Almost two weeks ago, Philadelphia Flyers‘ 2014 5th round pick Oskar Lindblom officially became part of the team’s immediate future when he inked his entry-level contract. Since being drafted, the big winger from Eastern Sweden has grown leaps and bounds as a player, to the point where, at the end of this season, he was named the top forward in the SHL and also got a spot in the Swedish Ice Hockey associations All-star team.
It was no real surprise that Lindblom picked up either honor.
The 2016-17 season was an historic one for him. He finished with 61 points for Brynäs IF across the regular season and playoffs – tying Henrik Sedin’s 1999-00 season for the most points for a player age 20 or younger – and was just one goal off being the youngest SHL goalscoring champion in the league’s 40+ year history. The Gävle native also made his senior international bow, scoring on his debut against a Russia team that boasted Datsyuk and Kovalchuk in their ranks. It would have been unrealistic to wish for a better season than he had.
So what now for Lindblom?
Well, there is a chance he starts the season in the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. However, I personally doubt that happens. Why? Well, Lindblom already claimed the prize for top forward in the SHL, a league that is at worst equivalent to the AHL. Furthermore, Lindblom is already physically developed, weighing in at 6’2 and 200lbs.
He was one of the hardest players to knock off the puck in Europe last season and is dominant along the boards and around the net. The versatile forward has a very well developed defensive game, and can be considered a true two-way winger. When you try and pick out obvious areas that he needs to improve in, there aren’t really any. The Gästrikland product already has a very well rounded game with no holes, so does not realistically have anything specific to work on at a lower level.
Therefore, if Lindblom simply has an ‘ok’ training camp he should probably be a Flyer come autumn. But that is only one part of the puzzle. While it seems likely he will be playing on Broad Street in October, there are many more questions to be asked.
What role will he play? What position will he play? Who will he play with? Will the logjam of forwards affect him?
Firstly, it should be stated that yes, the Flyers do have a logjam at forward. Hextall has previously stated he would, in a perfect world, carry 14 forwards, something he has not really been able to do over the last few years. However, with the structure of the team heading into next year it seems very likely that only seven defensemen will be on the Flyers next season, leaving space for his preferred 14 forwards. Still, the Flyers have more than 14 forwards on the books for next season.
When you break it down Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Couturier, Schenn, Konecny, Filppula and Bellemare are likely locks. That’s eight forwards. It is also likely that around three out of five of Raffl, Read, Weise, Laughton and Cousins make the team – as one will probably be in Vegas and it would be no surprise if another was traded.
That makes 11 forwards. Then we have to account for Jordan Weal. He is an upcoming UFA, but if a deal can be reached he will be a Flyer next season. That leaves two potential spots. The players contesting them?
Lindblom, Vecchione, Leier and whoever Ron Hextall takes with the second overall pick in the 2017 draft.
I would argue that of those four Lindblom has the best shot. Vecchione is still an unsigned RFA, and while he will almost certainly be tied up in the not so distant future and has already had his NHL cup of coffee there was no guarantee of an NHL role being given to him when he signed. Lindblom already has ample pro experience and has experience playing both wings. Leier has been in the organization a long time, but while he is a solid player has never really forced his way onto the Flyers. It is worth noting he is waiver eligible next season, but it would be doubtful he would be claimed if waived to the Phantoms, therefore it seems very possible he will be back in Allentown come October.
Finally, comes the franchise’s Claude Giroux replacement. One of Patrick or Hischier seem almost locks to be drafted to Philly come the June 23rd. If that pick is Nolan Patrick it seems pretty likely he would be on the Flyers opening night roster. However, if it is Nico Hischier, he could well be sent back to junior to physically mature and fill out his frame, or even be loaned back to Bern in his native Switzerland to play at a level about equivalent to the AHL.
Now comes the question of position.
