By Sean Hartnett
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Rangers rookie center Oscar Lindberg is the name on everybody's lips. He's scored four goals in three games as the Blueshirts have begun the new season a perfect 3-0-0.
Lindberg isn't going to challenge for the "Rocket" Richard Trophy, but he isn't lightning in a bottle, either. This isn't some flash-in-the-pan kid who illuminates briefly, then fades just as quickly.
The 23-year-old Swede is the latest shining example of the Hartford-to-New York production line. Ken Gernander, Jim Schoenfeld, Pat Boller, Jeff Beukeboom and Co. have made sure that the pipeline continues to flow with the kind of youngsters who are prepared mentally and physically to become Madison Square Garden mainstays.
Rangers alternate captain Dan Girardi believes that rookies making the jump to the bright lights of Broadway are given every advantage to succeed because of the expert coaching and mentoring they receive at minor-league Hartford.
"Honestly, I think it's the Rangers' organization as a whole – what they do down in Hartford and how they teach guys down there," Girardi told WFAN.com. "It's the same philosophy all the way up. A lot of guys who come here from Hartford, they've got a good head on their shoulders."
"Coming into this year, I think just knowing the system a little more since having the same in Hartford -- that is making me feel more comfortable," Lindberg said. "Being around these guys, they are helping me a lot and talking to me. So I think it feels better every game."
Girardi has seen the right approach from Lindberg. Like previous Hartford graduates Jesper Fast, J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider, he is immune to big-headedness. There is a culture of never being satisfied that is embedded into prospects, whether they begin their professional career in New York, Hartford or ECHL Greenville.
"Even though Oscar is playing great right now, he's not going to let it get good to him," Girardi said. "He's not changing his ways. He's still working hard every day. I think that can be said about a lot of guys who come in. They're not happy with a good start. They don't lay off, they don't take their foot off the gas. When things are going good, they press on and want to get better. I think that's why we've been successful the past handful of years – because we have guys who come in and have a big year."
On Saturday, Lindberg became the first rookie in franchise history to score a goal in each of the first three games of a season. Throughout the preseason and three games into the regular season, the 23-year-old hasn't made a wrong stride. He has a nose for the net, and has shown an awareness to position himself in high-scoring areas and make heads-up plays across 200 feet of ice.
"He's playing well, he's playing smart and he's getting rewarded right now," linemate Viktor Stalberg told WFAN.com. "Oscar is getting in the right areas. Sometimes when you get in those areas, good things are going to happen. We're trying to find him right now. He's a got a hot stick and finding a way to score goals. What impresses me most is how sound he is all over the ice. He's playing a solid third-line role."
Stalberg views Lindberg as a youngster capable of establishing a long NHL career because he pairs the right attitude with the aforementioned two-way smarts.
"He's not the kind of guy who's going to get cocky by any means, or get full of himself," Stalberg said. "Oscar is as humble as it gets. He's going to come to work like it's the first day of camp. He's a level-headed guy and he's going to have a lot of success in this league."
Miller, his other linemate, doesn't see Lindberg's production as a fluke.
"He's got four goals in three games; you don't do that by mistake," Miller said. "Since I've known him, he's always been a defense-first guy. It's very easy for his offensive skills to get overlooked."
Lindberg views himself as a defense-first forward. He has locked down a spot in the bottom six and has assumed an important penalty-killing role following Carl Hagelin's departure to Anaheim. So far, head coach Alain Vigneault has trusted him with 1:54 shorthanded minutes per game.
During the preseason, the humble Swede stated: "I want to play good defensively, and if I score one here and there, it's a bonus."
And what a bonus his goals have been for the Blueshirts.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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