When the Flyers began their preseason camp, the question was not whether Oskar Lindblom would make the team but where he might be slotted.
Now, Lindblom appears to be on the outs, if the last four games are any indication — or the line pairings from Saturday's full-team practice are. Lindblom played the left wing on a fifth line with Jori Lehtera and Matt Read – two well-paid veterans who now project to begin the season as healthy scratches at best.
More and more it appears Lindblom is headed to Lehigh Valley, where he can get the kind of ice time as a top-tier forward that he no longer seems likely to get with the Flyers, at least at the start. Plus, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has consistently and patiently preferred to acclimate talented young players to the rigors of an NHL season down on the farm, and Lindblom, a season removed from playing on the big ice of the Swedish League, fits that description.
"It's tough,'' Lindblom said Saturday of the adjustment. "Smaller ice. Bigger D. But you get used to it. Last game, I felt good. Had a couple of chances to score."
Playing on a line that included AHL call-up Mikhail Vorobyev and Travis Konecny, Lindblom scored his first goal in Tuesday night in a win over the Rangers. He has two points in four games played and has not been in the lineup for three of the last four games.
"I'm a scorer, so I have to score,'' he said. "I feel better and better the more I play. The first game wasn't my best game, but I feel better and better from there."
Should Lindblom be sent down when the Flyers reduce their roster by two after the final preseason game Sunday night against the Islanders, it will likely leave Nolan Patrick as the only new Flyers player to escape at least one year of AHL seasoning.
"You still see them as rookies, but you see them as rookies who can take a little bigger piece of the pie," Hextall said Saturday. "Because they've done it at a higher level than junior or college. It plays into it because as you get further into the season and things ramp up, they've played against men before, and they've played at a high level in terms of the speed and the strength and everything. They've played 76, 75, 74 games in a season rather than a kid coming out of college who played in the 30s, and all of a sudden you're asking them to play 82 games at a really high level. It's hard. So there's no question it builds your resume."
Thriving last season in the Swedish Professional League, Lindblom was thought to have that resume when camp began. But as he said, the smaller ice surface has taken some getting used to, as have the bigger and more physical defensemen he has faced. If he is sent down, it will be for those reasons.
And it may not be the only head-scratcher. On Saturday, Travis Sanheim, arguably the best Flyer defenseman of the preseason and clearly one of their better players, was part of a fourth defensive pairing that included Sam Morin. The other pairings were Ivan Provorov and Andrew MacDonald, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg, and Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas.
The Flyers are expected to keep seven defensemen. When camp began, Sanheim seemed the odd man out among the three rookie defensemen in camp, largely because he had not played as many AHL games as Hagg and Morin. All three defenseman have played well this preseason, but Sanheim, with three goals, clearly stood out.