David Rundblad and Robin Lehner are two of hockey's best prospects. Both happen to hail from Sweden, and both happen to be property of the Ottawa Senators.
David Rundblad said the thing he likes most about North America so far is "the steak." It's a good thing for him because one of the things Rundblad will have to do is beef up to compete at the NHL level. The 6'2, 190-pound defenceman looked as thin as he did skilled and confident during the three-game NHL Rookie Tournament in Oshawa on Sept. 10th - 13th.
A lot is expected of Rundblad, 20, who came to North America three weeks ago to play for the Ottawa Senators. He has been hyped because of his incredible 50 points in 55 games for Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League (SEL) last season. Rundblad finished third in SEL scoring and is only the second defenceman to break the 50-point barrier in the SEL. Rundblad was surprised by the magnitude of his success.
"I had Anders Forsberg...he's a really good coach and he gave me lots of ice-time and lots of power play time, but I don't know what happened. They (pucks) just started to go in. I couldn't imagine I would score 50 points in one season," said Rundblad.
Aside from his slim stature, Rundblad's road to the NHL will be complicated by his unfamiliarity with the smaller North American rinks.
"I just want to play some games - get used to the smaller ice. I've played on the small ice a couple of times at the Junior World Championships three years ago."
Last Saturday's (Sept 10th) 4-0 win over Pittsburgh's prospects was Rundblad's first competitive game on the smaller rinks in three years so it's going to take some time to adjust.
"I felt good in my first game but it's hard to say. It's too early to know what's going to happen but I'm looking forward to it," he said.
Rundblad will be helped by some Swedish teammates in Ottawa who should make the transition easier. Captain Daniel Alfredsson especially will be there to help the young Swede adjust.
"I've been there (Ottawa) almost three weeks now. I've had a really good time. They're both nice people - Erik (Karlsson) and Daniel (Alfredsson) so it's fun to be here. Daniel has talked to me and told me a little bit about what to expect."
Despite his obvious skill set, Rundblad's performance was inconsistent throughout the tournament. His stick handling and passing are elite, but he took a lot of chances with long passes through the neutral zone and was careless rushing the puck. He clearly wasn't concentrating on his defensive game, but as he said, he's trying to adjust to the small ice. He has a lot of work ahead of him this season, but he's as skilled as advertised.
Ottawa's rookies won all three games in the rookie tournament against prospects from Pittsburgh, Chicago and Toronto. Perhaps the tournament’s best player was elite goaltending prospect Robin Lehner, a huge (6'4, 225 pounds) goalie who has already stated he will challenge Craig Anderson for the starter's job in Ottawa.
Lehner was the MVP of the Calder Cup Playoffs as Ottawa's AHL affiliate in Binghamton won the Calder Cup last season. Ottawa's rookie tournament coach Kurt Kleinendorst (Binghamton's head coach) was unapologetic about playing Lehner in the rookie tournament after Lehner's short summer.
"It doesn't hurt for these young players and he's still a young player and I can't think that by watching him out there today (Sept. 10th vs. Pittsburgh) that it hurt him in any way. He's going to come out of here with at least two games under his belt and these aren't scrimmages," said Kleinendorst.
When asked about his summer, Lehner got straight to the point.
"It was short, but it was fun. I tried to enjoy it. I started working out a little later than I do usually. With a long season you try to get your mind off it a little bit...I'm happy with the summer."
Lehner shut out Pittsburgh's prospects 4-0 and beat the Leafs' prospects 4-3 in overtime. He looked very solid in goal, plays the angles really well and uses his huge chest and shoulders to take away the upper part of the net when he goes into the butterfly. Lehner could be a solid backup this season and is only a season away from being a potential starter.