Exclusive Interview: Rangers prospect Nils Lundkvist emerging as a leader
It’s been almost three years since I first met Nils Lundkvist. It was a chilly November evening in Hodonín, Czech Republic in 2018 where the young defenseman, 18 at the time, had just finished a game in the u20 Four Nations against Vitaly Kravtsov and Russia u20.
Lundkvist did not get any points and was -2 but during the game I had the pleasure to meet his family and through them, I was able to meet up with the youngster afterwards. Ever since I’ve been following the progress of the Rangers first round pick closely.
Fun fact: Kaapo Kakko played later that evening and had a goal and 2 assists against the Czech Republic.
This is the third interview I’ve conducted with Nils. He answered some questions during the 12 hour bus ride to Färjestad with his team where Luleå will play today.
Nils Lundkvist in a a shutdown role to start the season
This season Lundkvist had a bit of a slow start when it comes to production. After obliterating the record for points by a teenage defenseman the season prior, with 31 points (11+20) in 45 games, he had just 4 points (2+2) in 12 games to start the year.
Early on, he was playing on the second pair in what was more a shutdown role. Once he was moved up with captain Erik Gustafsson, Lundkvist was playing in a more balanced role. He saw an increase in production with 20 points (8+12) in his next 28 games.
In his final game before that tournament he scored his 10th goal of the season, becoming the first defenseman in SHL history to record multiple double-digit goal seasons before turning 21. His stellar performance in the last few months earned him a call up for the men’s national team for the Beijer Games.
National team stalwart
A quick explanation on how these tournaments work:
In Europe, they have the Euro Hockey Tour, which was first introduced in 1996. The Tour consists of 4 separate tournaments played in each of the participating countries.
- Channel One Cup (Russia)
- Karjala Cup (Finland)
- Beijer Games (Sweden)
- Carlson Games (Czech Republic)
In each of these, they play 3 games, for a total of 12 throughout the season and whichever team leads the overall standings at the end of the season wins the Euro Hockey Tour.
Nils Lundkvist made his men’s national team debut last year also at the Beijer Games but this year he solidified his spot on the team ahead of the 2021 IIHF World Championships.
He was assigned the assistant captain duties for the seconnd game. In that game against Vitaly Kravtsov and Rusia, he played a total of 28:07, a tournament record for a skater in its 25-year existence. In the 3 games he played, he scored a goal, had 10 SOG and finished with a +2 rating.
Lundkvist’s goal was his first for the men’s national team and it was a beautiful moment for him. “It was very cool to score my first national team goal,” he remarked. “A real childhood dream coming true.”
Lundkvist an emerging leader
We can talk about his first goal, or that he broke the tournament record for TOI in a single game, but what stands out for me is the recognition he’s receiving for his all around game. Being named assistant captain at age 20 is a big deal.
“One of the assistant captains got injured, so I was quite surprised when they came and asked me if I would like to be one of the captains,” Lundkvist revealed. “It was a true honor and it made me a little nervous to begin with. But I adjusted quickly and it didn’t affect me.”
Every time I think I’ve seen him meet my expectations, he goes out and exceeds them. I’ve noted about Lundkvist that he’s just 20 years old, and not really big at 5’11”. However, he plays like he’s a veteran and appears much bigger on the ice.
He not only brings the physicality you need on defense to separate opponents from the puck, but the way he sees the game better than most. He’s also a commanding presence on the bench which is visible by the way he interacts with his teammates. In all my years of following prospects, have I rarely seen a player this young be this involved in his teammates’ play. He rarely sits down, always leans over the boards directing traffic like a general. He thinks the game like a head coach at times.
Of course the style of hockey, the level and the pace on the national team is different from the SHL or World Juniors. Lundkvist seems to thrive under that added pressure. “I would say that the speed is pretty much the same in the SHL as on a national level,” he explains. “However the general level of the players are naturally higher with the national team, the physical play is more intense and there is less room for mistakes.“
Lundkvist focused on SHL, keeps in touch with Rangers
Right now Lundkvist has a singular focus and that’s on the current season with Luleå. The team from a small northern town with a population of roughly 44,000 has seen success in recent years but has not won the SHL championship since 1996.
Lundkvist and Luleå finished top of the standings in the regular season last year but due to the pandemic there were no playoffs. This season will be Lundkvist’s last chance to win it all before moving to New York.
When I asked him about the prospect of playing for the Rangers his response was direct. “As I just said, my main focus right now is to play as well as possible for Luleå Hockey in the SHL,” Lundkvist replied. “Our goal here is to go far in the playoffs and hopefully win the title together.”
His development has been great to watch and the 20 year-old defenseman has been in close contact with the Rangers about his future. “I keep in touch with Rangers’ player development and I let my agent handle everything else,” he noted. “My focus is fully on playing as well as possible and to finish this season as strong as possible.”
His skillset can certainly help the Blueshirts. His strengths are his gap control, puck distribution and lateral movement. Where he truly shines is his attacking prowess. We have seen it all to often that a player doesn’t get the shot off quick enough on the powerplay but Nils Lundkvist has no problems with that at all.
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I expect Nils Lundkvist to sign with the Rangers this summer. When that will be remains to be seen. Negotiations will probably start the moment he is released by Luleå and the Swedish national team. If Lundkvist plays in the World Championships, that will be mid-June.
I am excited to see him step in and add another weapon to the Rangers defense. His abilities will be a huge asset 5 on 5, but his power play instincts could be just what the Blueshirts need. Combined with Adam Fox, New York’s special teams could become extraordinary.
PS: I want to thank Nils Lundkvist for sitting down with me for our last interview as a prospect. I wish him all the best in New York.
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