After the affable Emil Larmi decided two years in North America was enough, or perhaps the Pittsburgh Penguins organization decided, and Larmi went back to Finland, the Penguins prospect system was sans a goalie on American or Canadian soil. Enter Filip Lindberg.
The Penguins prospect pool has a pair of future hopefuls in Scandanavia with Joel Blomqvist (Finland) and Calle Clang (Sweden), but neither is making the trip across the ocean this year or perhaps next.
Alex D’Orio has bounced between Wheeling and WBS and generally doesn’t register as an NHL prospect. The summer signing of Louis Domingue will add a veteran presence and third NHL-capable goalie to the Penguins organization, but there’s a space to fill as the young, up-and-coming goalie.
Enter Lindberg. The Finnish-born netminder could have stayed at home to learn his craft but chose the unique route of U.S. college hockey at UMass.
“I feel like it’s a boom right now. A lot of Europeans, especially Finnish and Swedish players, like to go D1,” Lindberg said. “And I think it’s a good path because you get your education at the same time, and it’s a good league, and you’ve got all the opportunities to move forward if you’re good in that league.”
Lindberg was pretty “good in that league” as he won the 2020 national championship with a 3-0 record, a 0.33 goals-against average, a .986 save percentage, and two shutouts.
Pretty, pretty good.
The 6-foot-1 goalie isn’t a net-filler but more of a controlled goalie who uses his athleticism to get post to post. He certainly comes off as a confident and intelligent young man who knew what he wanted to do and when to do it. The Minnesota Wild drafted Lindberg in 2018 and could have turned pro at anytime since. Instead, he waited and went to the free-agent route.
“I just wanted to be ready. You know, I feel like three years, four years, is a good amount of time,” Lindberg replied to PHN. “You don’t want to rush into anything and not be ready. So I feel like three years was a good time for me to get better and be good enough to move forward.”
We can also note that Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ron Hextall was visibly excited when the Penguins signed Lindberg on July 28.
“Whenever you can get a good young goaltender, you’re obviously excited. But we’ve got the two young kids (Clang and Blomqvist), and now we have a couple of guys that are older,” Hextall side. “We’re excited to see him see him play this year. I would anticipate him certainly starting in the minors, but he showed a lot of promise last year and won the national championship. So exciting day for us in terms of signing Filip.”
In the Penguins prospect camp, Lindberg doesn’t have much competition. It’s only him and two goalies on amateur tryouts. He figures to slot as one of the top five, if not top four, goalies in the Penguins system.
It will be an adjustment to the pro game. Not every goalie is Spencer Knight, who turned pro after two years at Boston College and immediately impacted the Florida Panthers.
His future coach, J.D. Forrest, the WBS Penguins bench boss, broke it down–the transition isn’t easy.
“One of the things is just the release of the guys around here and the consistency where guys hit their spots. The other part of it, too, is you can’t let your guard down. There are dangerous players all over the ice, and if you’re not aware of where they are on the ice, you might get punished for it,” Forrest said. “So that read-and-react, the ability to adjust to the shot–it’s more the release than the speed and how quickly guys get it off (in) mid-stride and also just the deception that some of the shooters use that maybe he’s not used to seeing in college…
They pick a spot. They’re going to get there and get a position…There’s a lot of guys out here, you have no idea where they’re going to shoot, but (the shooters know). So Filip has to be able to read that. He’s looked great.”
Including the Pittsburgh Penguins backup goalie Casey DeSmith, and pending roster decisions after NHL training camps, there are about 10-14 college-trained goalies in the NHL and only a few starters (Thatcher Demko, Connor Hellebuyck, and Cam Talbot, and Knight could become starters).
It’s a road less traveled, but Lindberg got an education out of the deal, too.
He could have left UMass for Minnesota, and he could have picked a few different NHL teams. But he waited, and he picked the Pittsburgh Penguins.