Photo Credit: Allen Douglas / Kamloops Blazers
Scouting Report written by Matthew Somma
Mats Lindgren is one of the WHL’s top defensive prospects this season and one of a number of draft-eligible players on the Kamloops Blazers. Lindgren combines puck skills with high end hockey sense to make him one of the league’s more intriguing prospects for the upcoming draft. There are few players in the WHL that can play with as much skill as Lindgren can, which is why some view him as an early second and even an early first round pick. In this profile, I’ll illustrate how Lindgren’s game makes him a potential top-50 prospect as well as what his upside is at the NHL level.
Lindgren is primarily an offensive defenseman whose skills are better suited for a power play than a penalty kill. There are some excellent moments where you see the high-end skill that has some scouts raving about him, but then you fail to notice him for a few shifts or you’re noticing him for all of the wrong reasons. That sort of inconsistency makes Lindgren a tough prospect to evaluate. Are the good aspects of Lindgren’s game enough to cover all of the holes in his game?
D.O.B – August 26, 2004
Nationality – Canada
Draft Eligibility – 2022
Weight –176 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Left
Lindgren’s Style of Play
First, let’s talk about what I really like about the way that Lindgren plays. He possesses high levels of hockey sense and can anticipate where the puck will be going to next in order to put himself in a better position in the offensive zone. He can predict where teammates will be and can execute on his passes from the blue line. Lindgren’s vision in the offensive zone is up there with the best in the WHL, which bodes well for his odds of making it to the NHL. Lindgren’s on-ice vision gives him a competitive advantage over his opponents at times, allowing for his teammates to capitalize on his passes.
Lindgren’s next biggest advantage is his shifty skating. His top speed and acceleration are average or slightly above average at best, but where Lindgren excels is in his ability to skate himself out of trouble. He’s a slippery skater, able to turn a corner on a dime and gain separation from a defender in an instant, maintaining control of the puck in the process. It’s so incredibly hard to knock Lindgren off of the puck once he gets going. The following clip is an example of what it’s like when Lindgren attempts to avoid pressure and create some separation.
The quick shift and turn that Lindgren makes to avoid pressure on two fronts happens at least a couple of times per game and allows for his team to continue pressing the attack. In cases like the previous clip and the next clip, it leads to a goal.
Again, Lindgren isn’t the fastest skater, but the tools are there for him to improve in that regard. All he needs is a little fine tuning. With a few years of development with an NHL skating coach, I could see Lindgren becoming one of the better skating blueliners in the pros. He can already make skating at a high pace look effortless, after all.
Lindgren is able to stickhandle with the best of them and uses his elite puck handling to create separation from defenders and to create offensive opportunities for himself. He’ll make a split second decision and move the puck exactly at the right time, moving past a defender to create a passing or shooting option. So, that’s what I love about Lindgren offensively. His deceptive skating and stickhandling, his hockey sense and his vision make him a potent force in the offensive zone.
In addition to Lindgren’s offensive abilities, he’s a force in transition. I see a player that can carry the puck out of the zone and make passes to ensure that the puck is carried into the offensive zone. Lindgren finds a way to get the puck into the offensive zone and plays off of his teammates, who push a relentless attack. However, I don’t often see him carrying the puck into the offensive zone. Lindgren relies on his teammates to enter the zone due to the pace they’re able to play at. He seems more content with staying back and letting the play develop.
That brings me to where I start to doubt Lindgren’s upside a bit. I don’t see Lindgren as a person that can drive the play. Lindgren relies on his teammates to get him the puck, and then he’ll pass the puck on to another teammate. Rarely do we see Lindgren’s skill take over and dominate. It’s enough to make an impact and create some offense, but not enough to convince me that he’ll be a top defenseman in the NHL. What I struggle with is how Lindgren can go from looking like a superstar with the puck on his stick on one shift to completely invisible the next. That lack of consistency can be a detriment to his teammates. If Lindgren isn’t on his game, he’s missing defensive assignments, making poor decisions with his passes and failing to execute his breakouts. When he’s not on his game, there’s little to like about him.
