OTTAWA - One of the first questions David Rundblad is asked by reporters who have never seen him perform in person is about a comparable:
Which player in the NHL do you pattern your game after?
“Well, I always liked Mike Green,” said the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder, in town for his first development camp with the Senators. “But I hope I’m better defensively.
“I like the way he plays in the offensive zone.”
Who doesn’t? Few blueliners are better on the attack than Green, the Washington Capitals star who scored 31 goals (in 68 games) three seasons ago and followed it up with 76 points in 75 games the next campaign. If Rundblad ever produces the way Green does, the Senators will be ecstatic.
In claiming the prestigious Borje Salming award as Sweden’s top defenceman during the 2010-11 season, Rundblad was Skelleftea’s third-highest scorer, with 11 goals and 39 assists in 55 games. So the indication is that the two are cut from the same cloth.
But Rundblad is aware that how great the chance is he gets to put up numbers as a Senators rookie next season will depend on his defensive play. A job on the Ottawa blueline in the fall is his for the taking, that much is clear. And Rundblad — drafted 17th overall by St. Louis in 2009, then acquired last summer for the Senators’ first-round pick in 2010 — is projected to be a Top 4 guy at some point.
Next season, the Ottawa back end will have as its mainstays Erik Karlsson, Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips. Matt Carkner and Brian Lee will likely wind up in a competition for the 5-6 spots, with either Filip Kuba, Jared Cowen or Rundblad.
The easiest thing for the Senators to do would be to at least start the 20-year-old Cowen in Binghamton. That would leave significant ice time available for Kuba — a veteran with a $3.7-million salary who is coming off a horrendous season — and Rundblad.
Last winter, when Karlsson was asked about Rundblad, he likened his countrymate to Kuba, but said he had a better shot.
“He’s not going to come in and dominate the game, control the game. I think once he’s more established, he’ll be able to do that,” said Pierre Dorion, the Senators’ director of player personnel. “But I think he’s someone that’s going to come in and help us generate offence. There will be some ups and downs with him, as we had with Erik in his first year, but I think with David, you’re getting a more mature player, someone who’s almost 6-foot-3 and has got more range defensively. He’ll be able to break up more plays, and help out in that part of the game, too.”
Dorion says the fact Rundblad won the award named after his country’s most renowned defenceman indicates the Senators have a “special player.” Salming had more than 70 points in four of his seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he was pretty special in his own end, too.
“It can improve, as with 99% of the defencemen in the NHL,” Dorion said when asked about Rundblad’s defensive game. “I think it’s something that has to get better, it has to get better with his strength. He still needs a big summer for him to be able to contribute for us next year.
“However much stronger he gets this summer will determine his impact for us next year.”
Rundblad says he’s ready to take the next step in his career.
“I’m here because I want to play in the NHL,” he said. “I stayed in Sweden one extra year. I feel ready now.”
Ottawa is ready for him, too. Since he was obtained by the Senators, fans have heard about how good Rundblad is. Soon they will see for themselves.
Feel any pressure, David?
“I haven’t heard so much what they’ve said, but of course,” he said. “I have pressure on myself too. I have goals, I know what I want to do.”
Other than being better defensively than Mike Green, he’s keeping those goals to himself.