An NHL elder statesman at 34? Not when 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr, and Zdeno Chara and Shane Doan, both 39, are hanging around.
Nonetheless, Henrik Lundqvist, an 11-year veteran, has seen the dramatic changes sweeping through today’s league.
No, he doesn’t recall when Fox Sports installed sensors in pucks, giving them a blue glow on TV, an experiment which began at the All-Star Game in 1996 and ended with the Stanley Cup Final in 1998.
“That,” Lundqvist said with a grin this week, “was actually before my time.”
Indeed, in 1998-99, Lundqvist was 16, playing for Vastra Frolunda in the Swedish junior league.
More than 800 regular-season and playoff games and a locker full of records and endorsements later, Lundqvist has witnessed the game’s latest transformation from a net-front perch.
“When I entered the league [in 2005-06], it was still big and strong [players],” he said. “In the last three, four years, there’s a lot more shorter players. It’s about skating, it’s about speed, it’s about balance and skill. The rules changes helped, there’s a lot less holding, grabbing, hooking [allowed]. So it’s a faster game for sure, a lot of odd-man rushes, that’s really where you get hurt, but that’s also where you cash in.”
The new generation — think of the 24-and-under Team North America squad in the World Cup and dazzling players such as Vladimir Tarasenko and rookie Patrick Laine — has made goaltending tougher.
“It’s more challenging,” said Lundqvist, who won the Vezina Trophy in 2011-12. “They can shoot better, and in one-on-one situations against top players, they can pick the corners. You need to be square, you need to read the situation quicker. It’s challenging, but fun.”
To be sure, Lundqvist hasn’t had much fun so far. Small sample, but Lundqvist is 1-2, with an alarming .872 save percentage and a 2.71 goals-against-average. In the third period Wednesday, he misread a forecheck by Detroit’s Luke Glendening behind the net, then hastily tried a backhanded clearing pass that hit Glendening, who recovered and fed Drew Miller in front for the tiebreaking goal which stood up as the winner. The King was annoyed afterward.
The Blueshirts’ all-time leader in wins and save-percentage will rebound, but marvels how today’s 20-somethings rapidly adjust.
It took time to evolve from a seventh-round pick who grew up in a small town of 1,500 residents to Broadway, Lundqvist recalled. The new breed, he said, is “exposed to more different situations; they’re just more prepared for this type of game, not only on the ice, but off the ice. They see themselves succeeding before they get here. A lot of this is mental: To think you belong in this league when you get there. It’s confidence; knowing that you can do it.”
The off-ice changes, including videos of individual shifts for mobile phones, also have been profound. “Look at all the resources we have compared to 11 years ago,” he said. “You try to do everything you can to maximize everything, physically and mentally, how you eat, how you sleep . . . You look at some old footage, it was hard to even see the puck. ’’