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Oscar Lindberg Forcing Himself Into The Long-Term Picture

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NHL: New York Rangers at Minnesota Wild Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

When the season began there was such a logjam at forward you would have been forgiven if you forgot about Oscar Lindberg.

Brandon Pirri was scoring goals (plural) a game in the preseason, Jimmy Vesey was beginning his early-season success and Pavel Buchnevich was doing Buchnevich things. Oh, Lindberg was hurt to boot.

I think one of the biggest surprises this year has been Lindberg’s 55 games played. At one point this year we speculated whether or not Lindberg was the right man for the job on the fourth line — now it’s hard to imagine it without him.

Centering that line (which was once Pirri’s job, but those days are long behind us), Lindberg has found a bit of a groove. His 17 points in those 55 games isn’t eye-popping, but he’s done good work with the defensive assignments given to him and he’s starting to chip in offensively. He has five points in his past 10 games (although those five points did come in just three games). More importantly, for the role he’s playing you shouldn’t be overly concerned about his offense. There’s other players to shoulder that load.

The Rangers win over the Wild showed Lindberg at his best. A goal, an assist, a top-tier possession/SCF% and solid play all around. He meshed well with Vesey and Buchnevich — who would have guessed skill helps the fourth line? — and that group was one of the Rangers best. When people argue about how the fourth line can be a garbage dump I point out that win. The Rangers fourth line generated two goals (even if you consider the Lindberg goal not the fourth line since he was out there with J.T. Miller, he had to be playing to score) in a one-goal win. Those things are important.

To this point Lindberg is rocking a 47% corsi, 41% SCF and a 51% goals for percentage. The numbers don’t really jump off the page, but some of that is early season struggles where he was getting into a groove. The past 15 games have seen him show some big improvements. (All charts below from corsica):

The final chart represents scoring chances for, which is really the only place these metrics don’t look good. Either way, his time and role on the fourth line does play a part in that.

This summer, Lindberg will be one of the players dangled in front of Vegas in the expansion draft. Jesper Fast, you’d assume, will be with him. As will Michael Grabner and Antti Raanta.

I’d think Raanta is the biggest danger to be taken, followed by Lindberg or Fast (I just think they represent more of a long-term option than Grabner does). That’s a problem for another day, though.

For now it should be about creating the best fourth line possible to help mitigate some of the issues the Rangers might be having in their own end.

Fast, as we well know, is an Alain Vigneault favorite. That’s not a bad thing, Fast is a great boards player who is solid in his own end — but the usage of him as a top-nine forward has been questionable. The Rangers best fourth line would include Lindberg AND Fast on it, but those opportunities haven’t materialized.

Continuing to play with skill seems to be the best option moving forward for Lindberg (and the Rangers as whole) because him and Fast can take care of their own zone and can create some offense. If Vigneault wants different looks on the fourth he can do a plethora of things. If he needs more of a defensive look then Grabner’s the choice. More offense? Then add one of the kids.

But it’s Lindberg’s growth that’s helped that be the case. It’s telling that when Tanner Glass was re-inserted into the lineup it didn’t come at his expense. It means Vigneault recognizes what he’s bringing to the table on the fourth line.

He’s going to make some decisions harder moving forward.

Which is a good problem to have.