Oscar Lindberg has been in the Rangers’ lineup for six consecutive games and there are few, if any, signs that he will be coming out anytime soon. Why? Because the Rangers are on a six-game winning streak with Lindberg in the mix and Alain Vigneault has a history of an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to his lineup.
What has the Swedish center been doing right to win the trust of his coach?
This is Lindberg’s second season with the Rangers, but he can no longer really be called a prospect.
The 25-year-old was once one of the most intriguing forwards in the Rangers’ system. The Swede was a late second round pick of the 2010 Draft by the Arizona Coyotes that the Rangers acquired in exchange for Ethan Werek. He was, for a time, the Rangers’ forgotten prospect; held back by an immovable Tanner Glass and unimaginative front office.
In 68 games last season Lindberg had 13 goals and 15 assists with an average of 12:11 TOI/g as a rookie. But an offseason hip surgery unhinged him from the roster spot that he had worked so hard to secure.
When Lindberg got healthy in late October he returned to a team that had more depth in the bottom-six than it knew what to do with. Rookie addition Pavel Buchnevich and offseason acquisitions like Jimmy Vesey, Michael Grabner, Brandon Pirri and Josh Jooris made Lindberg’s return to the lineup an uphill battle.
Today the Rangers are completely healthy and after much shuffling and tinkering Lindberg has found himself in a regular role centering the fourth line. But is he the right man for the job?
Let’s look at how Lindberg compares to some of his teammates (and competitors) at even strength this year.
Lindberg simply isn’t producing like he was last season, but his production numbers at even strength still compare well to his fellow depth forwards. The fact that he has three points in his last six games certainly doesn’t hasn’t hurt his cause.
(note: keep an eye on Anaheim’s defenders on the goal above.)
The better question to ask is what job/role is Lindberg being asked to fill by Vigneault?
In his last last half dozen games Lindberg has averaged a little under 4.5 shifts per period. That’s less than ten minutes a night, and Lindberg isn’t used on the power play or penalty kill.
He’s in the lineup to keep it simple, keep it safe and let the Rangers three scoring lines catch their breath.
Lindberg’s Last Six Games
- at Buffalo. 7:25 TOI, 11 shifts
- Calgary. 8:45 TOI, 13 shifts
- Anaheim. 10:33 TOI, 17 shifts (1 goal)
- Nashville. 8:51 TOI, 15 shifts
- Colorado. 8:10 TOI, 11 shifts (2 assists)
- at Columbus. 8:59 TOI, 13 shifts (2 PIM)
Lindberg is a safe choice because he’s a safe player.
He plays a two-way game and will rarely make big mistakes because his game isn’t about taking chances. You get what you see from Lindberg and although that might be unremarkable, he isn’t hurting the team by being in the lineup.
Unless, of course, there is a better option available. So, is there?
Brandon Pirri is a player that some find hard to justify keeping in the lineup when he isn’t scoring goals. Before being scratched at the beginning of November to make room for Lindberg’s return to the lineup Pirri had two goals in his last 18 games.
Pirri brings a much different skill set than Lindberg does. It isn’t just about that big shot we saw on the power play. He is/was the Rangers best faceoff man this year by a significant margin, and as the chart above shows he has better possession numbers at even strength. So he clearly brings a lot to the table when he isn’t putting pucks in the net, but there’s no denying that Pirri does not look as comfortable or capable in his own zone as Lindberg does.
Lindberg is by no means a physical player, but he is a great deal more physical than Pirri who he has about 20 pounds on. But a deeper look at the numbers suggest that the Rangers bleed scoring chances when he’s on the ice at even strength.
That is a troubling number to come to terms with when someone with Pirri’s offensive potential is watching games in suits.
Considering how little ice time Lindberg gets one could make an argument for the Rangers dressing a seventh defenseman. But the more likely argument is, “What does it matter? They’ve won six games in a row.”
So, is Lindberg the right man for the job on the fourth line? And even if he isn’t, would you pull him out and risk shaking up what has thus far been a winning recipe?