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2022 Report Card: Nils Lundkvist

A lot of hype followed the young Swede overseas, did he live up to those expectations?

Chicago Blackhawks v New York Rangers Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

Expectations:

Nils Lundkvist was a white-hot Rangers prospect who had just signed with the team after dominating Sweden’s top league playing amongst men. As a former first-round pick, and with his level of play leading up to him crossing the Atlantic, it was easy to get excited about the young defensemen’s upcoming season and potential career in New York. Lundkvist has all the skills to have a great NHL career, he’s a smooth skater, has good positioning, and has a hell of a shot. To help him further the Rangers even signed a veteran Swedish defenseman, with the thought of creating a type of mentorship and helping Lundkvist acclimate to North America and the NHL. However, the real question remained just what type of impact would Lundkvist have this season?

Truthfully, most pundits anticipated he would at the very least seriously compete for a roster spot. One of the best problems the New York Rangers have is an abundance of high-level defensive prospects, but at the time Nils was viewed in a light that placed him at or near the top of that list, and it was thought that he had the tools and experience to perhaps not excel but tread water just fine in a full rookie season.

Performance:

2021-22 Stats: 25 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 32 SOG, 13:56 TOI/GP, 15 BLK, 15 HIT, 3 TK, 15 GV

At the end of the day, Lundkvist got a cup of coffee in the NHL, you could even throw in a croissant with his order. He barely made it to 2022 without being assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack, and while only playing twenty-five games, he was also a healthy scratch for a slew of games in between. Lundkvist was often sitting in favor of players such as Libor Hajek or Jarred Tinordi.

Lundkvist was immediately inserted into his premeditated mentorship and found Patrik Nemeth to be by far his most common defensive partner. Of the almost 350 minutes of ice time Lundkvist had, he was paired with Nemeth for just a tad under 70% of the time. Their underlying numbers were not good with a 41.1 CF%, though unlike Nemeth when we look at other minutes of his we see an improvement. His overall Corsi percentage was 45.5% and while the amount of ice time he got with his second and third most frequent defensive partner doesn’t even sum up to one-third of the amount of ice time he got with Nemeth, his Corsi was 69.1% and 68.2% with both Trouba and Miller respectively. It should, however, be said if we continue expanding, he did have negative numbers outside of Nemeth, for example with both Tinordi and Hajek his Corsi was worse, but the amount of ice time he’s getting in these examples is becoming too minuscule to even rely on.

In the games he did play, a lot of the time it was easy to notice Lundkvist was a rookie. He sometimes looked out of position or on a couple of occasions didn’t manage his gap control effectively. While it’s not always a sound stat, his giveaways vs. takeaways was trending in the wrong direction. The smooth skating and positionally sound defenseman was often nowhere to be found. With his lack of playtime, doubt began to arise on whether it would be more beneficial for him to get assigned to the AHL and play full-time top minutes every night. On January 11th, that doubt was addressed and Lundkvist was demoted to the AHL.

While many would look at going from the NHL to the AHL as a negative thing, this was just what Lundkvist needed. It took him a bit to adjust to a new role, and it didn’t help that he was called up again briefly only to be sent right back to Hartford, but the level of dominance in Lundkvist’s game began to appear again.

As if the Rangers’ fandom didn’t need more to worry about, he had an excellent stretch of productive play right around the trade deadline. Rumors were floating around as to whether he would be included in a trade package. In his last 25 games in the AHL Lundkvist scored 3 goals and 11 assists. He became an important member of the power play and general offensive zone cycle, consistently getting in position to put the puck toward the net.

Author Grade: B-

Banter Consensus: C+

At the end of the day, Lundkvist got needed exposure to grow as a player. Though he didn’t stick in the NHL, I gave him a B- because he dominated the AHL for a stretch and got his development back on track. Again, Lundkvist wasn’t entirely expected to be a dependable contributor his first year in North America. Could he have been dressed and played more NHL games? Absolutely. Could he have perhaps been used in a different role or even paired with a different primary partner? One hundred percent. But the issue here is those decisions are not Lundkvist’s to make. It’s his job to play well and put himself in the position where it’s out of the question to scratch or bench him and to be honest, Lundkvist didn’t do that. While he was certainly better than some of his alternatives he needed time to adjust and grow, and that’s totally okay! His development this past year more than likely would have benefitted even more had he started the season in Hartford. The level of play he exhibited in the AHL was far better and more on par with what was expected from the young Swede.

Lundkvist’s path to the NHL is no longer a clear one. With the log jam of defensive prospects and the right side of the Rangers roster mostly set long-term with Fox and Trouba, Lundkvist will need to have an excellent training camp and potentially even go on to prove himself more in the AHL if he doesn’t make the cut. Now with the Rangers looking to compete, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were to be traded in the future, but Lundkvist has all the tools to become an impact NHL defenseman and it’d be worth it for the Rangers to give him the room to grow.


Stats via EliteProspects, AHL, FrozenPool & Hockey-Reference