Oscar Lindberg had a sound rookie season with the New York Rangers playing in 69 games and notching 13 goals and 15 assists all while maintaining a healthy plus 12 rating. Now with the off-season underway, the team will have to decide what route they want to go with the 24-year-old Swede.
The team isn’t expected to bring back Dominic Moore, which could open up a full-time role for Lindberg, but the issue with that is such a role could pigeonhole a good young player into being too defensive, thus hindering his potential.
On the flip side, the team could try to keep him in a top-nine spot — which seems more likely — but again this could be tough as the natural center would probably be caught moving around the lineup a lot, and become stuck in a battle with Kevin Hayes for the third-line center role.
The Fourth Line
An under-appreciated aspect of Lindberg’s game is his ability to play physical, and that’s just what the Rangers (and most teams) try to have on their bottom forward unit. The forward averaged close to two hits per game and was responsible defensively. Putting him on a lower line could give him a chance to get on the ice against weaker opponents, and guarantee him a lineup spot on most nights, but it will also keep him with less offensively gifted teammates.
Lindberg is a good enough skater to get in on the forecheck and wear down the opposition, and this different role would help him develop the defensive side of his game. The worry from a Ranger perspective would be the fear of hurting his offensive development long-term. Still, he could throw some hard body checks.
If you make Lindberg the fourth-line center, you have to commit to the move. Here and there it’s okay to bounce guys around the lineup, but a center is the most important forward of the group and dictates how the line will move.
The idea is to develop him, so if he has a bad game, you don’t move him or bench him. However, this could be tough for a young player like Lindberg. The ice-time is already limited, and coaches like Alain Vigneault often look to the fourth-line to bring the meat and potatoes. Just look at the Rangers’ previous fourth-line centers, Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, and Jarret Stoll; all hardened veterans who knew what they were getting into and what they had to do.
Into the Fray
The team seems to want to keep Lindberg in the top nine and who could blame them, the skill is there.
Again the hard part about this is the fact that there will be games where he is benched or simply put in decent but not great offensive situations. There are still a ton of pieces to move for the Rangers this offseason but I’d expect the top nine next year to be a jumble, with what seems to be a change of blood coming. Displacing centers and wingers hasn’t worked for the Rangers recently (Martin St. Louis, Kevin Hayes, and Eric Staal) so dropping him into an already thick plot could do more harm than good.
The Rangers likely aren’t going to re-sign Moore, and they have a boatload of cap issues already, but I don’t think slotting Lindberg in on the fourth line is a good idea. I do think the team should try to get him killing penalties because he seems to have good natural instincts, but the idea of putting a young forward out of his element at limited ice-time is just too high a risk. Now I don’t think he’ll ever be Henrik Zetterberg, but he could certainly turn into a well-rounded middle-six forward for years to come, with the right development.