Alex Appleyard provides weekly updates of Flyers prospects in Europe here at Sons of Penn. You can find him on Twitter at @avappleyard for live updates and conversation regarding the young guns overseas and the big club here at home in Philadelphia.
Hörnqvist, Perreault, Benn, Atkinson, Hoffman, Gallagher, Stone and Palát. It may seem an eclectic mix of names, but those eight forwards share an impressive feat. Namely, they are the only forwards drafted in the fifth round or later post-lockout to go on and become legitimate top six NHL forwards.
Each year there are approximately fifty forwards taken over the course of the NHL draft from the fifth round or later, yet less than one a year will ever grace a team’s top six on a regular basis. This is no longer the late 90’s, where Europe was still under-scouted and the USHL was undervalued as a league. It is becoming increasingly difficult to strike gold late in the draft.
However, the Philadelphia Flyers might just have unearthed a new name to add to those eight as soon as next season. The strange thing about this one? Oskar Lindblom was never unknown. NHL scouts had surely been monitoring him since he was fifteen years old, after he tore up the under-16 international scene, and then decimated the competition at the World Hockey Under-17 Challenge the next year – despite being one of the younger players in the tournament. He went into his draft year as a potential first round pick.
Right now, the 29 NHL teams who passed on the Swedish winger must be regretting their decision. After putting up the most points of any junior aged player in the SHL last season – 25 in 48 games – Lindblom has taken his game to an even greater level this year.
With only eleven games left until the SHL regular season concludes the Gävle native is firmly in contention for top-goal scorer, top point scorer and MVP awards. He is currently tied for the league lead in goals – with 17 – and sits in third place in points, four behind leader and ex-NHLer Joakim Lindström.
Lindblom has done all that while also being one of the best defensive wingers in the league at even strength. Everyone makes mistakes – but you would be forgiven for thinking the Flyers prospect is an exception to that rule based on his play this season. Consistency has been his hallmark. He shows up to play every game, his ‘off’ games he is still one of the better players on ice. A reflection of this is that he has picked up points in 29 of the 42 games he has played. The longest scoring drought he has suffered? Only three games.
If he were to capture the goal-scoring title he would be the youngest player in the SHL’s forty year history to do so, Kristian Huselius currently holds that accolade. He was 22 years and 3 months old in 2001 when he claimed the league’s goal scoring title. Lindblom is currently 20, and will not be 21 until mid-August.
If Lindblom were to capture the overall scoring title he would be the second youngest player in SHL history to do so, with only Kent Nilsson, in the league’s inaugural year, having done so at a younger age. The only player in SHL history to win MVP at a younger age would be fellow Flyers draftee Peter Forsberg, who took the ‘Guldhjälmen’ at the tender age of 19 in 1993. It would be more than illustrious company.
So how has Lindblom gone from being a good SHLer at 19 to arguably the league’s best forward at the age of 20? Natural progression is of course a factor, he was the best junior player last year, and big things were expected of him coming into the season. But not this big. Few people last August would have believed the two-way winger would have made his senior international debut, and scored against Russia in it. Even fewer would have thought Lindblom would be in competition for every major SHL award this deep into the season
The man himself had some thoughts on the matter last week. His meteoric progression was touched upon in an interview for his clubs website. In the interview Lindblom stated that his confidence was as high as it had ever been, and that he had developed as a player since last season. When pressed on what specific areas he had developed in that had allowed him to excel at such a high level his response was that his speed and strength had improved. In turn, Lindblom stated that this had allowed him to keep the puck on his stick longer, and that those extra seconds gave him more chance to unleash a shot or find a pass.
His personal assessment rings true when you watch him. He seems to have all the time in the world to make a play, his speed has kept improving since his draft day and despite his relative youth he is one of the strongest players on the boards in the SHL. Lindblom also spoke about how every rush and counterattack felt like it could become a scoring chance due to the speed he and his linemates played with.
The impressive young forward also touched on consistency, stating that he placed high demands on himself, and it was key for him to play well in each game – he specifically referred to ensuring his ‘minimum’ level of play was as high as possible.
Later in the interview, Lindblom was asked about his plans going forward – specifically whether he would be making the jump across the pond next year. His response was diplomatic, as he stated that right now, he is focusing on excelling for Brynäs, and he would think about the potential move when the season was over. There was also a candid response in regards to his contact with the Flyers, specifically the development staff. Lindblom said that there was frequent interaction with them, and that he was often sent video clips of match situations to watch with the intention of further improving his game.
What was really scary for the rest of the SHL though, and encouraging for the Flyers, was his assertion that “I have more to give.”