Lindblom Looking Less And Less Likely For Lehigh Valley Phantoms This Spring

Swedish winger Oskar Lindblom registered two goals and seven points in eight American Hockey League games as a teenage player last year but his return to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season is still very much up in the air at this point in time ... (photo credit unknown)

Swedish winger Oskar Lindblom registered two goals and seven points in eight American Hockey League games as a teenage player last year but his return to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season is still very much up in the air at this point in time … (photo credit unknown)

der Eishockeyzuschauer

Hockey Analyst

Allentown, PA

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Although it was not quite the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that some had been anticipating, the decisive 5-1 loss by the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to the intra-state rival up north, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, certainly did enough damage a couple of weeks ago anyway.  Meanwhile, the two goals that Swedish import Oskar Sundqvist scored for WBS that evening might very well have left Hamilton Street Heroes supporters wondering when former Phantoms winger Oskar Lindblom might be returning from Scandinavia.  After all, Sundqvist, the now 22-year-old center who has 16 goals and 36 points in 48 AHL games for the Baby Pens this term, originally joined WBS during the springtime, himself, after spending most of the 2014/15 campaign skating for Swedish elite league club AIK Skelleftea … and the Phantoms simply can not have too much scoring punch on the roster as Lehigh Valley continue on what has evolved into a rocky road leading into the Calder Cup playoff tournament.

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As noted in this blog’s last report dealing with the Philadelphia Flyers’ fifth round choice (# 138 overall) at the 2014 National Hockey League Draft (which can be found here), Lindblom was named to the squad that was originally chosen to represent the host nation at the 2017 Sweden Hockey Games tournament.  The 20-year-old IF Brynas Gavle winger was forced to withdraw from the competition with what reported to be a minor lower body injury, however.  When Lindblom immediately returned to domestic league action just two days after the conclusion of the Sweden Hockey Games, suspicions were rightfully aroused that IF Brynas, who were busy at the time trying to consolidate a tenuous place inside the top six of the domestic league standings in order to secure a first round playoff exemption, merely claimed that their young scoring star was injured so as to guarantee that he would not actually get hurt while away on national team duty.

