Mattias Norlinder had a roller-coaster season in 2020-21, starting out strong but faltering due to injuries, then coming back to be arguably Frölunda’s best player in the playoffs, especially in the quarter-final series against Rögle.
The Montreal Canadiens have had their eyes on the defender for a long time, and Rob Ramage summed it up best during a press conference in December when he answered the question about the defender with an “oof” rather than a full sentence.
The club signed Norlinder to an entry-level contract on June 3, while still deep into a playoff run. Did they already know about the ramifications of Shea Weber’s injury? Montreal hasn’t really signed prospects early out of Europe recently, waiting for Artturi Lehkonen, Lukas Vejdemo, and Jesse Ylönen to finish their European contracts and letting them develop slowly. Pouncing on Norlinder to get him on an NHL contract was an unusual step for the organization.
Norlinder told Eyes On The Prize that he was going to rookie camp in Montreal before the season starts, another unusual step for the Canadiens. They asked Sebastian Collberg to come over for rookie camp in 2014 after having signed an entry-level deal, but he never really succeeded in Frölunda after that, and Skellefteå coach Robert Ohlsson (Frölunda’s forward coach at that time) explained that he lost his place on the first power-play unit because he left for Canada. Then Toronto prospect Andreas Johnsson took that spot while Collberg was in Canada and there was no reason to change it after Collberg’s return.
While Montreal has learned from the past with Collberg, it comes as a surprise that Norlinder would come for rookie camp and risk his standing in the SHL.
What has changed from the seasons prior to this one with Norlinder? The Seattle Kraken expansion draft is one thing. The Canadiens lost a defender from the organization, Cale Fleury, to reduce their complement of young replacement options. Weber’s injury is also an unknown element that could open up a roster spot that Norlinder can fill. While he isn’t ready for the top pairing, he could slot in further down the lineup, and have other players move up.
Would Norlinder be ready for the NHL? That is a question that remains to be answered. In my honest opinion, talent-wise he is; the problem is still consistency. He is a first- or second-line roster player for Frölunda, and would most likely lead one of the power-play units. All things point to the fact that Montreal considers Norlinder ready, and a possibility for the opening night.
Montreal had one Swedish defenceman, Erik Gustafsson, on the roster last season. It might be another one stepping out onto the ice at the Bell Centre come October.