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Rocket Review: Mattias Norlinder using focus, stability to get back on track

After a tough year, the Canadiens prospect is looking like himself again.

Club de Hockey Canadien

Through two games in the American Hockey League, Mattias Norlinder has already matched his two points he earned in six games a year ago. What stands out more than the points themselves is the fact that he looks like a completely different player.

Last year, Norlinder in the AHL was tentative. He wasn’t using the skills that made him a top prospect, and his adjustment to the smaller ice surface meant that his defence was not where it needed to be, either.

This year, Norlinder is jumping up into the play, he’s trying to make plays, and the result is a player who once again looks like a future NHLer.

After a year that saw him get injured in the pre-season and then sent to Laval to get back into game shape before a few games in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens, and eventually being returned to Sweden. Then, after his SHL season ended, he was back in Laval for the playoffs before his year ended with an injury.

This year, he wants to be in North America, and doesn’t have his focus split.

“The biggest difference is that I know I will be here the full year,” Norlinder said. “Last year, maybe I was somewhere else, if I wanted to go back home or something like that. Now I know I want to be here.”

“He played with a little bit more jam,” said Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle after the team’s home opener last week. “That’s what we want out of Norlinder. He needs to get in there and be assertive. I thought he was good at skating the puck, moving the puck.”

The coach also noticed something else different with the defenceman. By the end of the game, Norlinder was running the first power play unit, and he started the three-on-three overtime period.

“Confidence,” Houle said. “I think he’s getting a little bit more comfortable with the size of the ice. He’s going to get some big minutes so he’s got to take the bull by the horns and run with it.”

The need for speed

Alex Belzile was talking about the team’s comeback to force overtime in the season opener when he led himself down a tangent.

“We’re going to be a very fast team this year,” the captain said. “It’s a lot better to have Anthony Richard on our side than against us, we remember him from Syracuse last year. We have a lot of guys who are extremely fast and it’s hard for the defenders on the other team.”

“We want to try and exploit teams,” Houle said. “Richard had a breakaway. [Brandon Gignac] had a breakaway. If we would have scored on one of those, it would have been a different game. We’re going to try and use our speed to our advantage.”

Mešár’s perspective

When Filip Mešár spoke to the media last Friday, he likely already knew he was going to be sent to Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League. Throughout his time with the Canadiens and Rocket, he showed an ability to be honest with himself, saying it will take him several years to be ready for the NHL, and looked primed to return to the AHL next year as a better player.

“I can play at this level,” Mešár said. “But I need maybe one year to get better at some details and be more experienced. The hockey is something different than what I grew up with but I think I will be good with it.”

He also provided an honest evaluation of his play. After being pushed off the puck late in a shift leading to a Senators goal, he thought that was why he played less in the third period. That wasn’t the case, according to Houle, but Mešár still provided the media with an explanation and understanding of what he could have done better.

“It was a long shift for me, I was out there for over a minute so I was tired,” Mešár said. “I should have gotten the puck to the corner. I tried to dangle it or something, some guy took it back. Maybe I should have played it to the corner.”

The Rocket will look to get their first win of the season on Wednesday when they face off against the Springfield Thunderbirds, their opponent in the Eastern Conference final last season. The game will be broadcast on RDS2 and AHL.TV as well as BPM Sports Radio and TSN690 starting at 7:00 p.m.