TORONTO – Two bronze medals tucked into his mother’s home somewhere in Edmonton are reminders of Jamie Lundmark’s international service for Canada. He once played on a line with Dany Heatley, a player Lundmark watched on television again the other night, chasing a new medal at the Vancouver Olympics.
Lundmark is pursuing his own goal, albeit one less glorified, and contained for the moment to a chilly arena in the west end of Toronto. A decade removed from back-to-back third-place finishes at the world junior championships, the 29-year-old is fighting to earn steady employment with the Maple Leafs.
Once a can’t-miss-kid touted by NHL Central Scouting, a gifted forward taken ninth overall by the New York Rangers, Lundmark is hoping to use the last 21 games of the season to prove he can play. He wants to accomplish some of the goals he set for himself back when he was 19, representing Canada and set to become a star.
“It seems like a long time ago,” Lundmark said with a grin Thursday. “A lot has gone on since then. I’ve been in a lot of different places, played on a lot of different teams.”
Toronto is the latest whistle stop on his quest to find a home in the NHL. The Leafs claimed Lundmark off waivers from the Calgary Flames just before the league-mandated roster freeze took effect before the Olympics, becoming his fifth NHL team in a decade.
In that time, he has only played in 280 regular season games, with 39 career goals and 57 assists. Lundmark had scored 40 goals in one season with the Moose Jaw Warriors, in junior, and was ranked among the top five North American prospects heading into his draft class.
The Rangers picked him, a few spots below where the Vancouver Canucks selected the Sedin twins and 129 spots ahead of where the Buffalo Sabres took goaltender Ryan Miller, who has emerged as an international star for the U.S. at the Olympics.
“He’s gifted and smooth,” New York forward Adam Graves told a reporter at the time. “He’s got a bit of Stevie Yzerman in him, the way he handles the puck.”
Lundmark struggled to crack a roster already stocked with veteran forwards such as Mark Messier, Alex Kovalev and Bobby Holik. His travels between the NHL and the AHL began quickly, and have never really stopped, taking him to outposts such as San Antonio, Cleveland and Hartford.
“He’s a first-rounder who went to the big city,” Calgary Flames general manager Darryl Sutter told a reporter four years ago. “I think that had an impact on him.”
Lundmark was ultimately traded to the Phoenix Coyotes, and tried to catch on with the Los Angeles Kings and the Calgary Flames before landing with the Leafs. Toronto returned to the practice ice on Wednesday for the first time since the Olympic break began.
“A first-rounder going into New York is obviously a lot of pressure,” he said. “I was young, but also, our team was old. We had a lot of veteran, all-star players who needed to play minutes. Really, I don’t think I learned a lot in the first couple years of my career, and I think that kind of set me back.”
The teaching available to young players, he said, is much better these days.
“I think I kind of missed out on that in my first couple of years in New York,” Lundmark said. “But I think, along the way, I’ve kind of picked up a lot of things that maybe I should have learned when I was younger.”
He has played in Italy, and he has bundled his wife and children to Moscow to continue his career. They enjoyed life in Russia, but watching NHL games on television reminded him of his original goals, prompting him to return to give it another try.
“I’ve only been here two days and, obviously, I don’t really know what’s going to happen with me over the next week or so,” he said. “But I’m here, and I’m obviously going to play my best, and I think it’s a great opportunity to come in here and, hopefully, get a good opportunity to show people what I can do.”