ANAHEIM, Calif. – Although the Anaheim Ducks selected Hampus Lindholm with the sixth overall pick Friday night, the Swedish defenceman’s arrival was almost a secondary development on a busy draft day.
General manager Bob Murray prefaced his compliments for Lindholm and his sadness at the departure of traded defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky to voice his displeasure with star forward Bobby Ryan, who ripped the organization in a newspaper interview.
Ryan is angry about hearing his name in repeated trade rumours for much of the past 10 months, and the four-time 30-goal scorer from South Jersey said he would love to join the Philadelphia Flyers. Murray doesn’t comment on trade talks, but he wishes Ryan would pay less attention to the media.
“I’d just like to say I’m disappointed at this time about his comments, and I intend to talk to Bobby personally when I get back from the draft,” Murray said by phone from the draft in Pittsburgh.
Ryan’s angry comments became public shortly before the Ducks parted ways with Visnovsky, trading the veteran defenceman to the New York Islanders for a second-round pick in next year’s draft. Visnovsky was the NHL’s top-scoring defenceman with 68 points during the 2010-11 season, but was slowed by injuries throughout last season, managing just six goals and 21 assists.
The 35-year-old Slovak also has just one year left on his contract.
“At this time we’re changing the direction of our team a little bit,” Murray said. “He’s an offensive defenceman, and I think we have some younger players that can play (that role). It’s a hockey move, and we’re attempting to change a little bit the look on that back end.”
Although Lindholm won’t help the Ducks for at least another year, Murray believes he is a long-term candidate to fill that job for many seasons to come. That is why Anaheim took a big risk to land a player who could provide a major reward.
The Ducks bypassed several higher-rated defence prospects to choose the 6-foot-2 Lindholm, whose all-around game has impressed Murray since he first saw Lindholm in person in February. Murray returned to Sweden in April to watch him again, and the smooth-skating defenceman was remarkably impressive in his pre-draft fitness workouts.
Although he will stay in the Swedish Elite League to play for Rogle BK for at least another year, Anaheim hopes Lindholm will be an heir to its tradition of high-scoring defencemen including Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger and Visnovsky.
“We’re really happy and delighted to have this young man,” Murray said. “We think he’s going to be a quality player for a long, long time.”
Lindholm realized the Ducks were interested in him, but he still got a charge when he heard his name. He will visit California for the first time next week.
“It’s like, whoa, so early,” Lindholm said. “But it was a very good experience. I didn’t know I was going to get picked so early, but I love the guys there, all the scouts and (executives). … I’m very proud to be with the Anaheim Ducks. It’s a very good team, and it’s going to be a lot of good years in the future.”
Lindholm made his pro debut last year for Rogle, playing 20 games as the club’s big-league team gained elevation to the Elite League. He had four assists at the World Junior Championships for Sweden’s silver medallists , and the NHL’s Central Scouting Service rated him fourth among European skaters.
The Ducks also appreciate Lindholm’s smarts: He took university courses while playing for Rogle last year. Lindholm’s mentor is Kenny Jonsson, the former Islanders captain who served as Rogle’s assistant coach for defence last year.
“I talk to him about almost everything,” Lindholm said. “He’s a role model. It’s going to be good to have him around.”
The Ducks already have a European flavour with leading scorer Teemu Selanne and fellow Finn Saku Koivu alongside Swiss stars Jonas Hiller and Luca Sbisa, and Anaheim has added two Swedes in recent weeks. Respected Swedish goalie Viktor Fasth signed with the Ducks earlier in the off-season and is likely to be Hiller’s backup next season.