Warrior like mentality for Lindgren provides spark


If you watch Ryan Lindgren play hockey, he does it with maximum effort. Few give what the 24-year old rugged defenseman does shift in and shift out.

A former Bruins second round pick in 2016, the Burnsville, Minnesota native came over to the Rangers as part of the Rick Nash trade on Feb. 25, 2018. One of the best moves of the Jeff Gorton era, the former GM also swapped first round picks to select K’Andre Miller. He also turned Ryan Spooner into Ryan Strome, who had a good career on Broadway before signing with Anaheim.

Although we didn’t know a lot about Lindgren, he was considered an afterthought. Let’s just say not everyone was convinced that he’d amount to much. They were preoccupied singing the praises of Libor Hajek, who was part of an even bigger deal that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Lightning. I’ll spare you the details.

When Lindgren first debuted with the Blueshirts in ’18-19 following a season with the Wolf Pack, he got into five games. While he didn’t leave a big impression, I liked the edge he played with. Never mind the minus-six. A product of where that team was. He stuck his nose in and brought physicality.

Maybe that’s why when training camp for ’19-20 arrived, I couldn’t believe how overlooked he was. Nobody was talking about him. It was all about Hajek. But honestly, I was more impressed with the harder hitting Lindgren, who showed more promise during that preseason before getting sent down.

Sometimes, you can tell a lot about a player based on instinct. The University Of Minnesota product was someone I knew would be back. It only took five more AHL games in Hartford for the Rangers to recall Lindgren. He never went back down.

Instead, the generously listed six-foot, 190 pound defenseman became a mainstay on the blue line. Almost immediately, former coach David Quinn teamed up Lindgren with close friend Adam Fox. They had played together before with Team USA. Familiarity with each other’s game helped bring chemistry.

While new Ranger Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei struggled to rediscover the chemistry they once had growing up, Lindgren and Fox became a good tandem. With the ultra skilled Fox providing the offense, the gritty Lindgren supplied the nuts and bolts. They formed a nice partnership.

In 60 games his rookie season, Lindgren registered a goal with 13 assists for 14 points along with 47 penalty minutes and a superb plus-16 rating. He finished checks and got involved when it was necessary during scrums.

There was a real warrior like mentality to him. Whether it be a big hit or diving block, Lindgren would do it. That hard-nosed style is what’s made the no frills defensive defenseman a very effective player for the Rangers.

It’s the willingness to battle in the trenches and get dirty that makes Lindgren so valuable to the Rangers. When he missed three games in the first round versus Pittsburgh last Spring, they missed his steady presence on the back end. In fact, they dropped Games Four and Five by giving up seven goals each to fall into a 3-1 series hole.

Of course, a hobbled Lindgren would return to help provide an emotional lift that certainly aided the Rangers in their first round comeback series win over the Pens. They couldn’t have reeled off the last three to advance without the heart and soul of the team.

It speaks to his importance. Lindgren and Fox go together like peanut butter and jelly. With Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller able to draw tough assignments, it allowed Gerard Gallant to count on his top two pairs to get the job done. He was also able to wisely utilize the third pair which became Justin Braun and Braden Schneider after Patrik Nemeth struggled.

When Lindgren was out, the blue line was weakened. Nemeth had to play along with Braun. It was no surprise the Rangers fell behind three games to one. For a player who they initially didn’t foresee big things for, all Lindgren has done is continue to play an honest role on a team that needs it.

While he mostly will do his due diligence delivering big hits that energize the bench and sacrifice for the team by blocking shots no matter how tough it is, he also can contribute offensively when the opportunity presents itself. He set a career high in goals (4) last season while adding 11 assists for 15 points to go with his plus-18 rating, 48 penalty minutes, 129 hits and 141 blocked shots.