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Missing the third installment of the so-called Euro Hockey Tour, however, most likely did nothing to harm Lindblom’s chances of being called up by Tre Kronor later this season for a variety of different reasons.  First and foremost, the youthful IF Brynas winger currently ranks third among all skaters on the Swedish elite league scoring chart with 43 points while his 20 goals from 48 games are the second-most in the entire top flight this term — this kind of production is always going to be hard for any national team trainer to overlook.  Meanwhile, the Swedish national team, itself, did not have a very good showing at its own tournament earlier this month and, on the whole, has not been having a very good season, either:  Tre Kronor have only won three of its nine Euro Hockey Tour games thus far this term.
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Ironically enough, the Swedes’ best performance in any of the three EHT tournaments contested thus far this season was delivered during the Channel One Cup in Moscow this past December and that was the very same event that also witnessed Lindblom make his senior international debut and notch his first career goal for Tre Kronor, as well.  What’s more, the former and still potential future Lehigh Valley Phantoms winger drew widespread praise in the wake of the 2016 Channel One Cup after skating on Tre Kronor’s first line in Moscow with former NHLer Linus Omark, the high-scoring 30-year-old veteran who now stars for Russian club Salavat Yulayev Ufa.  Considering the fact that Sweden have been held to two goals or less in five of its nine Euro Hockey Tour games played this season, it stands to reason that first-year senior national team trainer Rikard Gronborg will be placing a premium on people who can put the puck in the net when the time to start picking squads again comes later this spring.
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It should be noted that, of the three Euro Hockey Tour events held so far this season, the Channel One Cup in Moscow was probably has to rank as the most formidable in terms of the quality of the national teams sent by the four competing nations.  To review, the host Russians trotted out their highly experienced pair of former NHL superstars, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, to skate alongside other former NHLers such as Valery Nichushkin, Sergei Plotnikov and defenseman Anton Belov.  The Czech Republic iced former NHL-er Vladimir Sobotka and eight others who now skate for Russian clubs in the crack Kontinental Hockey League (the second-most difficult circuit on the planet) while Finland utilized eight former NHL-ers, five of whom are now under contract to KHL clubs.
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To compare, with the notable exception of the host nation, the recently completed Sweden Hockey Games probably has to rate as the least difficult of the three Euro Hockey Tour events held so far, at least judging from the number of NHL and/or AHL veterans, as well as the number of career national team appearances that had already been made by the players participating in the Gothenburg tournament.  The Russians sent a very young squad including 19-year-old sensation Kirill Kaprizov, the winger who skaters at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship in scoring and also used the occasion to give senior international debuts to another pair of 19-year-olds who were teammates of Kaprizov on the bronze medal winners at the WJC this winter:  Puck tamer Sergei Samsonov and defenseman Yegor Rykov.  Unlike what had transpired in Moscow, the neighboring Finns decided to suit up just two former NHL players at the Sweden Hockey Games in Gothenburg.
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Gronborg, who actually played college hockey here in the United States on behalf of St. Cloud State University during the early 1990s, is very familiar with Lindblom’s particular skill set from his previous position as head coach of Sweden’s junior national team program.  The emerging IF Brynas Gavle winger, to review, represented his country under the tutelage of Gronborg at both the 2015 and 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships although it must be noted that, on each occasion, the Swedes could do no better than fourth place.  Lindblom is just the second Swedish forward from that 2015 WJC team to have made his debut at the senior international level after Lucas Wallmark, the now 21-year-old former HF Lulea center who has spent this entire 2016/17 campaign skating for the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers.
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After a decade of working in various capacities for the Swedish national junior team program, the 48-year-old Gronborg assumed head coaching duties for Tre Kronor this past summer following the retirement of predecessor Par Marts, the 63-year-old veteran who had been in charge of Sweden’s senior national team program for six seasons.  Gronborg, who served as an assistant coach under Marts at the last four IIHF World Championships as well as the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, has a new three-year contract with the Swedish Ice Hockey Association in his pocket and the experience of leading senior national team at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey already under his belt. However, as is the case with any other nation that is a traditional European ice hockey power, Gronborg will have his employment terminated early if Tre Kronor end up getting embarrassed at major international events so there is a certain amount of pressure to maintain long-established standards of excellence in terms of attaining a certain amount of positive results.
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Sweden, who have won no less than nine gold medals, 19 silver medals and 17 bronze medals at the annual IIHF World Championship over the years, have gone home empty-handed the last two seasons in a row and that sort of behavior just will not be tolerated by the by the domestic ice hockey authorities indefinitely.
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Naturally, because his own personal fortunes will be directly tied to the very same players whom he ultimately has the final say in selecting, Gronborg, just like any other national team trainer to be found anywhere else in the world, will be wont to rely on people who have already earned his trust in the past.  In that regard, the fact the Lindblom notched seven goals and 15 points in 14 career games at the annual U-20 WJC tournament on top of the three goals and six points he registered in seven games at the 2014 IIHF U-18 World Junior Championship should serve the in-form IF Brynas Gavle winger well, if only in a subconscious sense.  It should be remembered that Gronborg was Lindblom’s head coach for all three of the above mentioned Swedish junior national sides.
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Not including the thirteen National Hockey League forwards who were on Sweden’s 2016 World Cup of Hockey squad, Gronborg has called up a total of 28 different forwards to the three Swedish teams which have competed in the three Euro Hockey Tour events contested thus far this term.  And, there will be ample opportunity for the new national team trainer to try out others, as well, for Tre Kronor will be very busy all throughout the month of April. This because, aside from three contests at the Czech Hockey Games, the last of this season’s four EHT tournaments that will begin on April 27th, the Swedes will be playing no less than seven exhibition matches with the schedule being as follows :
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Hungary ….. April 3rd
Austria ……. April 5th & 6th
Latvia ……… April 14th & 15th
Belarus ……. April 19th & 23rd
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Particularly with continental lightweights Hungary and Austria on tap, there is essentially zero chance barring real injury that Lindblom will not represent his country in at least a few of the seven ‘friendlies’ that the Swedes have lined up.  Some North American-based players will become available to Tre Kronor when the National Hockey League regular season ends on April 9th and others will follow once NHL clubs start getting eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs not so long afterwards.  It is far less prevalent for a leading European ice hockey nation like Sweden to summon a player from the second tier American Hockey League although there is absolutely no question that it does happen.
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Gronborg’s ultimate goal this season, of course, is to select and prepare an elite squad to represent Sweden at the 2017 IIHF World Championship, a tournament that will begin on May 5th in both the French city of Paris and the German city of Cologne (Koeln).  It is always hard to say for sure exactly how many North American pros Tre Kronor will invite to the WC and it can be even more difficult to predict just how many NHLers will decline their invitations for a laundry list of different reasons.  However, it should be pointed out that the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, which will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea, are now less than twelve months away and that is extremely significant because, historically speaking, NHL players are, by and large, far less likely to blow off the national team when an Olympic tournament is less than one year away.
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A review of recent history at the annual IIHF World Championship will reveal that Sweden have brought anywhere between seven to sixteen NHL players in the last six seasons under Marts. For the benefit of those who would otherwise be unaware, the roster limit at the WC is 22 skaters plus three goaltenders.  According to the comprehensive “Elite Prospects” website, as of 11:00 PM EST on March 1st, there were 68 Swedish players on the rosters of NHL clubs, the overwhelming majority having experience at the senior international level, and another 50 Swedes listed on the rosters of AHL clubs, as well.
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So what are the chances that Lindblom actually makes the Tre Kronor squad that has been drawn into the IIHF World Championship’s A Group that will be appearing in the German city of Cologne?
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Well, it will most certainly depend upon what happens in the month of April.  In my opinion, Gronborg is eager to see more of the youthful Lindblom in a Euro Hockey Tour event and that is why the rookie Sweden national team trainer originally tabbed the former and perhaps future Lehigh Valley Phantoms forward to play at the Sweden Hockey Games tournament in the first place.  I also believe that if Lindblom has even a modicum of success skating against some of the Europe’s less powerful national sides, the Philadelphia Flyers draft pick will become a very good bet to appear at the Czech Hockey Games being hosted by Ceske Budejovice.
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And, if that happens, then the Hamilton Street Heroes are undoubtedly going to have to win their first round series in the Calder Cup playoffs if they expect to have any chance whatsoever of seeing Lindblom in uniform once again this season.


Categories: Phantoms Hockey

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