Saturday, September 13, 2014

Older, wiser Lindstrom takes another crack at NHL

Former Blue Jackets second round pick wants 
another chance in NHL, looking to earn it with Blues

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Columbus Blue Jackets placed plenty of emphasis on what Joakim Lindstrom could bring to their franchise, when they used a second round pick in 2002 on the Skelleftea, Sweden native.

Lindstrom was a young, naive 22-year-old when he played his first NHL game in 2005. To say his stint with Columbus, which lasted 37 games spanning three seasons (four goals, four assists), didn't go according to plan would be stating things mildly despite putting up terrific numbers (61 goals, 151 points in 163 games) for the franchise's American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.
(Skelleftea AIK photo)
Joakim Lindstrom will try to make another NHL comeback with the Blues
in 2014-15.

But starting in 2008, Lindstrom's NHL life would soon take some dramatic twists.

Lindstrom would get traded to the Anaheim Ducks for the Ducks' fourth round pick in a series of moves that saw Lindstrom get claimed on waivers by the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 3 and again by the Ducks four days later. He would eventually be traded to the Phoenix Coyotes on Dec. 8 and finally get onto the ice again.

Lindstrom had nine goals and 20 points in 44 games for the Coyotes in the 2008-09 season but decided to return to Sweden in 2010. He came back to play 16 games for the Colorado Avalanche in 2011, picking up two goals and five points, but would return to Skelleftea on Dec. 2, 2011 after signing as a free agent, where he spent the past three seasons.

Life was good for Lindstrom, who was the league MVP of the Swedish Hockey League in the regular season and playoffs last season.

"It's been kind of neat to have my mom, dad and brother in the stands," Lindstrom said. "We had a really good team, a good system back there, worked extremely hard with my training and my skating."

But now at 30, Lindstrom is taking another crack at the NHL. This time, with the Blues after he signed a one-year, $700,000 contract. And this time, Lindstrom plans on making it a permanent stay.

Why will it work this time? Lindstrom, who had 23 goals and 63 points in 55 regular season games along with six goals and 18 points in 14 postseason games for Skelleftea AIK last season, feels he's learned through several ups and downs.

"Experience, I'm older, but I also think I'm a lot stronger, way better skater than I was," said Lindstrom, who arrived in St. Louis in time for his first informal skate with Blues teammates Friday. "My compete level is up. ... I've been around a little bit. I never get too high, never get too low.

"... I'm a way better player now than I was last time I came over here. I don't think I would have come over here again if I didn't truly feel that I'm a better player now."

Lindstrom was brought in by Blues general manager Doug Armstrong to compete for a top-nine role, along with several other players. He's not guaranteed a job for the 2014-15 Blues team that looked to fortify its forward position. But Lindstrom understands what's at stake, yet took the chance to leave the comforts of Sweden to get another crack at the NHL.

"The NHL is where you want to be," Lindstrom said. "It's been my goal to come back and play. This is where I want to be, want to play. I want to compete with the best players in the world.  ... I don't think I would have jumped on this if I didn't believe that.

"I think it's a great opportunity for me to come here. They have an unbelievable team here. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity."

Having a familiar face to help in the process doesn't hurt Lindstrom's chances. He has been a longtime and close friend of the Blues' Alexander Steen, who highly endorses adding his buddy to the mix. The two have been friends since "14 or 15 years old," according to Lindstrom.

"He's extremely skilled," Steen said of Lindstrom. "He knows how to find the net. He's very approachable. You guys will love him. He's an honest guy who works hard. I think he's on the quiet side. He's not going to make a lot of noise in the room, but when you get to know him, he's a great guy. We're best friends for a reason.

"We've been talking about the possibility of being able to win the Stanley Cup together and we feel that we have the team that is capable of it. ... Almost every summer we talked about the possibility of playing with each other again one day. We haven't been in the position until now. ... To get an opportunity like this, it's extremely special. We're both extremely pumped and excited about the year."

Added Lindstrom: "It's great the way life goes sometimes. We always joked about it that it would be fun to play against, but I never thought it was going to happen on the same team, and here we are. It's great motivation.

"It's always great to have familiar faces when you're coming to a new team and a new city. If I have any questions, or practical, whatever, it's always good to have a friend around to kind of ask."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock calls Lindstrom the "wildcard" of the group looking to push into the top 12 forwards.
(Skelleftea AIK photo)
Joakim Lindstrom (middle) was the Swedish Hockey League's regular
season and playoff MVP last season. He's looking at a return to the NHL
with the Blues this season.

"I had him when he was first breaking in and he was just emerging," Hitchcock said. "He's 30 years old now and is a much different player when he first broke in.

"He has the ability to break into our top nine and he's a guy that is looking at it as a tremendous opportunity. If he can come in and play, he can help us a lot."

Lindstrom is keeping an open mind. A job isn't a guarantee. Competition will be fierce, and he understands what's at stake.

"My expectations for myself is to just go out there and battle and compete absolutely as far as I can playing my game," Lindstrom said. "See where that takes me. 

"A lot of things can happen, no doubt. Competition is hard, no question. A lot of good players. This is one of the top teams in the league the last couple years. It's a good challenge for me. I'm ready to battle."

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