Lindgren was even better in his first true postseason. He posted two goals with three assists and five points while going plus-eight in 17 games. All on a bad ankle that he played through in the second round triumph over Carolina and six-game Eastern Conference Final defeat to Tampa Bay. He averaged 21:55 in the playoffs finishing with 30 hits and 41 blocks.

Entering his fourth full season, Lindgren was in the second year of a contract that pays him an average cap hit of $3 million through ’23-24. A bargain for a gritty player who leaves it all out there. He continues to take some bumps and bruises along the way. Even if that means taking his licks as he did against Jeremy Lauzon on Nov. 12 in a frustrating loss at Nashville.

That’s who he is. Accountable for his actions. The kind of team player who has the respect of his teammates. In the key win over Ottawa on Wednesday night, he made a diving block of a shot that clearly had him limping. However, he finished the shift and got back to the bench. Of course, he returned for the next shift.

Ironically, it was Lindgren who was directly involved in all three goals the Rangers scored in a badly needed 3-1 road win over the Senators to end a three-game losing streak. He established a career high with three assists in the victory.

In fact, Lindgren picked up the primary helper on all three goals. That included a rebound that Jimmy Vesey put in for the only goal during the first period. One in which the Rangers focused more on checking and the defensive side by playing responsibly.

Midway through the contest in Kanata, Ontario, it was a Lindgren point shot that a hustling Barclay Goodrow was able to tip in past Cam Talbot for a two-goal lead. An effective shift for the checking line Goodrow anchored between Sammy Blais (assist) and Julien Gauthier.

After Ottawa rookie center Shane Pinto cut the lead to one, the Blueshirts survived a close call when a Senators chance by Parker Kelly was just tucked under Jaroslav Halak by Trouba. He is still having issues due to the upper-body injury he’s playing through. So, Gallant made a change and had him play with Zac Jones while Schneider teamed with Miller. It worked.

When they needed an insurance marker during a tightly played third period, it was Lindgren who took a Mika Zibanejad pass and fired a shot pass for a Kreider deflection that gave them enough breathing room to leave Canada with a 3-1 win. The third primary assist for Lindgren.

Not surprisingly, he was named the game’s First Star. He also shared the Broadway Hat with Halak, who made 34 saves on 35 shots in earning his first victory as a Ranger. An important development that can only boost his confidence.

When asked recently by NY Post beat writer Mollie Walker about Lindgren, Kreider summed up his key teammate perfectly:

“We always tell him before the game that he’s the straw that stirs the drink,” Kreider told The Post in a feature story that appeared earlier today. “He is. He does so many little things for this team. There’s a reason he’s the biggest unsung hero on this team. The way he blocks shots, the physical way he plays every single night.

He’s so committed to winning. To see him do the things that we’ve all been talking about from an offensive standpoint, just getting pucks through to the net when you’ve got a lane. I mean, right from the get-go, he’s moving, he’s jumping up into the play.”

He’s not wrong. Kreider, who tied all-time great Brian Leetch for ninth on the Rangers franchise list for goals (240), understands the importance of Lindgren. A quiet player who lets his play do the talking.

With eight assists in 22 games along with a plus-seven rating and 25 penalty minutes, Lindgren continues to lead by example. His 42 blocks rank second on the club behind Trouba (60), who despite being banged up is grinding it out. He also has 31 hits. Although it’s middle of the pack, when he finishes a check, you know it. That’s the impact Lindgren has.

In many ways, number 55 is similar to Dan Girardi. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to help the team win. A member of the Black and Blueshirts, Girardi was the warrior of those teams that made three appearances in the Conference Finals and played for the Stanley Cup in 2014. Ironically, he rocked number 5. Lindgren wears double 5. How’s that for irony?

In the NHL, every good team needs those glue guys who provide the grunt work. That’s why Ryan Lindgren is universally loved by coaches, teammates and fans. Like Girardi, he gets up and keeps on ticking. Lindy as he’s affectionately known, will continue to be an important foot soldier for the Blueshirts.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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