Our annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown continues, and this week you’ll see some of these players in action! The rankings were determined by a combination of reader voting and our staff’s own voting. We then combined the reader rankings (50%) and the staff rankings (50%) to determine the top 25. To be eligible for the countdown, a player must be 24 or younger on October 5, 2017, when the 2017-18 NHL season begins.
We’re taking a look at the best and the brightest in the Los Angeles Kings organization in our fifth annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown. Our fifth defenseman in a row, and our #13: Alex Lintuniemi.
2016-17 Team: Ontario Reign (AHL)
2016-17 Statistics: 41 GP, 2 G, 8 A, 10 P
Current NHL Projection (via NHLe): 82 GP, 2 G, 7 A, 9 P (based on AHL total)
Jewels Reader Ranking: 11
Jewels Staff Ranking: 16
Alex Lintuniemi is not the easiest prospect to get pumped up about, or write about for that matter. His second professional season was in some ways much like him as a player. Totally fine, but not really jumping out at you in any way or making any headlines. The 21 year old finished the season with a grand total of 2 goals and 10 points in 41 games played. Per prospect-stats.com, Lintuniemi finished with only 0.15 primary points per game (ranking 108th of 183 defensemen with 40+ GP), and a paltry 0.85 shots per game (ranking 163rd of 183). So he’s not much of an offensive force.
Lintunimi does have pretty good size though, listed at 6’3, 231 pounds, and a solid defensive game. Without a highlight reel of big hits, it’s tough for a player fitting that profile to get attention. In fact, there were only two Google News hits for his name from this summer. One is the Jewels From The Crown post on Kurtis MacDermid, as it mention how he has surpassed Lintuniemi. The other is a throwaway comment from a blog post on the Kings prospect pool. If you looked at his Twitter account, you wouldn’t even know he was a hockey player. He might have the lowest profile of any player signed to an NHL contract. For a defensive defenseman, not being noticed is just about the best praise a player can get.
This is the part where I would love to link to a highlight reel of some sort, but the best we can do for him (post-OHL) is his 2017 Reign Exit Interview, where he says some words.
That was helpful and illuminating and really told us a lot.
It’s not all joy about soccer though, as Lintuniemi definitely needs to improve aspects of his game this summer. He is a pending RFA after this season. Lintuniemi was fine in the ECHL as a rookie pro, and was a bottom pair AHLer offensively as a rookie in that league. That is an awfully slow learning curve for a 2nd round draft pick. He turns 22 in a couple weeks, and is nearing the make or break part of his career. If he is going to be an NHL player, he is going to need to show NHL puck skills fast. That doesn’t mean lighting up the scoresheet, but there is a minimum threshold of puck-handling ability that any player needs to get by and so far he hasn’t shown he possesses it. He wasn’t much of a scorer as a junior back in Finland, nor in the OHL, or in either of his pro seasons.
Muddying the waters for the coming season is the cramped blueline in Ontario. Lintuniemi will be joined in the defense corp by Stepan Falkovsky, Matt Roy, Chaz Reddekop, Zac Leslie, Kurstis MacDermid, Oscar Fantenberg, and Sean Walker. That is eight players vying for six spots. Lintuniemi should start the year near the top of the depth chart with the Reign, but he’s going to have to improve to stay there and get an NHL shot with the Kings.