Training camp is a time for special interest stories. Seasoned vets and rookies alike sit down with their teams’ communications staffs and talk about their summers, their history with the team – or for newcomers their introduction, and their hopes and dreams for the seasons. However, no team is going to provide their fans with false hope about a prospect’s chances to help the team with stories of unreasonable expectations for the season. They may ask an AHL-bound player about his aspirations for the year, but will keep their own statements at least relatively grounded.
So when the Pittsburgh Penguins publish an article about premier college free agent signing Filip Lindberg hoping to win a job with the NHL team in his first pro season, it isn’t just puffery. When the team writes that “Lindberg is in [a] competition for playing time amongst the other netminders here in Pittsburgh as he looks to earn a starting role”, it doesn’t require much reading between the lines. It appears that the reigning NCAA National Champion, at just 22 years old, will actually have a chance to battle for a roster spot this preseason.
The Penguins were expected to bring in a veteran goaltender this off-season following inconsistency issues with starter Tristan Jarry and injury concerns with backup Casey DeSmith. Louis Domingue is not exactly what fans were expecting. Instead, Lindberg was the real value addition to the crease this summer. A seventh-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2019 following his freshman season at UMass, Lindberg had far outplayed his draft stock by the time he decided to leave college early and turn pro this year, spurning Minnesota for free agency in the process. In three NCAA seasons, Lindberg never posted a GAA over 2.00 nor a save percentage below .927. In 50 appearances for the Minutemen, he recorded a stunning .937 SV% and 1.55 GAA and, unsurprisingly, a .711 points percentage. This culminated in an NCAA Tournament performance for the ages, earning two shutouts for a .986 save percentage and 0.33 GAA in three games en route to UMass’ first ever title.
As accomplished as he may be at the college level, is Lindberg really ready for the NHL as a first-year pro? Maybe not for most NHL teams, but the Penguins have limited options. Jarry, 26, still appears to be locked in as the team’s starter, especially with another season left on his contract. However, 30-year-old DeSmith who has had struggles with injuries and inconsistency and is in the final year of his deal with the Penguins may not have much left to offer. Even if DeSmith begins the season on the NHL roster, he may not last. Would it really then benefit Pittsburgh to bring in journeyman Domingue over potential future NHL starter Lindberg? A strong performance in camp would be a good start for the college star, but may not be enough to win him a job outright. However, continued excellence in the AHL, including stealing starts from Domingue, could quickly put Lindberg in line for an NHL shot and perhaps even a full-time job in year one.
Before too long, even the starter’s job could belong to the lightning-quick netminder. Lindberg already unseated one Matt Murray in his career. Who’s to say he can’t do the same to Matt Murray’s replacements in Pittsburgh?