Lundin Honing His Game in Norfolk
The Norfolk Admirals are to the point in their season where their players are battling as much for standing within the parent Tampa Bay Lightning as they are against AHL foes. That's because Norfolk will miss the playoffs, so the only things left to fight for are pride and a chance to impress the big bosses down in Florida.
Admirals defensemen Mike Lundin has accomplished both goals lately, contributing to Norfolk victories while solidifying his standing as one of the Bolts' top young prospects. A second-year pro out of the University of Maine, the Minnesota native shouldn't even be in the AHL but is stuck in it because of a waiver situation.
Norfolk's Zenon Konopka didn't care why Lundin was here last Friday, when the defenseman scored his fourth goal in a defeat of visiting Lowell. The Admirals captain was just intent on pronouncing his 24-year-old teammate “our best defenseman the last 10 or 15 games.”
Said Brent Henley, Lundin's blueline partner in that game: “Mike's shoulders are sore from carrying me all night.”
Lundin had a goal and five shots and finished with a plus-2 rating that night, but it's been his steady puckhandling and strong positioning that have led Norfolk coach Darren Rumble to play him an astounding 30 minutes a game the last few weeks.
“He's getting a ton of touches and sharpening his game down here,” Rumble said. “In the long run is he going to be better for it? No question.”
Lundin played 81 NHL games as a rookie for the Lightning last season, sitting out only one contest all winter. This was surprising, as he hadn't originally been invited to the Bolts' training camp and said he'd been hearing from management that he might be headed for the ECHL. However, he managed a stellar performance during rookie camp at Traverse City, Mich., and Rumble said a subpar one by a teammate there got that player disinvited from the big club's camp.
Suddenly, Lundin was slid into the opening and he made the NHL club. But his performance slipped as the season progressed and after beginning the current campaign playing roughly 20 minutes a night with Tampa Bay, he was sent down to Norfolk in mid-December.
“They wanted me to be more physical and intense and I'm not used to playing that way,” said Lundin, who leads Norfolk defensemen with 22 points. “Down here, every game I get a little more confident.
“Playing in the NHL transformed me into more of a defensive player because I was worried about mistakes. The pressure got to me and I was almost afraid to handle the puck.”
Admirals General Manager Mike Butters calls Lundin a “hybrid” because he's neither purely an attacking defenseman nor a stay-at-home rearguard. Butters rates Kevin Quick, Juraj Simek and Lundin as Norfolk's top skaters but said that's only one polished aspect of the latter's game. Lundin had a minus-2 rating but only 16 penalty minutes through 37 AHL games.
“Mike does everything well but he's not spectacular at anything,” Butters said. “That kind of well-rounded play is vastly underrated.”
The plan in Tampa Bay was likely to ship Lundin down for a few weeks' work and then recall him when his game improved. Lundin got word he'd been pulled back up while on the Admirals' idling bus outside a Portland, Maine, hotel Jan. 1 but no sooner had his gear been retrieved from the equipment trailer than another phone call came saying that wasn't possible and to send Vladimir Mihalik instead.
Turns out, Lundin's contract status, combined with the number of career NHL games he'd played meant he'd have to pass through re-entry waivers to get back to the Lightning. Tampa Bay wasn't willing to take that risk and so Lundin has effectively been glued to the Admirals ever since.
“I was kind of shocked,” said Lundin, who has points in five of his last nine games. “It was definitely disappointing because I wanted to get back up but the coaches told me things would work out because in the AHL I can get a lot more ice time and improve my game.”