By Kai Farenholtz
As the game of hockey continues to re-image itself along the blueline, more and more smaller statured, slender footed, puck-moving defensemen have come to man the point and become real difference makers for the teams they represent. Although, as this style of play has become more prevalent and widely accepted with more players getting the opportunity to fill in this role… pin-pointing the elite talents in this group has never been more important. And operating the blueline where the rivers meet in Kamloops, BC, we got the one and only Mats Lindgren, an elegant skating offensive juggernaut that leads the Blazers’ breakout and powerplay by breaking it down into a science.
Since it’s what Lindgren does on the ice, lets break everything down and deconstruct his game into each fine aspect and dive into what makes him the lethal puck distributor he is and discuss whether he belongs in the conversation of being tendered as a 1st round pick.
First things first… it doesn’t take a genius to see where Lindgren obliterates the competition. With a father that played 7-seasons in the NHL, it’s no wonder where Lindgren inherited this tremendous skill from… or at least got the base for, because I’d imagine Mats would be skating circles around his father at this stage.
What really stands out with Lindgren’s skating isn’t a blitzing top speed or a dangerous acceleration… although he fairs good in each of those departments, it’s his overall efficiency with his edgework and fluidity. There is never a moment where he’s tangled himself up and looks like a fish that’s washed ashore, every time he steps on the ice you’re witnessing Louvre-worthy art. Honestly, when it comes to overall aesthetic, I believe Lindgren could take home the prize for most “pleasing skater” in the 2022 NHL Draft.
As you can see in this clip, Lindgren, just like a surgeon, dissects the Kelowna blueline apart with his lateral movement and draws all eyes onto him before dishing off an effective pass to Josh Pillar.
Here’s another entry where the Victoria Royals are at the mercy of his wrath. Starting from behind his own cage, Lindgren is tasked with the breakout and executes it perfectly and takes it one step further with jump-starting the entry as well. His wide stance allows him to evade forecheckers in a truly artistic manner while maintaining the speed he built up in his own end. Lindgren doesn’t need an overpowering stride to get where he needs to go, he lets his edges do the talking.
His overall agility in tight situations… this is what will make him a hot commodity come draft night. How Lindgren is able to escape inevitable forecheck at times is nevertheless remarkable. In this clip, manning the powerplay vs. Victoria, he receives a weak pass from Pillar and gets put in a spot where it’s safe to just ring it back in and redo whatever they were trying to accomplish prior, or just retreat and try another entry. This is Mats Lindgren we’re talking about though, so why not pull a highly advanced spin and throw everyone off guard before lacing a quick pass to keep the play alive.
The way Lindgren utilizes his crossovers/unders to whip up speed in a jiffy then pick apart defenders with some picturesque agility would land him as a top-prospect in my books alone. Add in some strong balance and a decent top speed and it’s just icing on the cake. Truly, one of the most pristine skaters in the WHL.
Offensive Vision & Awareness
To be a dominant puck moving defencemen, you gotta bring more to the table than just a pretty skating form, you need to be able to draw up plays on the spot and always have a backup plan set aside. And oh boy… to put it lightly, Lindgren probably has more plays drawn up in his head than Bill Belichick has in his notebook.
Lindgren’s head is always up, scanning for options like a hawk. Before he picks up the puck from anywhere, he’ll turn his head to watch for forecheckers and passing options before gaining possession. He’s always one or two steps ahead in the mental department and can make opponents look foolish for leaving lanes open.
I’ll sauce up a little crash course here on Lindgren’s efficiency in the offensive end. His powerplay work in the grand scheme of things may be his most potent asset in line with his skating. Just follow how he operates over and over again, quarterbacking the Blazers’ powerplay like he’s trying to impress NFL scouts. Always ready to receive and prepared to dish it out in the blink of an eye. Like I said earlier, always one or two steps ahead of the play.
Another part of Lindgren’s game I’ve grown to enjoy is his play below the circles when he attempts to drive the play deep on his own accord. He’s terrific at protecting the puck on his forehand with a wide reach so when he drives down that left side off of a quick pass or a pinch, he knows how to operate in tight and behind the cage as his playbook extends to these regions of the ice as well. I got a couple of dangerous plays whipped up below.
