Nils Lundkvist is taking things one step at a time.
Selected No. 28 overall by the New York Rangers in 2018, the Swedish blueliner has made his mark in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) for Lulea, scoring 31 points in 45 games.
Debut in North America?
Many have wondered when he could be seen in North America for the first time. Whether it be with the Rangers or the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack, Lundkvist says, given the current climate, he really doesn’t know when that could be.
“That’s a hard question because of the circumstances,” Lundkvist said in an interview with the BTS Hockey Podcast on Friday. “With the virus happening, we don’t know if the season next year will go as planned, and the NHL hasn’t finished their year yet either. It’s hard to say. I have always dreamed about playing in North America and in the NHL, so hopefully one day.”
Lundkvist, a native of Pitea, Sweden, draws praises for his mobility on the back end as well as his improvement overall. He acknowledges that he has gotten better, but that he also doesn’t know when his time will come. He is just waiting on the Rangers to agree that he is ready.
“We have spoken throughout the season. I talk to them about once a month. They’re just saying: Keep playing and we will see what happens. My agent and New York are discussing. We discuss what is best for me and the best options, where I will develop the most and how I can also prepare myself best for being an NHL player. There’s a lot of good options and we will see what happens.”
Does Lundkvist believe he’s ready for that chance with the Rangers?
“If you haven’t tried to be there, being at the main camp and tried to challenge [yourself] to make the NHL, you don’t really know how it is. You have to be there first and see how the games are, and how they’re played there. The rinks are a bit smaller. I feel prepared though. I had a great season here in Europe. Our team had a good season too. It’s hard to say when you haven’t tried.”
Recently in an interview with Vincent C. Mercogliano, Jan Gajdosik, a scout for the Rangers, sang Lundkvist’s praises. He continued on to say that we could see him playing at Madison Square Garden before too long.
“He is on the right track [as] his game gains complexity,” Gajdosik said. “I am sure he will be pushing hard for the spot in the New York Rangers’ lineup in the next season. He is ready to fight for the spot with the big team.”
Getting to Know New York
The Rangers have quite a few talented defensemen on the way, at the forefront being Lundkvist and former Wisconsin defenseman K’Andre Miller, who just signed his ELC with the team.
Lundkvist said his experience playing at the developmental camp this past summer was huge in his progression as a player. He also said that getting to know his future teammates was very important as well.
“I was in New York for four weeks last summer at the development camp. Getting to know the other prospects and future teammates was a big thing for me. Hopefully we are all on the same path of playing in the NHL.”
Lundkvist got the chance to represent his home country at the U20 World Juniors twice, once in Victoria in 2019 and in 2020 in the Czech Republic.
In his most recent tournament at the World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic, Lundkvist tallied 8 points in 7 games. He said that despite not getting the chance to win a gold medal at the tournament, he was able to take away many things from his experiences.
“The first time, I didn’t know what to expect in Vancouver. I went there and it was packed at the first training game against Russia. It was something that I couldn’t miss. You try to take in everything. It was a tough loss against the Swiss in the quarterfinals though. Coming back this year, doing our best to have a better tournament (and) playing in the big games was a big motivation. We had a great group this year. Everybody played for the team. We were really close to beating Russia in the semifinals, losing in OT. It was a tough loss, but winning the Bronze was really fun. Coming out of the World Juniors with a medal was really fun.”
With Sweden’s reputation for developing fantastic defensemen, there are many to watch and learn from. Lundkvist said that he had a chance growing up as a kid to watch a family member play, and was able to watch many of his countrymen play at a very high level when he was young, as well as now.
“When I grew up, I always watched my uncle Jan Sandstrom. I dreamt about being as good as him. Now playing in Lulea, playing together was a big thing for me. I watched Swedish defensemen too like Niklas Lidstrom. He’s a righty, I’m a righty. John Klingberg, Kris Letang, I really enjoy watching now. When I watch the Rangers, I watch players that I can learn from. I can learn from all of them. [Adam] Fox, [Jacob] Trouba and [Tony] DeAngelo, they’re really good players and are playing really good hockey.”
Swedish Connection in Hockey
With many players coming from Sweden over to North America through the SHL, Lundkvist said he knows many other players who are trying to do the exact same thing he is. His main goal is not only to make the league for himself, but also for his teammates and friends.
“(I) know a lot of the guys that are in (my) age group from playing on the National team. I played with (Adam) Boqvist in the U18 World Juniors. I have some friends up here too, Isac Lundeström, Filip Hällander, Noel Gunler. We are all good friends. Hopefully, we all have the same journey and are dreaming about the same things. Playing in North America, playing in the NHL.”
Lundkvist has a good chance of achieving that goal in the not-so-distant future, with many believing that he could see time in North America as soon as next year. However, he’s not focused on that. He just wants to take things one step at a time.