One thing is for sure – he will play wing. Which wing is a trickier question to unpick. Lindblom can play both to a high level, the last two seasons for Brynäs he played on the left side, but in 2014-15 he played most of the year at right wing, and he also lined up at right wing for the national team this year. However, the fact is that the Flyers are heavier on the right side than the left, with Voracek, Simmonds and Schenn all preferring the right side. This combined with Lindblom seemingly preferring left wing makes it seem likely that is where he will line up.
As for his role, Lindblom is a very versatile player who over his time in the SHL has played a variety. His calling cards may be his net-front presence and grinding board-play, but in 2014-15 he played a two-way play-making role, being the catalyst and set-up man on his line. In 2015-16 he was the ‘third-wheel’ on a skilled first line, basically playing a Raffl role next to Anton Rödin and that years SHL top-scorer Nick Johnson. He grinded in the corners, provided a defensive presence from wing and made space for his line-mates.
This season he was the man on his line. He did everything, with Jesper Jensen in the middle and Kevin Clark on the right wing, Lindblom was the main puck carrier in the neutral zone, provided the net-front presence, was the lines main board-battler, shared the defensive responsibility with Jensen and shared the sharp-shooting role with Clark. Oh, he was also the lines main set-up man, often providing amazing passes for tap-ins.
But what will his versatile skill-set equate to in his first NHL season? That is interlinked with the final question we need to ask – who will he play with.
If Lindblom is given a shot on Giroux’s left wing he would likely play a role similar to that in which Michael Raffl has been employed when he played with Giroux. Lindblom has more skill than Raffl and a better shot, but he can provide space for line-mates and work the boards and net-front in a similar manner.
However, if Lindblom is centred by Couturier, Filppula or Patrick/Hischier his role may differ to a degree. He would, in this circumstance, likely be relied on more to carry the puck and be an offensive catalyst, and be more directly involved in the offensive play and not simply as a ‘space-maker’. One thing is for sure though, in each of those potential eventualities he would be expected to provide a solid defensive presence from the wing. The finer points of the role do also depend on who the other winger is. If it is Voracek expect him to carry the puck less than if it is Schenn for example, and if it is Simmonds expect him to spend less time parked in the crease than if it is Konecny.
It should though be clear cut that Lindblom spends the majority of the season on the second power-play unit. Once again, Lindblom is versatile in man-up situations. He can play the right half-boards, the slot or the net-front role with aplomb. However, upon examining these options the right half-boards can almost immediately be discounted.
Voracek, Filppula, Couturier and even Gostisbehere would likely be ahead of him in the pecking order for such a role; furthermore, if it was Hischier the Flyers picked, so would he. As for the slot role, that is well and truly filled on PP1 by Schenn, and on PP2 the Flyers seemed to like Konecny in a floating slot role last season. It is not impossible though that Lindblom plays slot and kicks Konecny out to the half-boards. The situation I feel most likely to occur though is Lindblom being the net-front presence on PP2. This was the role he played for most of the 2016-17 season and is arguably what he is best at. Being a ‘mirror-Simmonds’ with his left hand shot and kicking out to the right goal-line and behind the net at times caused terror for opponents in the SHL.
Overall, I believe that when he makes the Flyers out of camp Lindblom will start his NHL career in what most would consider a ‘middle-six’ role, likely at left wing and with the job of net-front presence on the second power-play. As for expectations? I would set the over-under on points at 34.5 for him. That seems a realistic target given his high-end even strength play (his 34 even strength points this season in 52 games were second in the SHL) and the likelihood of him picking up around 10 points on the power-play with an improved second unit. However, even if Lindblom gets 25-30 points in a third line role that would be no disappointment if he provides a solid two-way game.
The cavalry are finally arriving for the Flyers, and the 2017-18 season should be the first where the fruits of Ron Hextall’s hard work finally start to become prominent up and down the line-up. Lindblom has an opportunity to be a big part of that not just next season, but going forward as the Flyers youth movement grows and thrives.
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