Our annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown has begun! 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 3, 2018, when the 2018-19 NHL season begins.
We’re taking a look at the best and the brightest in the Los Angeles Kings organization in our sixth annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown. Today at #16 is defenseman Alex Lintuniemi.
Age: 22 (September 23, 1995)
2017-18 Team: Ontario Reign (AHL)
2017-18 Statistics: 64 GP, 4 G, 20 A, 24 P (Playoffs: 4 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2P)
Jewels Reader Ranking: 17
Jewels Staff Ranking: 16
Last Year’s Ranking: 13
Making an appearance on our Top 25 Under 25 for the fourth consecutive season, Alex Lintuniemi fell in our rankings for the first time. After finishing 21st in 2015, 18th in 2016 and 13th last year, the lanky Finn slips to 16th this time around, still a solid showing for a guy with very little superlatives attached to his name.
Labeled a stay-at-home guy as a second round pick in the 2014 draft, it is hardly surprising Lintuniemi comes with little fanfare. A big boy at 6’3, 217 pounds, he moves well and plays a physical game. He has no particular stand-out skill, nor any glaring deficiencies. He receives positive marks for his passing and is not shy about joining the rush on occasion.
After struggling to crack the line-up in his first AHL season, Lintuniemi established himself as a key cog in the Ontario Reign’s defensive corps last year, posting career highs is games (64), goals (4) and assists (20). His 1.47 shots per game nearly doubled his output from the previous season.
While he should expect to play regularly with the Reign once again this year, he will find added competition with decorated prospect Kale Clague making his pro debut, along with second-year pro Sean Walker and newcomer Austin Strand. He will continue to stand in line behind Oscar Fantenberg, Kurtis MacDermid and Paul LaDue, all of whom saw NHL minutes last season. Now one of the veterans on the club, Lintuniemi could leap frog a few of those names if he takes another step forward this season.
The Kings are deep in left-shot defenders at both the NHL and AHL levels, so the burden will be on Lintuniemi to separate himself. The Kings will no doubt be watching the development of their AHL defensemen closely this year, in anticipation of Drew Doughty’s contract extension necessitating some cost-controlled reinforcements on the blueline.
With plus size and smooth skating, Lintuniemi profiles as your modern NHL defender. He received a one-year, two-way contract this offseason with the Kings, showing they are still intrigued by his potential but not over-committing. Always seen as a long term project, this could be a make-or-break season for the young defender. On the high end, he could be another Derek Forbort, making safe plays and being generally reliable. He could also be another Kevin Gravel, filling in when called upon but never truly distinguishing himself.
Or maybe he carves out his own identity all together. While it feels like he has been around forever, he is still only 22 years of age. Maybe there is still time for him find his niche in the organization and show he is more than just a fringe guy.