From trade package sweetener to the top defensive pair, Ryan Lindgren has become the heartbeat of the Rangers in just five years.
No one could’ve foreseen that the 20-year-old prospect the Rangers acquired — as part of a haul from the Bruins in exchange for Rick Nash — in February 2018 would eventually serve as the team’s strongest motor.
That’s just how it happened for the Rangers and Lindgren.
And no matter how tight the NHL’s cap constraints are, Lindgren’s integral role on the Rangers will still ring true next summer.
“When I got traded here, you never know what’s going to happen,” Lindgren told The Post after practice in Tarrytown on Monday. “As soon as I got here and I started playing for the Rangers, there was no other place I’d rather be. I’ve loved my time here and want to be here as long as I can.”
Lindgren is entering a contract year for the second time in his career, but the circumstances surrounding his impending restricted free agency feel different this time around.
New York Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren skates with the puck last season.for the NY POST
In the past three seasons, during which Lindgren carried a cap hit of $3 million per campaign, it’s become more apparent than ever just how vital the Minnesota native is to the flow of the Rangers’ game.
Anybody who’s watched the Blueshirts, with and without Lindgren, can tell the difference.
Every player in the Rangers locker room — especially his longtime D partner Adam Fox — will tell you that it’s just not the same when Lindgren isn’t on the ice.
That alone is cause for prioritizing re-signing Lindgren either this season or early next summer.
Lindgren said it doesn’t matter to him if negotiations begin now or later.
“I’m not trying to think about it,” he said. “I know it’s a cliché answer. You do your best not to think about it and just go out there and play your game, have fun and see what happens.”
Stakes are always higher during a contract year, but for Lindgren, it could end up being a unique season regardless.
New head coach Peter Laviolette has expressed an inclination to switch up the defensive pairs that have been skating together for years.
There’s a solid chance Lindgren won’t start the season alongside Fox, with whom he’s grown as a person and player since their days together as teenagers with the U.S. National Team Development Program.
New York Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren (55) wins the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award last season.Corey Sipkin for the NY POST
“Hard worker,” Laviolette said of his early impressions of Lindgren. “He’s a fierce competitor. Get to see him [from] behind the bench [in the exhibition game against the Islanders on Tuesday], so that’ll be good. … Certainly a guy that has been counted on here for a few years now to be a real presence on the back end, and a real leader for this team.”
Lindgren is a two-time winner of the organization’s Player’s Player Award, which is voted on annually by the team and given to the player “who best exemplifies what it means to be a team player.”
Last season, the 25-year-old blueliner also won the fan-voted Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award as a player who “goes beyond the call of duty.”
With seven goals and 56 assists in 257 career NHL games, Lindgren isn’t a mainstream star player like some of his Rangers teammates.
To the Rangers, however, Lindgren is much more than that.
“First off, he’s a great guy and you look up to him in the locker room,” Braden Schneider said of Lindgren. “I think, with him, he is always ready to go. You know he’s putting everything that he has, every game, every practice and it’s easy to follow a guy like that because you know he’s here to work. You know he’s here to win. I think it just passes through every guy. He’s an awesome teammate and I’m glad we have him.”