Rangers Should Give Nils Lundkvist Another Chance

Entering last season, the New York Rangers expected defense prospect Nils Lundkvist to become a key part of their future, but now he has become the subject of trade rumors (from ‘Rangers trying to trade frustrated Nils Lundkvist,’ New York Post, 9/1/22). Though the team has a lot of talented defense prospects, they should give the right-handed blueliner who just turned 22 another opportunity in the NHL as he has the potential to develop into a top-four defenseman.

Lundkvist’s Rise as a Prospect & Performance Last Season

The Rangers selected Lundkvist with the 28th pick of the 2018 Draft. At the time, he played for Lulea HF of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and he steadily improved over his next few seasons with them. He finished with three goals and seven assists in 2018-19 but broke out the following season with 11 goals and 20 assists in 45 games. He continued his excellent play during the 2020-21 season, finishing with 14 goals and 18 assists in 52 games and he won the Salming Trophy as the SHL’s best Swedish-born defenseman.

Lundkvist came to North America last season and the Rangers had high expectations for him after his impressive season with Lulea HF. He played responsibly defensively in the preseason, earned a spot on the team, and made his NHL debut in their home opener.

Related: Rangers: 3 Potential Trading Partners for Nils Lundkvist

During Lundkvist’s first couple of games, he made a few mistakes but he settled down after that. He used his intelligence and positioning to defend well against bigger, more physical players even though he is just 5-foot-11 and 187 pounds. Though he did his job defensively, he played very cautiously and did not show the offensive upside that he displayed in the SHL.

Nils Lundkvist New York Rangers
Nils Lundkvist entered last season as one of the New York Rangers’ top prospects (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Lundkvist has a strong, accurate wrist shot, which he showed at times, but he often decided to dump the puck in behind the net rather than looking to shoot. It also did not help that his defense partner Patrik Nemeth played poorly last season and struggled at both ends of the ice. At times the rookie had to cover for defensive mistakes that his veteran defense partner made.

Lundkvist finished the season with just one goal and three assists in 25 games before getting sent to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL). He struggled a bit in his first few games with the Wolf Pack and had no goals and only one assist in his first nine games. However, he started playing more aggressively offensively after his slow start and finished with three goals and 12 assists in 34 games in the AHL.

The Rangers’ Plans on Defense

Over the last few seasons, the Rangers’ top-four defensemen (Ryan Lindgren, Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller, and Jacob Trouba) have proven to be a strength of the team. All four played well during New York’s run to the Eastern Conference Final and all but Trouba (who is 28) are 24 or younger and they appear to be locked in as the team’s top-four defensemen for years to come.

The Rangers also have four talented defense prospects fighting for two roster spots to form the team’s third defense pair. Last season, Braden Schneider stepped up and showed his strong skating and physicality while also showing he can chip in offensively. Unless he regresses, he should make the opening night lineup. Unfortunately for Lundkvist, Schneider is also right-handed.

Braden Schneider New York Rangers
Braden Schneider stepped up for the New York Rangers last season (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Prospects Zac Jones, a skilled offensive-defenseman, and Matthew Robertson, a smooth-skating defensive-defenseman are both left-handed and they both have a chance to make the opening-day lineup. However, even though he is right-handed Lundkvist is still young and could learn to play on the left side, which is what veteran blueliner Justin Braun did with the Rangers last season.

For the Rangers Moving Forward

The Rangers won’t be able to hold onto all of their defense prospects as there simply are not enough spots on the roster for all of them, but they are not under pressure to trade any of them immediately. Though Lundkvist did not play to his full potential in the NHL last season, he has talent and would benefit from playing with another skilled, young defenseman rather than Nemeth. Additionally, if he plays well, his trade value will increase.

Lundkvist has the potential to contribute in the NHL both next season and in the long run. The Rangers could benefit from giving him another opportunity to prove himself before considering trading him.

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