Although, there are a few times some of that over-confidence hits the stage. Especially earlier on in the season, there would be a few blips here and there in Lindgren’s awareness where he believes he has more time than he has, resulting in an ugly turnover that leaves him stranded in a horrific one-on-one or a frightening puck battle.
The occasional screw up is something every dman runs into on a timely basis though, I wouldn’t be concerned of a nasty turnover every once awhile. The way Lindgren can manipulate defenders and forecheckers to do as he commands when he has the puck is a sight to behold. He picks apart defence like blueberries off a bush. Since he has the puck on his blade for a large majority of the game when it comes to supporting the offence and kickstarting breakouts and entries, you can’t get frustrated when he makes the odd mistake. And even then, his mistakes are a lot further in-between a majority of his peers in the 2022 NHL Draft.
You don’t have a neat and tidy puck moving defencemen without a keen playmaking attribute… and thankfully, Lindgren is still with us in this department as well. Although he may not light up the scoresheet with two- or three-point nights on every occasion unlike other top-end offensively minded defenders in this draft like Seamus Casey or Ty Nelson. But that doesn’t mean his playmaking abilities are anything below par… unless we’re talking about it in golf terms.
As you could probably tell in a collection of the clips already showcased, Lindgren’s passing ability while tied in with his tremendous vision makes him a threat on the powerplay and even strength. And according to InStat as of the WHL’s Christmas break, Lindgren has an Accurate Pass % of 90% across 27 contests this season. To put it lightly, Lindgren is the guy you want moving the puck whether that be with his skating or his heads-up playmaking.
His passes are quite easy to receive as they’re never beamed at his teammates. At times they could be quicker, but time is made up by his teammates that easily receive his passes and can make a swift move upon reception.
And like I stated earlier, his ability to maintain his team’s possession in tight situations can come in handy in certain occasions. He knows where his teammates need to be and isn’t gonna sacrifice a good opportunity for a measly dump and reset.
One thing I’ll highlight intensely is his fast break passing. If Lindgren sees an open man there’s not a moment in his mind where he’s thinking he should hold on to the puck any longer, his stretch passes may not be as lethal as the highly praised Calle Odelius over in Sweden, but he can make a dent in an opponent’s line change if they aren’t paying enough attention… and maybe even the ref at some points as you’ll notice in the first clip.
To summarize, Lindgren’s a clinically accurate playmaker in all three zones that can make passes under serious pressure and can catch defenders sleeping at the wheel whether they’re heading off for a quick change or have their eyes fixated on Lindgren.
Shooting & Scoring Ability
A region where Lindgren isn’t an absolute stud?.. I find that hard to believe. But nevertheless, Lindgren isn’t the guy you want heaving tons of shots on goal, and I don’t believe he wants to be that player either.
I’ll keep it brief; Lindgren has a muffin of a wrister and it’s not deadly accurate by any means. Unlike a guy last year by the name of Olen Zellweger in the 2021 NHL Draft, he has a tough time making his soft shot work. I found on occasion he’s got some nights where he can at least stir up a commotion in front with a light shot on net, but on others he’s like a guy at the dart board after one too many pints of Canadian.
As you can see, even with some time and space it can be tough for Lindgren to find twine. His form and everything doesn’t need any fine tuning in my eyes, but his shot lacks deception and can be easily read by goalies.
Come to think of it… I don’t know if I’ve ever bared witness to Lindgren unleashing a one-timer in my life, and slapshots are far and few between.
As I said earlier though, it’s not Lindgren’s job to release the Kraken… it’s his duty to open the flood gates.
Lindgren draws in defenders better than a lamp draws in moths at midnight in the middle of a forest in the Yukon, and you can thank his soft hands for that. I wouldn’t say his stickhandling is anything ground-breaking, although just like his passing, it’s extremely clinical and efficient.
