The Philadelphia Flyers have found themselves a quality power forward prospect in Oskar Lindblom. He was selected 138th overall (5th round) in the 2014 NHL Draft, and has since proven that he should have been off the board earlier.
Because his birthday is in August, he was one of the youngest available prospects in 2014 (he turns 19 on August 15th). Therefore, it was the obvious choice to send Lindblom back to Sweden last season. It also makes sense for the Flyers to be willing to let him go back to Sweden for one more season before bringing him over to the North American game.
However, seeing what happened in both Toronto and Milwaukee last season has changed things in my eyes. Although I believe it would be a good idea to send Lindblom back to Sweden at the start of the season, my position on the matter is nuanced. I believe the Flyers should assign Lindblom to the AHL halfway through the season.
Last season this technique seemed to be a boon to the development of two highly touted European prospects. The Maple Leafs first round selection (8th overall) in the 2014 Draft, William Nylander, joined the Toronto Marlies shortly after the World Junior Championships. Kevin Fiala, drafted eleventh overall by the Nashville Predators did the same thing, joining the Predators AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, at the same time.
Nylander helped push the Marlies into the Calder Cup playoffs, earning 32 points in 37 AHL games. He started off slowly, with only two points in his first six games. However, he caught fire after that, earning 30 points in his final 31 games of the regular season.
Fiala was not quite the game-changer that Nylander was during his stint in the AHL, but he was still quite impressive. As an 18 year old, Fiala scored 11 goals and added nine assists for 20 points.
Like Nylander, Fiala started off slowly, scoring no goals and only adding one assist through his first five AHL games. But once he felt comfortable he was able to produce 19 points in his final 28 games. This stellar production earned Fiala a one game NHL call-up.
Lindblom would be a great candidate for this process next season. Assuming he continues to improve at the SHL level, he should be one of the more dominant players in that league by the middle of the season.
Here are three reasons why it this idea would be beneficial to both Lindblom and the Flyers organization:
1. North American Adjustment
Oskar Lindblom has been playing in Europe, Sweden specifically, for his whole life. Therefore, he is used to playing on a larger ice surface. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a big deal. But whenever Lindblom does decide to come over, there will be an inevitable adjustment period.
Like Nylander and Fiala, he will likely take some time to adjust to the smaller rink. He will have to adjust to the defensemen closing faster and their being less room on the ice. However, this adjustment can be expedited if it can take place while he is in mid-season form as opposed to starting a new season in unfamiliar territory.
2. Size Among Phantoms Forwards
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms should be an improved team next season. Although their line-up is far from set in stone, there are an abundance of small forwards, who project to be playing at the top of the line-up. Taylor Leier (5’11”), Nick Cousins (5’11”), Danick Martel (5’8″), Cole Bardreau (5’10”), and Chris Connor (5’7″) could all play top nine, or even top six, minutes.
Adding Lindblom’s size and tenacity along the walls could be a great fit in Lehigh Valley down the stretch. The Phantoms do not project to have much in the way of “power forwards,” thus opening the door for Lindblom to earn playing time.
3. Springboard For Training Camp
Ron Hextall has continually reiterated his desire to be patient with the Flyers defense prospects. But patience extends beyond just the prospects on the blue line. It should be applied to forwards as well. With that said, Lindblom has NHL size and has improved drastically over the past year.
If Lindblom can continue to rise, it would not be out of the question for him to contend for a roster spot in 2016-2017. Having 30-40 regular season AHL games under his belt (and potentially Calder Cup playoff experience) would go a long way in preparing Lindblom for the rigor and speed of the NHL.
Both Toronto and Nashville aided the development of their top prospects last season by bringing them over to North America mid-season. Ultimately it does not matter what I think. The decision will be up to Lindblom and the Flyers organization. However, I do believe that it would be wise of the Flyers to follow this trend set by two forward thinking organizations.