Dallas Stars defenseman Nils Lundkvist hasn’t played since Nov. 26. The 22-year-old had a dip in his performance and has been a healthy scratch for the last three games.
Before the scratch, Lundkvist had recorded just a single point over the last 14 games and finished with a minus rating in five straight contests. He knew he had to be better and wasn’t shocked when he was pulled out of the lineup.
“Never fun to sit out, you want to play every game," he said. "But I understand it’s a hard game to play and you’ve got to play good every game. Feels like the last games that I played was a little too much up and down. I did some good things, did some bad things. You learn from it and wait for the next opportunity.”
While his performance was not great, the original plan from Stars Head Coach Pete DeBoer and his staff was for Lundkvist to only miss one game in order to reset. But three solid performances from Joel Hanley and a 2-0-1 record have made it hard to change things up and get him back in the lineup.
“It hasn’t been as much of what he hasn’t done or done,” DeBoer said. “The idea was for him to take a step back and reset. Preferably for a game and then right back in. But [Hanley] has played so well that we haven’t had that opportunity to put him back in. When you are in that position, you just have to keep yourself ready. You’re going to get another opportunity.”
Lundkvist went through a similar, albeit much more extensive situation last season with the New York Rangers. The defenseman played only 25 games all year, as he struggled to crack the lineup on any sort of consistent basis.
That dynamic is what led to the trade request and eventually him landing in Dallas.
Although it was hard at the time, that experience has made Lundkvist tougher.
Now in his second NHL season, he is able to draw on his time in New York to better understand what he needs to do and more importantly, how to stay confident and ready for his next shot.
“Yeah for sure. Last year helped me a lot,” he said. “You’re getting older, you’re getting more experienced, and you know what it’s more about. It’s never fun to sit out, but you can’t take it too hard either. We have six very good defensemen too. It’s a battle. Take the next opportunity.”
The NHL is a funny league. One night, you can be the hero while fans and media talk about you like you are the future of the franchise. But then the next couple of games go poorly, and you are sitting in the press box while everyone tries to figure out what went wrong. The margin for error is razor-thin.
Young players hit bumps in the road, it is expected. Lundkvist is aware that he still has room to grow and his coach has consistently shown confidence and belief in the potential of his defenseman. Sometimes, it is just how things play out.
“The difference between being good in this league and having trouble is so small, it’s just the small details,” he said. “Getting into battles, how you come out of battles, putting the puck in good places, skating more. It’s just small details. But it’s those that make the difference if you are playing good or playing bad.”
DeBoer said at Monday’s practice that they had not made any lineup decisions for Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. We will have to wait to find out if Lundkvist will return or if he will remain as a healthy scratch for the fourth consecutive game.