Lindgren can get incredibly sneaky with those sidesteps in areas where forecheckers may not be expecting a tantalizing dangle. That puck at times is simply glued to his stick as you saw in the few clips vs. the Royals above. And although in this next clip the defender does take a little tumble over the blueline, it’s still a dazzling clip to have on his resume.
In simpler terms when it comes to his puckhandling skills, he’s tremendously smooth and polished. His poise with the puck on his blade is already at a professional level in my eyes. There aren’t many moments when he’s uncomfortable with the puck. He’s always calling for it from his defence partner… it’s like he’s the puck’s overprotective father.
He’s not as dynamic as a Lane Hutson or a Simon Nemec, but when it comes to gaining control and making sure his team has proper possession, Lindgren will utilize his tidy puckhandling to keep forecheckers at bay, or on some occasions stun them with a paralyzing sidestep.
Defensive Play & Physicality
This is where a decline in quality usually becomes visible in most puck moving dmen. I wouldn’t say there are many true “shutdown” dmen in this category. Lindgren’s overall defensive coverage is by no means catastrophic… but it’s not the crème de la crème of his playing style.
Positionally, Lindgren at least shows the conscious ability to predict where the play is headed one or two passes ahead (something you could thank his outstanding offensive awareness for). He knows when to commit to contact or a firm pokecheck and can alleviate pressure with solid stick positioning, I don’t mind his overall rush defence as he can keep up with most of the better skaters in the WHL.
In some footage here, Lindgren demonstrates a fair understanding of where to position himself in terms of cutting off lanes and starving teams of high-end opportunities with his stick. He’s not terrible at disrupting plays either when it comes to tying up sticks in front.
Stuff begins to fall apart when it comes to how he asserts himself in his own end. As you can imagine, Lindgren isn’t the strongest guy on the ice in terms of brute strength and that’s probably going to be the case for a majority of his career. It’s good to be positionally sound but there are times where you need to be assertive and force your opponents to think on their toes. Lindgren can be quite lackadaisical at times when it comes to winning 50/50 battles and getting first to the puck.
His lack of physicality makes him nothing but a soft bitter nuisance against stockier and stronger opponents, kind of like an annoying fruit fly. He’s not gonna do a ton of damage and he’s not going to stand out in his own zone. Defensive awareness does develop with time, but there are a few occasions in the footage below where I’m just shaking my head in disappointment when it comes to overall motor and interest in his own zone. The second clip particularly bugs me just cause he does scan and notice the forward making a dash for the net, but he fails to hitch back and tie him up before it’s too late.
Areas of Improvement
There’s not much to Lindgren’s offensive game I’d like to tweak or change. You can always want him to be faster but that’s something that’ll come with time. And I personally believe his offensive attributes will age like a premium bottle of fine wine as the miles add up.
His overall defensive game needs to be re-wired to an extent. He doesn’t need to be a “balls to the wall” defender where he’s plowing through checks and laying guys on their behinds, but he needs to get more aggressive when it comes to chasing down loose pucks and giving forecheckers a tough time. As I stated earlier, a lot of that stuff comes with experience, and although I don’t see Lindgren as a future PK specialist down the road or anything of that nature… knowing how to supress your opposition by being a touch more assertive could improve his overall two-way game immensely.
In the grand scheme of things, I don’t see why NHL teams wouldn’t want to pick up Lindgren with a mid-late 1st round pick. With the way the game is progressing, defenders like Lindgren will be the difference makers that slot into your top-4 and hold certain responsibilities on the blueline whether it be even-strength or on the powerplay.
Lindgren’s sublime edgework and offensive awareness is addictive to watch… it’s so addictive in fact that I have to purchase tickets from a shady vendor down an alley way before every game. My doctor says I should kick the stuff, but I keep coming back to watch the otherworldly smooth and calming game of Mats Lindgren. He may not dazzle you with highlight reel plays every night and make you lean out of your seat with sweet anticipation… but you know your team is in good hands when Lindgren has the puck on his blade.
Photo credit on Lindgren cover – Paige Bednorz