It seems as if the Rangers have been waiting for Nils Lundkvist about as long as they once waited for Igor Shesterkin.
Not quite, but if the 28th-overall selection of the 2018 draft pays equal dividends as the goaltender, the wait will surely have been worth it.
Lundkvist, who has yet to sign with the Blueshirts and is only 14 months from unrestricted free agency if he chooses to go that route, has been selected winner of the Salming Award as the Swedish Hockey League’s best defenseman by a panel of journalists in collaboration with Hall of Famer Borje Salming, himself.
“Despite his young years, Nils is already a complete player who will get even better,” Salming told the Lulea team website. “He moves the puck quickly and has a toxic shot on the power play. He is effective in his own zone.
“It’s so easy for Nils — he plays ice hockey.”
Lundkvist, selected with the first-rounder the Rangers acquired from Tampa Bay in the Ryan McDonagh-J.T. Miller deal, recorded 32 points in 52 games for Lulea, leading the SHL with 14 goals overall and eight on the power play. He is regarded as a dynamic offensive defenseman who would be expected to slide in on the Blueshirts’ right side next season.Nils LundkvistCharles Wenzelberg/New York Post
“I am extremely honored that Borje believes in me. It’s really great,” Lundkvist said. “I still get shivers when I watch video clips of how he was praised with minute-long standing ovations during the Canada Cup in 1976.”
Lundkvist will certainly compete for Team Sweden in the IIHF World Championships. Lulea commences its playoff quarterfinals on Sunday. Hence, it is not possible for the Blueshirts to sign him and get him into the lineup this season. The Rangers will retain his rights through June 1, 2022.
Julien Gauthier was designated as a healthy scratch for the 11th time, bumped from the lineup for Tuesday’s 8-4 victory over the Penguins at the Garden when David Quinn opted in favor of Phil Di Giuseppe to play on the fourth line with Vitali Kravtsov and Kevin Rooney.
There was no room for Brett Howden, either, the 23-year-old a healthy scratch himself after having missed the previous seven games after having contracted the coronavirus. Howden practiced with the team on Monday for the first time since going on the COVID-protocol list on March 22.
“You just be honest with the player and tell him what the situation is,” Quinn said of Gauthier. “We think Di Giuseppe gives us a little more simplicity in what we need against Pittsburgh. “Sometimes it’s just matchup driven.
“Julien has done some good things and he continues to improve, but right now and especially with Howden back and Kravtsov here, there’s more competition. The landscape of our forward group has changed with 14 forwards — we haven’t had that very much, if at all, since I’ve been here — and it does give us depth.
“Sometimes a guy who might be doing some good things and might be playing well might be out of the lineup,” the coach said. “There’s nothing wrong with competition. I think that can help elevate everybody’s game where you have that setup where you’ve got people who can come in and out of the lineup.”