Nils Lundkvist has been through this before.
Thanks to four seasons in the Swedish Hockey League, the Rangers rookie learned that you have to start as a sixth or seventh defenseman and earn the trust of the coaching staff before you start playing top-pair minutes. Perhaps that’s why Lundkvist has handled the mental challenge of fluctuating in and out of the lineup with poise, often identifying how it’s helped his development and taught him to never get too comfortable.
“You’re used to being back home, knowing your role and know that you’re going to play your minutes,” he said after practice Tuesday. “Coming here and starting from the beginning again and coming into a new team, getting to know everybody and getting to know your role, and starting to hopefully climb up and play more minutes. It’s also a start and you need to trust the process and not stress.
“I feel like I have good support from coaches, good support from the teammates, I’ve got everything I need to develop and be a good NHL player.”
Lundkvist said he sees similarities between how his career started with both the SHL’s Lulea HF and the Rangers. He seemingly has a mature understanding of where he falls among the Rangers’ defensemen and that he’ll need to be patient with himself as he continues to develop.
While Lundkvist has played in 15 of the Rangers’ 20 contests this season, the 21-year-old said he’s been able to identify areas of his game he needs to work on when watching the team from afar — such as creating more shots, moving his feet and joining the rush more.
Lundkvist brought up how he’s particularly learned a lot from watching the Rangers’ No. 1 defenseman Adam Fox. So what was the most helpful advice he received from the reigning Norris Trophy winner?
“In the beginning of the season he said, ‘The guys aren’t as smart as you think’ and to just go out there and have fun,” Lundkvist said with a smile.
As of late, however, Lundkvist feels he’s grown more and more comfortable each game. He noted that he feels he has a better understanding of how to have success in the NHL after roughly the first 10 games he participated in. Now, Lundkvist said he feels he’s been more involved in the Rangers’ game.
Lundkvist, who has two assists on the season, recorded a season-high three shots in the Rangers’ 5-2 win over the Bruins this past weekend. The young Swede has edged Jarred Tinordi out of the lineup the last two games and in seven of the last eight.
“We’re eight really good D’s who want to play here, too,” he said. “So it’s a competition every day and it’s eight really great guys. You want to play your best game every night and you don’t feel safe out there, too, and I think that’s a good thing. You need to improve, you can’t stay calm and just [be] like, ‘yeah, I’m going to play every game and relax.’
“You need to play your best game every night and develop and get more playing time like that. That’s the biggest thing, if you’re playing better, you’re usually getting more playing time, too.”