The Hartford Wolf Pack are having a pretty successful season, as they rank fourth in the AHL's Eastern Conference and therefore well entrenched in a playoff position. It's particularly impressive when looking at the less-than-ideal circumstances Head Coach Ken Gernander has been handed; Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller have been permanently moved up to the NHL, and Cédrick Desjardins is out for the season while Mackenzie Skapski is in the NHL for the time being.
Hartford have received contributions from a number of sources, but one of the biggest standouts has been Oscar Lindberg. Hartford won two of its three games this past weekend, and Lindberg scored three goals, including two overtime winners. Here they are.
As I said in my January prospect rankings, Lindberg has been great defensively for some time now. The focus in his development has been on the offensive side, where he needed to be more consistent last year. Things seem to be clicking for him. All three of these goals were very good shots, and while he's never going to be mistaken for Alexander Ovechkin, it does seem that he's improved his shot tremendously. He's also shooting the puck a lot more frequently than in the past. In total, Lindberg has 16 goals and 20 assists in 54 games with the Wolf Pack this season, placing him second on the team in points. In the last 29 games, he has 21 points.
The trading deadline is just days away, and the Rangers are reportedly seeking some forward depth. It wouldn't hurt if the forward they bring in could help on faceoffs. As per usual, some of the reported prices for players being shopped around are high. Some team is going to inevitably overpay for Antoine Vermette. Mike Santorelli has already been moved to the Predators. Other names that are out there and are conceivably within the Rangers' reach, such as Mark Letestu and Jay McClement, are incredibly limited players who would negligibly upgrade the roster.
Instead of moving assets for minimal pieces, or moving big assets the Rangers can't afford to lose in an overpayment, what if Oscar Lindberg was called up instead? Indeed, I think Lindberg is ready for a shot in the NHL. In my eyes, he's better than the likes of Letestu and McClement anyway. He led the
Swedish Elite League in faceoff percentage two years in a row Swedish Junior Elite League in faceoffs three years in a row. He'd instantly be the team's second-best defensive center (Dominic Moore being first). He's more than capable of handling defensive-zone starts and penalty kill minutes. Based on Gabriel Desjardins' League Equivalency calculations, Lindberg's AHL production this season translates to about .29 points-per-game at the NHL level; roughly 24 points over an 82-game season. That would make him a slight upgrade on Letestu and McClement offensively, anyway. And unlike any UFA the Rangers could pick up at the deadline, giving him an opportunity now could be beneficial not only for this season, but for the future as well.
Perhaps the biggest argument against such an idea is that Lindberg is inexperienced, and relying on him to be an accountable player in important minutes during a Stanley Cup run while making his NHL debut could be too much too soon. It's a valid concern, and it's exactly the reason why the Rangers should have given Lindberg a cup of coffee earlier in the season when they had holes at the forward position; both so he could get his feet wet and so the NHL coaches could see where he stands against NHL competition. If they had done so, then the initial awkwardness and nerves would be out of the way for Lindberg. But that's in the past.
Playoff experience certainly only helps a player, but I think its value is often overstated. Looking back at the last couple of postseasons, the likes of Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, and J.T. Miller held up just fine in their first playoff opportunities. Plus, Lindberg isn't exactly a spring chicken. He participated in 59 playoff games in the Swedish Elite League. In 2013 specifically, he tallied 12 points in 13 games and was awarded the Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy (Playoff MVP) as he led Skellefteå to a championship. A few months later, he helped Sweden win the Gold Medal at the World Championships. Obviously, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a whole different animal, but this isn't just some innocent teenager from juniors or college. Lindberg is ripe at 23 years old and has a wealth of experience in high levels of competition with a lot of pressure against grown men.
In an ideal world, the Rangers will find a quality bottom-six forward with a track record at a reasonable price. They'll worry about Lindberg next year. But suppose they can't. With all the draft picks the team has moved in the last three years, why trade more assets for a fringe player when Oscar Lindberg could likely provide the same - or better - play at no cost? The Rangers would be unwise to not at least consider the idea.