(HockeySTL)-- Prior to this offseason, the name Joakim Lindstrom’s name had rarely graced the NHL scene. Perhaps a few “whatever happened to that guy” inquiries were made into Lindstrom, but nothing ever substantial. After all, the Swedish forward had spent more time in Europe than in the NHL since being drafted in 2002.
Lindstrom wasn’t a hot commodity this offseason and many teams were less than intrigued by the 30-year-old forward. But the Blues weren’t of the many.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong reached out to Lindstrom and inquired about the forward on several different occasions. He made it known that the Blues would have a few slots open for competition this year and that he would love for Lindstrom to be one of the competitors.
“I heard that they were interested after my season and during the World Championships, so that’s how it kind of came about,” said Lindstrom. “I had a couple of phone calls with Armstrong and with the coach.”
After the calls, Lindstrom knew this opportunity was rare and that it was perfect for him.
“I was always going to come back to the NHL and play with the best players in the world,” Lindstrom said. “But I knew it was going to be hard. Once you go over to Europe, it’s kind of hard to get back. Not a whole lot of players come back after they go over. But it’s always been my goal and I knew if I played well enough eventually maybe I would get another chance.”
It has been eight seasons since Lindstrom appeared in his first NHL game. His second NHL season happened to place him on a Ken Hitchcock-coached Blue Jackets squad, albeit a short stint. At the time, Lindstrom didn’t stand out to Hitchcock. In reality, he didn’t stand out to anyone.
“There was a lot of flash and a lot of obvious skill in his game, but it was more of the pace of his game that was lacking,” said Hitchcock. “He was one of those players that was in-between. He was above the AHL level, but had a tough time pace-wise in the NHL.”
That theme carried over into the next season, and the one following it. After a team change and another season spent divided between the AHL and NHL, Lindstrom decided to test his luck in Russia’s KHL.
Lindstrom would spend the next five seasons overseas, appearing just once in North America for a brief stint with the Colorado Avalanche, which was an indicator to Lindstrom that he still had a ways to go before becoming a consistent NHL forward.
For the past few years, Lindstrom has keyed in on the weaknesses in his game, most of which were exposed in his various NHL stints. Only when he felt he had become a better player did he decide to make his return.
“I’ve been playing a lot,” Lindstrom said of his time in Europe. “I have been healthy and playing in a lot of games so it’s been good for me. I have improved in the areas I wanted to improve on.”
One of those areas, the main focus, was Lindstrom’s skating.
“I always thought I had decent vision, could see the ice well,” explained Lindstrom. “I just needed the extra step on the defenseman. If I can get an extra step on him, I can make a play or two. So, that’s been my focus for the last little while and I think I have made improvement.”
Hitchcock, who watched Lindstrom play in competitions overseas, says it’s almost as though he is now coaching an altogether different player.
“His pace has gone way up since (since I last coached him),” Hitchcock said. “He has great pace, great maturity in his game. He knows how to play.
“He’s got quickness in small spaces; he’s a very confident player right now. It’s not surprising when you saw how well he played in the World Championships with Sweden and he’s carried it on from there.”
The Swedish forward, who is the good friend of Blues teammate Alexander Steen, is coming off of a 63-point, 23-goal season with Skelleftea of the Swedish league. In the past two years, Lindstrom has scored 41 goals and tallied 117 points in Sweden. That experience in Europe has made Lindstrom an interesting watch in training camp.
The forward has already survived the team’s first round of cuts and will make his way into the final 30 this weekend. The indication is that Lindstrom has impressed the coaching staff and has as good a chance as any of the bubble-players to make the team’s opening night roster, perhaps even better. But he knows he will have to put on a strong showing in the next few weeks to cement a spot.
“Competition is hard,” said Lindstrom. “It’s the NHL. It’s the best players in the world here and it’s not easy to make it. For whatever reason, it didn’t work out so I went back to Europe. I feel like a much better player today than when I went over to Europe.”
Hitchcock said he won’t be fully evaluating Lindstrom for several more days.
“With him and (others), the guys who have primarily played in Europe, I’m not looking at gauging them for ten days,” Hitchcock said. “I don’t even want to evaluate them until mid-next week.”
At that point, a full-fledged fight will be on for one of the few remaining roster spots, and Lindstrom will have to separate himself from the pack in order to earn it. But Lindstrom has already made a name for himself in camp, and if the early indications are correct, he’ll have his name stamped on the back of a Blues jersey this season.
“He’s one of those guys who comes around, gets a spot, and tries to take advantage of it,” said Hitchcock. “I think he’s looking at this as a real opportunity.”