Last week, Tomas Montén, coach for Sweden’s Under-20 Team, spoke with Eyes On The Prize, and the conversation obviously turned to Montreal Canadiens prospect Mattias Norlinder, whom Mr. Montén coached in the 2020 World Junior Championship. The Swedish staff had a clear role in mind for the defender going into the tournament as Sweden had one of the best blue lines in recent memory.
“Last year he had a good season in Modo, but he had a tough season with the national team. We picked him in February but he got injured — he got a concussion I think — then we picked him for the World Junior Summer Showcase in Michigan and he was injured as well in the summer [a scaphoid bone fracture]. The first time he could play with us was in November, and that’s like three weeks before we pick the team, and it was the only experience he had for playing in the National Team. He hasn’t played at a younger age either; he hasn’t played for the U18s and teams like that.”
“[Norlinder] is a mobile defender. He is a great skater, he can skate the puck and he can move the puck. The concern for us was if he could play for us as a sixth or seventh defender. If he could play PK for us, and if he could play a shutdown role. Because we knew if we were going to get [Rasmus] Sandin and then we had [Nils] Lundkvist we had, maybe, [Adam] Boqvist, then we had [Victor] Söderström and [Philip] Broberg, we didn’t have a spot for him as a top-two defenceman, nor on one of our two power-play lines.
“But from day one we just explained to him what kind of role we wanted to give him, what we wanted to see from him, and he just did it. I think he did it straight away. He took his minutes, some games he played more, some games he payed less, but I think he did that role very [well], and I think he got a good experience from the World Juniors.”
As many readers know, I have compared Norlinder a few times to Broberg. Does Mr. Montén agree with that comparison?
“Both Broberg and Norlinder are great skaters; both of them are really strong skaters with the puck. I think both can join the rush and jump in [on the attack]. I think the thing for Mattias is that when he played in Modo he took a lot of chances — maybe too many — so I think that was a thing he changed when he played in the World Juniors, and I think that will change a little bit in his game when he gets to Frölunda as well, when he will play in the SHL.
“I think Broberg did the same. In AIK in HockeyAllsvenskan during his draft year he was more of a ‘run-and-gun’ and this year he played on our shutdown pairing together with Tobias Björnfot in the World Juniors. They started every PK, they started every defensive-zone faceoff and he did a great job. I think both of those Ds are the kind of Ds that will be the kind of Ds that are going to be the top trademarks for the NHL. I think the Doughtys, the Karlssons, you always want those, but I think behind those top guys you need guys that can both move the puck and defend, and I think that’s what the type gives you; the Broberg and Norlinder.”