It was not the end to the season that seemed written in the stars. Going into the final game of the SHL season Oskar Lindblom needed a goal to create history. His 22 goals after 51 games meant he was only one behind his linemate Kevin Clark for the SHL lead. A goal in the last game against Leksands – the team at the foot of the table – without Clark scoring would have meant a tie for the first time in SHL history, and resulted in Lindblom being the youngest top-scorer in the league’s 40+ year history. But it was not to be.
Lindblom had two good chances in the game, a 2-1 win, but could not cash in on either. First he redirected a puck just wide of the net, and later in the game got free in the slot, however, the puck was behind him when delivered and a man was all over his back. Lindblom still found a way to get an attempt on goal, but opposition goalie Atte Engren made a pad save on a the attempt. He finished the game sat somewhere he rarely sits – in the penalty box – as he took a slashing penalty with a second left on the clock while denying an opposition forward a zone entry.
That should not detract though from just how good Oskar Lindblom has been over the course of the year. The last time a player his age or younger dominated the SHL as he has done was future Hockey Hall of Famer Henrik Zetterberg, who in 2000-01 put up 46 points in 47 games. Lindblom also finishes the season with the second most points in league history, 47, for a forward aged 20 or younger.
The only forward with more in a season was the legendary Kent Nilsson, who managed 53 points in the league’s inaugural 1975-76 season is still unbeaten. Lindblom’s highlight package from the year would be something special. An array of unstoppable snipes and tips, fantastic assists and dangles, combined with a large amount of impressive takeaways and some unbelievable work down low and around the net.
It should also not be forgotten that until the last month of the season Lindblom was in legitimate contention to lead the league in points. He finished seven points behind ex-NHLer Joakim Lindström, mainly as since new year his linemates goal-scoring dried up, and also as a result of having two seemingly legitimate assists taken away from him in a game against Djurgårdens.
Of the last 19 points he put up 13 were goals, over the same 22 games his linemates combined for only 12 goals. That is not to diminish what Jensen and Clark achieved this year as they were a large part of Lindblom’s fantastic season and both were brilliant in helping make the leagues most dominant side tick, but down the stretch neither seemed to have the puck luck they had prior to the New Year.
Over the season the Gävle native has built on his excellent play last year, where he led all junior aged SHL players in points, with 25, and has now developed into a player with no obvious holes in his game. While skating speed was once a concern, it is no longer a negative, Lindblom has worked on it to the extent that he is at worst average in that area. He has also increased his strength to the point that he is one of the most dominant players on the boards in Europe. Having added those skills to his highly developed defensive game, his lightning quick release, soft hands and pin-point passing, well, you can see why he has excelled this season. His Canadian linemate Clark spoke glowingly of his development over the course of the year, and when recently asked if Lindblom would be ready for the NHL next season he replied quickly that Lindblom was ready, “this season.”
It is certainly now the only level the young Swede has not shown himself to have excelled at. He walked into the AHL last year and looked one of the better players in the league, he had a historical SHL season this year, he dominated at the World Juniors, and – maybe his biggest test so far – in his Euro Hockey Tour debut against Russia he scored and looked impressive while playing a number of shifts against Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk. In fact there would be not great surprise if Lindblom was named SHL MVP over the next few days by his peers, he would be the second youngest in history after Peter Forsberg if he won.
So when will he likely be in North America for good? It likely all depends on what his team does in the playoffs.
Brynäs go into the playoffs a dangerous team. Their first line is the most devastating trio in Sweden, they have immense forward depth, some quality defensemen and two goalies who can play at a high level. Brynäs will face Linkoping in the quarter-finals in a series that starts on the 18th of March. On paper the series could go either way.
Realistically the earlier Brynäs exit the more likely Lindblom comes over to North America to finish out his campaign. The reason? Well, the Swedish national team will have a close to full schedule from mid-April until the end of the World Championships, with potentially as many as 20 games in 48 days from April 3rd onwards, and if Lindblom and his hometown team made the final the preliminary Sweden roster would likely be named during the series, and in all likelihood include Lindblom. It would surely be beyond tempting for the two-way forward if he saw a legitimate chance to make that roster. However, if Brynäs went out early there would be a few week gap between the end of his domestic season and Sweden’s international schedule getting fully into swing.
Whatever happens Lindblom will be a key cog in his team’s attempts at silverware this Spring, be it the Le Mat trophy with Brynäs, the Calder Cup with the Phantoms or the World Championships with Sweden. If the imposing, versatile winger can continue his development it will not be long before he is a key cog on the Flyers too, maybe even as soon as next season. He is out of contract at the end of April and will surely sign his entry-level contract over the summer, and it would be a surprise if he were not on the Flyers roster at the end of training camp and bringing his enjoyable brand of hockey to Philadelphia.
SHL: 52gp, 22g, 25a, 47pts, 18PIM, +16
International: 3gp, 1g, 0a, 1p, 0PIM, +3