Cowan: Spotlight shining brightly on Habs prospect Mattias Norlinder

© Provided by The Gazette Mattias Norlinder, right, leans on Isiah Campbell during first day of Canadiens rookie camp at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Thursday.

Canadiens prospect Mattias Norlinder certainly didn’t act like a rookie during his first Zoom conference with the media on Thursday.

The 21-year-old Swedish defenceman, who was selected in the third round (64th overall) of the 2019 NHL Draft, was calm, cool and collected while answering questions for almost 15 minutes following the first on-ice session at the Canadiens’ rookie camp.

“My focus right now is to make the team,” Norlinder said. “That’s why all the guys are here. So I’m looking forward to this week and then we will see what happens. So just fun to be here for the first time.”

Norlinder looked like he was having fun while answering questions from the media and flashing a megawatt smile. If this hockey thing doesn’t work out, with his blond hair and good looks Norlinder might think about going to Hollywood.

Mattias Norlinder was impressively calm, cool and confident during his first Zoom conference with media at #Habs rookie camp. He also has a great smile. #HabsIO pic.twitter.com/uNJFxIA7sB

— Stu Cowan (@StuCowan1) September 16, 2021

But of the 27 players attending the Canadiens’ rookie camp, Norlinder is probably the one closest to making the NHL. He already has two seasons of pro hockey under his belt in his home country and had 5-5-10 totals in 37 games last season with Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League.

The spotlight will shine brightly on Norlinder during this rookie camp, which will include two games against the Ottawa Senators rookies and a third game against a team of Quebec university all-stars before wrapping up next Tuesday.

“To me he seems really well grounded,” Jean-François Houle, the new head coach of the AHL’s Laval Rocket who is running the rookie camp, said when asked about Norlinder. “I’m sure he is aware that there’s some attention on him, but if you want to play here for the Montreal Canadiens or anywhere in the NHL it comes with it. So I think he’s pretty comfortable with it right now. It’s not easy at times when you’re a young man and you feel a little bit of pressure. But it’s part of our business and I think he’s aware of that and he’s been pretty good so far.

“I think rookie camp is the start of everything,” Houle added. “It’s the start of the hockey season, it sets the tone for the organization and that’s where a young player like Norlinder can make a name for himself above and beyond what he already has. So these rookie camps are very, very important for a lot of players. All the rookie camps I’ve been part of there’s always been surprises, there’s always been players that flourish and come to the top. So hopefully he has a good week and he could show the people here in Montreal that he may be ready for a spot. But only him will decide if he can make it or not. Sometimes it takes a little longer, sometimes it takes time, you need to mature into becoming a pro, especially at the NHL level. But every player’s different.”

A different challenge facing Norlinder is an adjustment to the smaller North American rink.

“This is my first time ever on the small ice, so we’ll see,” he said after Thursday morning’s practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard. “It probably will take some time. I’ll give it time to adjust to the small ice. I think one practice here I didn’t feel like it was too hard, but we will see. Give it time.”

Norlinder wasn’t able to attend the Canadiens’ rookie camp the year he was drafted after fracturing his hand during summer off-ice training and there was no rookie camp last year because of COVID-19.

“He’s a new style of NHL type of defenceman,” assistant GM Trevor Timmins said after the Canadiens drafted Norlinder. “Great skater, moves pucks. We expect big things from him.”

One thing working to Norlinder’s advantage when it comes to his future with the Canadiens is that he’s comfortable playing on either side of the blue line with his left-hand shot. At Thursday’s practice he was on the right side with Kaiden Guhle — the Canadiens’ first-round pick (16th overall) at the 2020 NHL Draft — on his left.

“I think I played on my right side for three years and this year I started to play on the left side,” said Norlinder, who has already played one game for Frolunda this season. “I can play on whatever side I want to — I mean what the coach says. So I just want to play and that’s all.”

If Norlinder doesn’t make the Canadiens this season he must return to Frolunda to honour his Swedish Hockey League contract, so sending him to Laval isn’t an option.

“I can go back to Sweden if that’s what these guys want here in Montreal,” Norlinder said. “I mean, I’m here to take a place here … that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Norlinder got off to a good start last season with Frolunda before being sidelined with a shoulder injury and then a knee injury, but he’s healthy now and ready to go.

When asked which shoulder and knee he injured, Norlinder said: “Should I say that? … I don’t know.”

Then he flashed a big smile.

This kid isn’t your typical rookie.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

Related

  • Stu Cowan: Canadiens rookies get their chance to make an impression
  • Canadiens’ Carey Price still not skating after having knee surgery
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