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Checking in on Nils Lundkvist

The young defenseman has been tearing it up in the AHL.

NHL: JAN 02 Lightning at Rangers Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Coming into this season, Swedish defenseman Nils Lundkvist was an intriguing rookie to watch for the New York Rangers, given his success in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) over the past couple of years, and his status as a first-round draft pick in 2018. The Rangers selected him 28th overall that year, using a pick they acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning as part of the Ryan McDonagh/J.T. Miller trade.

Given the underwhelming (to put it lightly) returns from other pieces of that trade — Libor Hajek and now ex-Rangers Vladislav Namestnikov and Brett Howden, as well as a 2019 second-round pick that became center prospect Karl Henriksson — Lundkvist represents the Rangers’ best chance at gaining something meaningful out of the deal.

A Slow Start for Lundkvist

Lundkvist’s NHL career, however, got off to a bit of an uneven start; while he started this season with the Rangers, he was often a healthy scratch before he finally got sent down to AHL Hartford on Jan. 11, which coincided with Braden Schneider’s call-up to the big club.

NHL: JAN 02 Lightning at Rangers Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In 25 games with the Rangers, Lundkvist occasionally showed flashes of the dynamic offensive skill set from the back end that has made him such an intriguing prospect, but he was only able to tally one goal and three assists before being sent down. His underlying metrics at five-on-five were also less than stellar.

Nevertheless, some more consistency in his opportunities might have allowed him show his abilities to a greater extent. For better or for worse, though, head coach Gerard Gallant seems to favor size and physicality on the third defense pair, which are bigger components of Schneider’s game, as well as Patrik Nemeth’s.

Catching Fire in Hartford

Following his demotion to the AHL, Lundkvist took a little while to start putting up numbers with the Hartford Wolf Pack, as he picked up only one assist in his first nine games. Since then, however, the 21-year-old has found his game as he continues to adapt to the North American game and narrower ice rinks. In the past 11 games, Lundkvist has totaled 10 points (three goals and seven assists). His vision, passing, and shooting acumen are starting to manifest in tangible results.

After a dominant two seasons for Lulleå HF in the SHL, where the defenseman tallied 63 points in 97 regular-season games — including 25 goals — Lundkvist’s emergence in the AHL should not be much of a surprise. Now that he appears to have gotten more comfortable, it’s becoming clear that Lundkvist’s talents are fit for a higher-level league.

Lundkvist’s Future Up in the Air

The problem for the righty-shooting Lundkvist right now, though, is that the Rangers appear pretty set on the right side of their blue line, with Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba, and now Schneider occupying those slots.

Between that and the looming March 21 trade deadline that has the Rangers primed to be a major buyer for the first time in several years, Lundkvist’s future with the organization is murky. If he is able and willing to play on the left side in the future, that might be something the Rangers want to think about so they can make room for his unique skill set.

Of course, the Rangers also have Zac Jones among other promising defense prospects in the system, so it’s only logical that someone is going to be shipped out. If the Rangers do indeed decide to move Lundkvist, they need to get more than just a rental or spare piece in return; Lundkvist needs to be part of a package for a bigger asset that can remain with the Rangers for more than just one season’s stretch run.