Lindgren’s defensive positioning is poor to say the least. It’s almost lazy, or at the very least, lacking in urgency. He’ll stop skating hard and coast, leading to odd man rushes, breakaways, and typically, goals against. It almost feels as if Lindgren’s controller disconnects and he drifts along until either a goal is scored or his teammates gather the puck. What’s even more irritating, however, is the fact that Lindgren is able to seal gaps off effectively and use his stick to disrupt the play when he’s on his game. So it’s not that Lindgren can’t defend, it’s just that you have no idea which version of Lindgren you’re going to get.
Lindgren needs to add muscle in order to be able to defend at the next level. Right now, he is unable to box out players in front of his own net. He fails to make it a challenge for an opposing forward to establish a net front presence, meaning that his goaltender is often screened or vulnerable to a goal off of a rebound. If he adds 15-20 pounds by the time he leaves the WHL, he’ll be in a good place in terms of strength in order to get to the next level. When a defender gets past Lindgren, he’ll usually try to make up for it with his stick or by reaching out with his free hand. Lindgren plays a fairly disciplined game but can take a penalty when a defender gets past him.
As I mentioned earlier, Lindgren’s breakouts are usually controlled and his breakout passes are usually accurate. When they aren’t, however, it can be disastrous. He is prone to turnovers and lazy passes that can usually be telegraphed by the defense. Those passes result in scoring chances and shots against.
Lindgren’s inconsistencies are glaring and usually costly for his team, and he’s one of those players that can be a little reminiscent of Jekyll and Hyde sometimes. One shift, he’s a dynamic offensive threat with elite hockey sense. The next, he can drift along and look lost. That’s a tough sell for NHL teams, especially ones that are rebuilding. A team that has a well-established prospect pool can afford to take a chance on Lindgren. If he hits his full potential, you’re looking at a nice addition to your team’s second pairing that can be a distributor in the offensive zone both at even strength or on the power play. There’s also a chance that he could fill in on a team’s third pairing, depending on how they utilize that pairing. If I’m the GM of a rebuilding team, however, I’m avoiding Lindgren. The holes in his game would be enough to make me question his odds of helping my team in the future.
Lindgren’s development is going to hinge on two major components. First would be improving his positioning and effort level in the defensive zone. I saw too many players get past Lindgren with little to no difficulty, which is a problem. NHL coaches won’t let his effort in the defensive zone fly in the NHL, so that needs to be sorted out. Second is Lindgren’s skating. His top speed is average and he can glide a fair bit, which will hold him back at the NHL level. All he needs is to get about two or three steps faster and I believe that he can turn his skating into one of his strengths.
I go back and forth with whether or not I love or dislike Lindgren. He has the potential to become one of the smartest defensemen in this draft and could be a top four defenseman capable of around 40 points at the NHL level. I wish I could see more consistency from Lindgren at even strength, because that would ease some of the concerns I have about him as a player. I don’t doubt his hockey sense or his vision, but I do doubt his consistency. If Lindgren falls to my team in the second half of the second round, I’m jumping at the opportunity to take him. The potential is too great to not warrant a selection, after all.
Lindgren may take more time to develop than some of the other defensemen in this draft class. He’ll likely spend two more years in the WHL and two to three years in the AHL before carving out a permanent NHL role for himself. It doesn’t matter how you get there, though, and if that’s the path that gives Lindgren the highest chance of NHL success, I’m taking it. Given enough time, Lindgren could be a mainstay on a team’s back end and provide offense mixed with some reliable defense once those kinks are worked out of his game.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve wondered where I would rank Lindgren in our rankings. His skill and upside alone make me feel comfortable with ranking him anywhere from the early to mid second round, and I feel that his upside outweighs the concerns I have with his game. Again, it’ll all come down to who is drafting him. If a team feels confident that they can mold Lindgren into an NHL player, they’ll jump at the chance to draft him.
January 12, 2022
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Matthew Somma. If you would like to follow Matthew on Twitter, his handle is @Mattsomma12.
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