A little over a year ago, I first met Nils Lundkvist and he couldn’t be nicer. At the u20 Four Nations tournament in Hodonin (Czech Rep) he played against both Vitali Kravtsov and Kaapo Kakko. It was a weekend that I fondly remember to this day. I got to meet and talk to all 3, with Kakko at the time still undrafted. But what stuck with me from that experience was the interaction with Nils Lundkvist’s family. As some of you may know, his grandparents and father were at the tournament and they approached me because of my banner. Since that day in November, I have stayed in touch with Nils’ grandpa and talking to Nils several times. In March in Luleå (Sweden), in September in Augsburg (Germany) and Liberec (Czech Rep), in November in Helsinki (Finland) and in December in Trinec (Czech Rep).
Catching Up with Lundkvist
This week I was able to catch up with him once more and asked if I could write a follow-up on the first interview I ever wrote for Forever Blueshirts in February of 2019. It has been a crazy year for the 19-year old defenseman, who was called up for the men’s national team for the first time, to play in the Beijer Games, which is part of the Euro Hockey Tour. I started by congratulating Nils with this achievement and he was quite excited, saying it was a great experience and an honour. To make his Sweden debut at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm was the icing on the cake. “To also make my debut here in Sweden, at the Globe, it was really cool”, said Lundkvist who was paired with former NHL-defenseman Klas Dahlbeck.
Finishing the tournament with 1 assist in 3 games, and an overall solid performance, Lundkvist can look back on his debut with pride. The last time he wore the Tre Kronor (Three Crowns) jersey was at the World Juniors where he played with fellow Rangers prospect Karl Henriksson, with whom he has built a solid friendship over the last few months. “Karl and I talked quite a lot during the tournament, we found each other already at the development camp (in New York) and I consider him to be a good friend of mine. Besides him I talked a lot with my roomie Tobias Björnfot, and since he is good friends with Raymond and Holtz so I talked quite a lot to them as well. Biggest difference with this season’s WJC was being a bit more secure about knowing how everything worked and what to expect. And also I would say I came in to the tournament with better self confidence than my first time.”
Talking about his roommate at the tournament, Tobias Björnfot (drafted by the Los Angeles Kings) fondly, it’s clear that Nils Lundkvist is a popular guy in the locker room and on the bench. I noticed this at almost every game I’ve been to. Personally, I like to sit behind the bench to observe players. How they respond to a good or bad shift, or when a teammate misses a scoring chance. Lundkvist is always leaning over the boards, rarely sits down. He’s engaged in the game, even when he’s on the bench, and his teammates appreciate that. To me, that’s a great quality to have as a player.
Nils and I spoke about the other Swedish Rangers prospects as well, and the connection is definitely there. Lias Andersson moved back to Sweden a few weeks ago, so Lundkvist has not spoken to him yet, but 6th round pick Adam Edström is someone Lundkvist has spoken to this season. “I have not talked to Lias since that. I’ve talked to Edström after the games where we have played each other, but the others are playing in another league so I have not had the opportunity to talk to them. But generally we try to catch up when we have a chance to do so.” he said about the other prospects. The others he is referring to are Olof Lindbom, Jakob Ragnarsson and Calle Själin who play in Allsvenskan, the 2nd tier of professional hockey in Sweden.
Lundkvist’s season has really elevated his “stock” and a lot of prospect watchers have noticed the kid this year. With Jesper Sellgren (Carolina Hurricanes) moving to North America, the Luleå coaching staff announced last summer that they were looking at a top pairing of Erik Gustafsson and Nils Lundkvist. Despite Sellgren returning on loan, Lundkvist was still on the top pair, and in both the SHL and Champions Hockey League, the young defenseman surprised everyone with his performance. “Things have been going really well for me this season, even better than what I had expected going into the season. The team is doing really well and I have been getting a lot of ice time and I have also had the opportunity to contribute with quite a lot of points as well, so that has been a good bonus.”, Lundkvist said.
The biggest indicator for both me as a prospect watcher and Luleå management, is how easy Lundkvist distributes the puck this season. His offensive game has really taken off, but the way he defends has also improved immensely. His gap control makes him a reliable D-man on the powerplay in case the puck escapes the zone. The last few weeks, the talk has been about his production though. He was slowly climbing up the “ladder” of points by an u20 defenseman in a single SHL season. The total points may not be as impressive, with still 13 games to play, but his points per game average is vastly superior.
A little caveat here: Guys like Rasmus Dahlin and Victor Hedman moved to the NHL at age 18, but the above list is still impressive
Remember that story of me meeting his family at that junior tournament in Hodonin, a town with a population of just 25,000? Well, his dad was one of the family members I met there, and when I ran into him at my hotel in Helsinki (They stayed at the same hotel), he told me about his new job. He works as a sports director for SHL team Skellefteå. In itself that may not mean anything, but it’s Luleå’s biggest rival. And on February 11th, these 2 teams played each other. The game where Nils Lundkvist tied the record shown above. I am sure it was a game marked on the calendars in the Lundkvist household, despite Nils saying the family roots mostly for him. But to tie the record in the game against his dad’s team must have been special.
With 13 games to go in the SHL regular season, he can shatter the record and make it his own. It certainly is a testament of how great his season has been, and how he has leapfrogged other prospects to top the Rangers list in Scott Wheeler’s latest article on The Athletic. The hockey world is starting to notice, and the question has to be asked. Will Nils Lundkvist come over to North America? Will he make the team?
Eyes on New York
This will be the 3rd summer in a row where he will attend the New York Rangers PDC (Prospect Development Camp). I personally was surprised he flew over last year to attend the camp, but he told me that he feels it’s important to re-connect with the prospects and to get the know the new kids drafted in 2019. You can definitely see he has the right mindset. To the question is he will play in Hartford or go back to Luleå if he doesn’t make the team, Lundkvist was quick to answer “That remains to be seen”. Unfortunately we won’t know until the 2020-21 season starts, where the kid will end up, New York, Hartford or one more year in Luleå. One thing he will have to leave behind when he comes over, is his biggest hobby, snowmobiles. “I like to play some videogames, hanging out with friends and my girlfriend plus riding snowmobiles when I get the opportunity to do so.”
A few months ago, Nils Lundkvist was interviewed by Hockeynews.se and they followed him around for a day, driving down to Piteå to visit his grandfather. With the help of a Swedish friend, I was able to add subtitles. It’s worth the watch. It gives you a good insight in what this kid is like, and it will also explain the last few answers he gave me. Having spoken to him in 6 different countries, my obvious question was if there is a place in the world he wants to travel to. “I have been quite alot around western Europe and North America, so it would be great to be able to visit Asia or Australia. Bali would probably be my first choice.”
He has a family that supports him in everything. His goal is to reach the NHL, and he may get there this year. If he does, it’s pretty obvious what he will miss the most. “My family and swedish food”, so I hope Mika Zibanejad can show him around in New York City. I am sure there are some authentic Swedish restaurants that serve more than just the IKEA meatballs.