In a room with 26 of the NHL's top future stars, David Rundblad may not immediately stand out as one of the big names to watch in the coming season.
But there's a growing buzz around the Ottawa Senators prospect, and it has him pegged as one of the most likely rookies to make an impact this season after he almost broke the Swedish league record for points by a defenceman with 50 in 55 games last year.That career year is how, two years after falling to 17th in the draft and one year after the St. Louis Blues dealt him for Ottawa's 16th overall pick, Rundblad has suddenly shifted onto the Calder Trophy radar.
Making the rebuilding Sens, in other words, shouldn't be a problem.
“I feel ready,” Rundblad said on Tuesday as he took part in the NHLPA's annual Rookie Showcase in Toronto. “I know it's going to be tough to get a good spot there, but I really want it and I'm going to fight for it.”
“We believe he's got a very good chance of making the team because he's such a talented guy,” added Sens director of player development Randy Lee. “But it's going to depend on how well he makes the adjustment and how well he performs in the exhibition games. He'll be given a great chance.”
Much like the Detroit Red Wings did a couple decades ago, the Senators are banking a large part of their rebirth on an ability to find gems in Sweden, with former scout Anders Forsberg making a big impression in that department during his two years with the team.
In addition to vouching for Rundblad, Forsberg had a hand in drafting Erik Karlsson, Robin Lehner and Jakob Silfverberg, all of whom have outperformed their draft position in the years since and are high on playing in Ottawa given the presence of captain Daniel Alfredsson.
That reliance on a Red Wings sort of strategy in Sweden isn't a coincidence, as Sens general manager Bryan Murray was Detroit's GM in the early years of their revival and knew the brilliant work European scout Hakan Andersson had done in finding the likes of Nick Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen deep in the draft.
When Ottawa needed another set of eyes in Sweden, Murray asked Andersson for a recommendation, and he quickly pointed to Forsberg as a rising star in the business.
Forsberg has since moved on to coaching, as he took over Skelleftea of the Swedish league last season and guided them to the finals for the first time in 33 years.
One of the leaders on that team just happened to be Rundblad, who had been drawing rave reviews from Forsberg long before he was his head coach and as a result became a key trade target for the Sens when it became clear the Blues were looking to deal at the 2010 draft.
Ottawa now hopes the 20-year-old can be another diamond in the rough, eventually emerging into a high-end offensive defenceman who can mesh with Karlsson and help the Sens take the same dramatic leap up the standings Detroit did under Murray 20 years earlier.
“We went over, quite a few of our staff, and saw him play in Sweden last year and I think we were taken aback at how far ahead he was at that point,” Lee said. “We told Bryan, ‘You're going to be really impressed with this guy.'
“Bryan likes a really good, mobile back end, and our new coaching staff, I mean Paul MacLean comes from the Detroit system, and likes smart, mobile defencemen and this guy fits the bill perfectly.
“Some people are going to be surprised at his compete level. He's not that big a guy, but he competes.”
The only real concern when it comes to how much of an impact Rundblad can make as a rookie is just how crowded Ottawa's blueline is, with six one-way contracts and other youngsters like Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch in the mix for roles.
If management feels Rundblad's ready for a top-four spot, however, it's likely it will ship out a veteran blueliner, paving the way for the Sens' Swedish movement to really start to set in.