To say that Mattias Norlinder’s 2021-22 season was a disappointment is an understatement. He started playing well in the Champions Hockey League, running Frölunda’s power play leading to both goals and assists. However, Norlinder got hurt in a pre-season game with the Montreal Canadiens, and the rehabilitation process continued in Montreal. Still, Norlinder got back and played both in the AHL and the NHL, before returning to Sweden under some less-flattering circumstances, for the player and the club. It seems the new management was more interested in listening to the player’s wishes on where he played out the year.
Frölunda had to act with Norlinder being in North America for an extended period of time, and he had lost his regular role on the power play by the time he returned, and had been demoted in the lineup as well. On top of that, Norlinder got injured upon his return to Frölunda as well, being held out of the lineup even longer.
With injuries running rampart in Frölunda through the end of the season, Norlinder actually shone in a bigger role in the most important games. During the playoffs, he was arguably Frölunda’s best defenceman. He enjoys the spotlight during the sharp end of the season, and has regularly stepped up in those matches.
Having gained some experience in Montreal, Norlinder came back with a more physical style of play, and tried to play more aggressively. Playing lower down the lineup also gave him the role to do just that, rather than running the offence. It was a mixed bag of results; in some games he stood out, and in others he ended up over-committing and ending up out of position.
With an up-and-down season, it is time for Norlinder to really show that he can play in North America. Without a split focus and without a management desperate to showcase the new toy, things can only go up for him.
Few players in the ranking have the range of positions that Norlinder sees, getting a vote as high as 10 and as low as 32. The majority have him in the 10s, with the community as a whole ranking him at 18.
Top 25 Under 25 History
After a few years inside the top 5, he falls down to where he entered the list back in 2019.
I would think that fall is down to circumstances in which he left Montreal last December, as well as a season that was hampered by injuries and a usage that was limited until the playoffs.
History of #16
Norlinder shines in the offensive aspects of the game; be it with his passes, his skating up with the puck, zone exits and entries, or running the power play. Added to this list is a hard, but not always accurate, slapshot that he has stared to use more and more.
His game is built on the vision and hockey IQ that he possesses, and when it all combines it works fantastically. The dynamic skating, the edge-work, and quick turns add layers that can cause havoc for the opposing team.
I maintain that his gap control in the defensive zone is his biggest weakness. At times he ends up between a rock and a hard place, not committing to either which usually leads to high-danger chances against.
The hockey sense that is evident on the offensive side is rarely seen in defensive duties. When things happen fast and there is movement by the offence which leads to changing coverage, or when he needs to cover a new opponent, that’s where he loses position and can be outsmarted. It is something that he will need to work on a lot more.
Last year I wrote that he suffered a loss of focus once a game, and I stand by that. The situation when Norlinder returned to Sweden and lost his role clearly affected him mentally for a few months as well. With focus on the North American games this time, I don’t see that being a problem, but it is something to look for.
He has started to play more physically in situations, clearly by choice after the experience he had in North America. I wouldn’t call it a strength, but it’s not the same weakness as it used to be.
Last year was supposed to be a chance to get a taste of the NHL before returning to Sweden. This year is really a make-or-break season for the young Swede who needs to prove that he isn’t just talk, and can actually back up some of the skills he has shown while developing in Sweden.
In order to get the best out of Norlinder, he needs to get his mindset right. He is a player who thrives when he has the confidence of the coach, but just as importantly he needs to believe in himself. Last year’s time in North America was a loss, coming back to Sweden with his tail between his legs, and that wreaked havoc on his confidence.
I would expect him to get time with the Canadiens this year. It will probably not be as a second-pairing defenceman but rather as a power-play specialist in limited five-on-five minutes. The question remains: Can he earn a bigger role out for himself, or is this is where Norlinder will plateau?
Anton Rasegård and Patrik Bexell discuss Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Mattias Norlinder, with Fredrik Janlind from Gothenburg Post as an added guest with regards to Mattias Norlinder.