For Montreal Canadiens fans, Mattias Norlinder embodies two great hopes.
A genuinely dynamic offensive defenceman the likes of which the team hasn’t had since P.K. Subban. And a sassy Scandinavian with swagger.
Sorry, that second one isn’t per fans request. More so for quote-starved Habs reporters. No offence to Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen.
Yes, the kid you’ve only really seen on spectacular Twitter GIF’s will actually play an NHL game tomorrow night for the Montreal Canadiens. Norlinder skated at practice this morning next to David Savard and will presumably do so against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Bell Centre.
After a fairly impressive training camp where he didn’t look out of place, a lower-body injury cost the 21-year old the chance to make his big league debut much sooner. Head coach Dominique Ducharme gave him a rather long look at camp and did confirm then that he doesn’t want to convert the smooth-skating rearguard into Douglas Murray.
With three games of AHL hockey under his belt, the coach wants to see exactly where his development is at.
“Sometimes, with a young guy, when he’s just playing and trying to survive in the league, I don’t think he’s progressing…,” said Ducharme after the team’s practice in Brossard this afternoon. When asked about how willing he is to let Norlinder make the mistakes that he will inevitably make, Ducharme admitted it’s difficult to judge which mistakes are a result of growth and which are a result of trying not to drown.
“It’s a fine line between progressing and just hanging on,” said the head coach. “That’s where you need to make sure you do the right things for the player, the young players especially.”
Don’t expect Norlinder to simply hang on. He seems to be more the type to let a mistake vanish quickly from his mind and heave up another three-pointer, Steph Curry style.
Give him the rock, he’s feeling it!
“Everyone has a job, you need to do (your) job,” said Norlinder matter-of-factly about joining a struggling Habs side. “…There’s always going to be tough moments in your life and you just need to battle through it. So just keep pushing, every day.”
Pretty succinct for a kid who’s never played in the NHL before. Let alone the Montreal Canadiens.
“I think it’s pretty similar,” chuckled Norlinder when asked to compare the atmosphere playing for Frolunda and the scrutiny of playing for the Habs. “When you’re playing great, they’re fu,” catching himself just before uttering some profanity, “they’re supporting you every day. When you don’t play that good sometimes they can yell at you. So I think they’re pretty much the same.”
Ducharme didn’t confirm whether Norlinder will slot onto the first wave of the power-play, with Chris Wideman set to be a healthy scratch in favour of the Swede. That will likely be dictated by his start, with the young man himself admitting he’ll try and just settle into the first period of his first NHL game. But with Jeff Petry struggling in all phases of the game at the moment, it would be surprising not to see Norlinder get a shot at the role he seems earmarked to fill with the Habs.
Partner’s point of view
His defensive partner against the Penguins tomorrow night David Savard acknowledged that the two don’t exactly have much of a rapport with one another just yet. But Savard himself said he has previous experience playing with an offensive-minded defenceman.
“I think you’ve just got to take care of your defence first,” said Savard. “I’m pretty sure he’s going to jump every time he has a chance. I’ve played with a guy like (Zach) Werenski (in Columbus) who was the same kind of player and I think that was what the adjustment was for him. Just to make sure you focus on your defence and as soon as that is taken care of, usually when they see a chance to jump, they do it. And they’re really good at doing it, at picking their spot. I think if he does that he’ll be completely fine tomorrow.”
It will be interesting to see if Norlinder is able to judge when to join the attack and when to focus on the defensive side of his game. It’s surely not something that is learned instantaneously but rather with repetition. Especially considering that getting caught between two minds against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins could spell serious trouble.
“When you’re on the ice, you don’t really think about it,” said Norlinder casually about facing Crosby tomorrow night. “But, I mean, when I was growing up, he was my idol. But tomorrow, he will not be my idol,” smirked the Swede.
Yes, he’s a quote machine, that Mattias Norlinder. Will he be a scoring machine in the NHL as soon as this season? Unlikely. He’ll likely head back to Frolunda at some point. But the buckets of confidence he has bodes well for his future with the Montreal Canadiens.
And he’s essentially already a Montrealer with gems like this one.
“I have a car so I just drove around,” said Norlinder about acquainting himself with the city so far. “…It’s hard to drive here too to be honest, geez. F%&*ing one way streets all over.”
Cursing about driving in Montreal? The kid is already fitting in nicely.