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2020-21 Player Review: Oskar Lindblom, No. 23 in your programs and No. 1 in your hearts

The now-24-year-old returned to regular action last season after fighting Ewing’s sarcoma to win the Masterton Trophy.

New York Islanders v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

When you talk about perseverance, heart, character, and toughness, look no further than Flyers winger Oskar Lindblom.

After battling a rare form of bone cancer that robbed him of what was a breakout 2019-20 season, Lindblom did the unthinkable — returning that very season to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Given what a tremendous battle Lindblom was facing, truly remarkable stuff that he was able to work his way into play shape after losing a ton of weight undergoing treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma.

That taste of hockey propelled Lindblom into the offseason with sights set on getting fully back into shape and returning to his career that happened to be up the firm upswing prior to his diagnosis. His 18 points in 30 games at that time was tied for the team lead and he was well on his way to shatter his previous career-high of 17 goals with 11 already on the board to that point.

Showing up for the 2020-21 season starting in January, Lindblom worked hard to get his body back in his pre-diagnosis shape and even signed a new extension with the Flyers to boot. Lindblom acknowledged the challenges of returning to the Flyers in the previous postseason run, and that he pushed himself to the limit to get there.

With a truncated offseason and limits still in place to prevent normal offseason activity, Lindblom and other players were at a disadvantage getting ready for the 2020-21 season. Some players made it work and others didn’t, as noted by Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher. Lindblom wasn’t one of those players, but was certainly working from a standpoint of not just trying to maintain — but to rebuild.

That challenge showed on the ice as Lindblom had to adjust his game to accommodate the change in strength of his body. Having enjoyed early career success using his body to shield the puck and win battles, not having that same strength was both obvious and understandable — especially early on in the season.

As strength returned to his upper body and his skating stride, Lindblom looked more and more like the player we saw about to breakout just a season prior. Ultimately the numbers didn’t end up looking all that great overall, but there were signs of progress and that was the most important thing in terms of the body of the season for the Swede.

By The Numbers

In terms of that production, Lindblom’s numbers looked in 2020-21 looked similar to those he put up in 2018-19, when he put up 17 goals and 16 assists in 81 games. What does stick out though is that while his possession metrics were very strong in that age-22 season, they were — expectedly — not as strong this past season while still on the path to body recovery.

Basic Stats

Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
Games Played Goals Assists Points PIM Shots on Goal Shooting Percentage
50 11 7 18 9 58 14%

Part of what made the former fifth-round pick so valuable to the Flyers after making the jump to the NHL was that he was a rare possession monster and play driver on a team devout of them. Lindblom’s possession metrics were always ahead of his teammates by a healthy margin, something that wasn’t the case this past season.

5v5 On-ice Stats

Corsi For % Corsi For Relative GF% Expected Goals For % PDO
Corsi For % Corsi For Relative GF% Expected Goals For % PDO
49.19 -3.75 36.96 50.43 0.963

Also at fault is some generally bad luck for Lindblom as well. His expected goals for rate was average, meaning that he was helping generate chances but not seeing the rewards in the end. That’s backed up by PDO, which was dragged down by a putrid save percentage while he was on ice as the Flyers goaltending was horrendous in general in 2020-21 but particularly bad when No. 23 was out there.

Not only was he unlucky in that respect, but Lindblom also went through the season without reliable or consistent line mates as well. The Flyers’ bottom-six was a revolving door due to injuries, inconsistent play, and shuffling of bodies from the coaching staff. One of the players that Lindblom was saddled most with — Scott Laughton — provided a down season on the heels of a contract extension. Lindblom also spent time lugging around noted 5-on-5 possession killer James van Riemsdyk for some time as head coach Alain Vigneault juggled JVR from top line to bottom-six cog, often creating a heavier workload for guys like Lindblom and Laughton to pick up the slack.

Three Questions

Did they live up to our expectations?

After all Lindblom did to return to the lineup and given that he again wasn’t provided with a normal offseason to try and get his body back to his pre-diagnosis shape, it’s hard to pick apart his season too much. We just weren’t sure what to expect, and what we got was glimpses of the player that Lindblom used to be, but also witnessed some of his early season struggles to adapt his game.

In the end Lindblom progressed as the season went on and is still working daily to get his body back in shape and to the point that he was used to. As his body and strength return, we’d expect his game to follow suit, because his hands certainly didn’t look affected last season.

What do we/can we expect next season?

We’d really love to see Lindblom continue to progress and to get fully back in shape and comfortable with his strength to be able to play the game the way he did prior to his treatments. The fact that’s here and playing is paramount, and now it’s about taking those next steps in returning to the form he had prior. There’s no guarantee he’ll ever get there — the Flyers are betting that he will — but the focus should be on continued progress and hopefully setting Lindblom up for success in 2021-22 with regular line mates and being sure that he won’t be dragging around one-way players on the regular.

How would you grade their 2020-21 season?

As mentioned earlier, it’s hard to evaluate Lindblom with a normal lens given everything he’s been through in the last two years. He’d never want sympathy, and would be quick to point out that he wants to be better and get back to where he was before his diagnosis. The fact is that Lindblom is in almost unprecedented territory and turned in a quality NHL season basically less than a year removed from a rare bone cancer diagnosis. There’s no way to grade that, it’s just really tremendous that we’re writing in this space about 50 games Oskar Lindblom was able to play in 2020-21 after his young life could have possibly been taken away from him. A+

All stats via Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference unless otherwise noted.

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