 69 missed the net, 18 were blocked, and 2 went in. Perhaps the encouraging takeaway here is that Lindgren doesn’t seem to be afraid to shoot. It should also be noted that goal scoring defensemen are a rarity in the Liiga to say the least.
The takeaway here is that Lindgren has been a valuable player in what is probably the fifth best league on the planet, and still only 22, he’s got the potential to improve even more and add value to the Leafs organization in some capacity.
For those of you who didn’t check out when you saw a bunch of numbers in the previous paragraphs, I’ll reiterate what we’ve said about Lindgren in previous years in regards to his tool kit. Lindgren is a strong skating and capable of making smart decisions with the puck. He’s comfortable carrying the puck out of the zone, and while he lacks the size some seek on the blue line, he is smart enough to be a low risk defender with or without the puck in his own zone.
The Best Case Scenario
We all wonder why the Leafs were over ripening him overseas for the past three seasons and he is immediately an impact player for the Marlies with the potential to be called up to the Leafs over the course of the season. He continues in the fine tradition of under the radar defensive draft picks that include Carl Gunnarsson and Anton Stralman, and we wonder why we ever doubted the Leafs could find a competent defender in the mid to late rounds.
Honestly, this doesn’t seem as farfetched as I feel I portrayed it as. For all the “goaltending is voodoo” nonsense that is forced on the goaltenders union, I don’t think defensive prospects are immune from the voodoo status either.
Lindgren took giant steps forward last season, and he was pretty decent before that. It doesn’t seem completely out of the realm of possibility that he could come in and wow us, or that in due time that he could become the right side defender on the Leafs second defensive unit.
Much more realistically he shows up and contributes as well for the Marlies as he has in his past auditions, earning him the potential to see call-up duty with the Leafs in 2020-21, and potentially get a shot at a career as a third pairing defenseman in the NHL.
The Worst Case Scenario
With Liljegren, Duszak, Hollowell, and potentially Justin Holl, the right side of the blueline is competitive on the Marlies. There’s nothing to say that Holl gets demoted or clears waivers, and potentially Hollowell might be better suited for big minutes with the Growlers to start, but it’s safe to say the worst case scenario is that Lindgren finds himself at the bottom of the pecking order, and struggles to get a shot at the AHL level, or find himself forced to develop while playing on the left side of the rink, which might as well be the single to just return to Finland keep on doing what he’s doing there.
The thing is, healthy competition is good, maybe not for the prospects trying to carve out a career, but for us the fans of the team they would ultimately be developing for. There’s nothing to say that the stars couldn’t align, Liljegren earns a job with the Leafs out of cap, and Lindgren finds a spot at the top of the Marlies roster, but there seems to be an equally likely chance that Duszak, Hollowell, and Lindgren will be platooning in and out of the roster until the Leafs feel they know what they have in them.
It seems like every single one of these posts tries to attach a sense of urgency to these prospects needing to make it this year, or at least for the guys who are over the age of 20. I don’t think that’s the case here. Lindgren has another year of his entry level deal after this season, and the fact that he’s going to be playing for the Marlies this year already gives us what we want from him after what seemed to be a breakout season last year. My honest guess is that he spends the season being perfectly adequate, but not a particular standout. That’s been his story as a Leafs prospect so far, and I can’t imagine it changing now. He’ll probably get his shot, but no one seems to be in a rush about it.