North American audiences haven't seen much of Esa Lindell and if you ask the Swedes, they would have preferred not to have seen him at all this year.
Lindell, an offensive defenseman, scored thirty seconds into the gold medal game at the world juniors in Malmo, staking underdog Finland to a lead in a hotly-contested match that they would never trail.
"They had home-ice advantage, so we didn't have the pressure," Lindell said. "It was a good start for us. The rink went quiet."
That it did. And the home side's jubilation would also be doused in overtime, when Buffalo Sabres prospect Rasmus Ristolainen wheeled in from the blueline and potted the winner for Finland.
"We had a pretty good team and we played as a team," Lindell said. "That was important."
Lindell, who was in Texas for his third Dallas Stars development camp, has aged out of the world juniors, so now his focus is on next season, when he will join a new team in Finland. The 6-foot-3 defenseman had been playing for Jokerit, but that franchise will be joining the KHL, the first Finnish team to do so. Lindell, among others, are switching squads to stay in their home league and the 20-year-old will suit up for Assat Pori, a team that developed players such as Leo Komarov and Joel Armia in recent years.
Pori, located a couple hours northwest of Helsinki (where Jokerit is based), may not be as big as the Finnish capital Lindell is departing from, but his plan is to come over to North America after the 2014-15 campaign anyways. It will be tough the youngster to earn his way right onto the Stars, a team that already has defensive defenseman Patrik Nemeth and mammoth blueliner Jamie Oleksiak knocking on the door, but Lindell could do worse than joining Texas in the American League, a franchise that just won the Calder Cup (Nemeth, in a rare offensive feat, scored the winning goal) and will offer him a place to round out his game.
"I'm big and better in the offensive zone," he said. "I need to be better in the defensive zone."
On top of the older prospects, Lindell will have to compete with Finnish world junior teammate Julius Honka, Dallas' first round selection in 2014. Honka, who plays in the Western League for Swift Current, is smaller but more dynamic, meaning Lindell is right to be focusing on improving his all-around game.
Fortunately for the Stars, that sort of healthy competition can only help a franchise that is looking stacked up front with players such as Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and now Jason Spezza. And if they ever need a defenseman who can silence a crowd on the road in the future, Lindell has some experience.