Dallas Stars prospect Esa Lindell is coming off a career year in which the 6’3”, 200 pound defenseman put up 14 goals and 35 points in 57 games. This was good enough to not only earn him a spot on Team Finland at the 2015 IIHF World Championship, but also got him a cup of coffee with the AHL’s Texas Stars to conclude the season.
Lindell’s World Championship was a good one, as he chipped in a goal and six assists to go along with a +5 rating. After a surprise loss to the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, Esa spoke to Hockey’s Future.
Hockey’s Future: Ice hockey legend Jaromir Jagr got the better of Team Finland tonight. What are your thoughts now that the tournament is over?
Esa Lindell: I am just empty. So empty. The Czechs played very well and I can’t say much to that. Just drained now. If you don’t count this game, it has been a good tournament for Finland. After the initial loss to the USA, we had I think four shutouts in a row. Then we won two tight contests to get to the playoffs. We played pretty good just about every game, but today it wasn’t enough.
HF: You’re coming off your best pro season to date. What are your plans for the summer?
EL: I’ll take a bit of a break and have some down time. It’s been a long season and I have to regenerate and review things. Then I’ll get back to work to prepare for next season in North America.
HF: So that means that heading over to the Stars is the plan. Your Finnish teammate, Jyrki Jokipaaka, plays for the Dallas Stars. What has he told you about life in the organization and Stateside?
EL: He’s told me about life in Dallas and in Austin. He’s played and lived in both. I’ve also seen things now, because I played five games with the Texas Stars at the end of the year to get a feel for things there. I really like that they play simple, straight-forward hockey. The guys there treated me very well. It’s a nice place.
HF: You scored 14 goals back in Finland this past season. That’s quite a bit for a defenseman in any league. What was the best part of your development this past season?
EL: I think my all-around game and the life of a pro was the biggest step I took. I was very successful offensively, but I saw that I need to work on my defensive play. That’s what I worked on the most and the staff spent lots of time with me on that. I know that will be important in playing in North America next season.
Another draftee who headed out of the tournament in the quarterfinals was Nashville Predators first rounder Kevin Fiala, who played top-six minutes for Switzerland at the World Championship. With a goal and three points, he was one of the few Swiss forwards to create offense at the tournament. His season was quite a busy one as he started it off with HV71 after a long NHL training camp, putting up 14 points in 20 games. He then came over to North America, playing two games with Nashville while also lacing up the skates 33 times for the Predators’ AHL affiliate in Milwaukee. There, he had 11 goals and 20 points.
With the tournament over, Fiala spoke with Hockey’s Future about his season.
HF: You scored your first goal of the tournament against the Czech Republic, the country of your heritage. Good to get that WC monkey off your back?
Kevin Fiala: I’m glad one finally went in. I hope it won’t be the last. The Czechs, like all the opponents, are extremely tough to play against. That wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.
HF: Have you been happy with this tournament?
KF: Most things have gone well and it’s been a great experience. The most important thing is that, as a team, we managed to get to the quarterfinal. That was our minimum goal.
KF: Well, yes, that was a bit ironic. But the focus was on the team and us playing our game. We wanted to go 100% and take things period by period. We were confident we could beat the USA and we wanted to see what would happen.
HF: This is your second men’s WC already. How does it differ from the one last year?
KF: I’ve tried to be more of a leader. I’ve tried to be more responsible for creating offense. I’ve also wanted to be solid in the defensive zone and not allow the opponent to score while I’m on the ice. I feel I’ve needed to play like more of a veteran.
HF: It’s been a long year for you. You started in Sweden. Then you were in North America. Tell me about your season?
KF: It has been long. I’ve been everywhere. I started off with HV71 and then was representing Switzerland at the WJC, where we didn’t get the result we wanted, but retained the class without any problem. Then I was with Milwaukee and a bit with Nashville. Then the next thing I knew, I was over here. It’s been a busy, but fun, year.
HF: How did you enjoy getting drafted in the first round last summer?
KF: I was very excited about it – and going to such a great team made it all that much better. I’ve been very happy with how things have been going as part of that franchise since last summer.
HF: Switzerland just hosted the U18 tournament and ended up playing against Canada for bronze. It was big for the country and the team was very well supported. Have you talked to your friends like Denis Malgin and Jonas Siegenthaler, who should both be drafted this summer, about it?
KF: Yes, it was great that they did so well and I am proud of them and the other boys. We talk a lot and those boys just keep improving and adding to their wealth of experience already.
HF: Have you given them any tips about the NHL Draft?
KF: Well, they can’t do anything now after the season. The scouts have their opinions at this point and there’s no changing that. They are ranked where they are ranked. During the season I gave them tips on focusing on things even when things are going bad or there might be a scoring drought or tough game or two. Things don’t always go like you want them to. If you keep focusing and working hard, things will turn around. There are ups and downs and things will get better if you keep focused. You keep plugging away.
HF: Your Swiss teammate Roman Josi is also a stalwart for Nashville. How important has it been for you to have already him there going into that organization?
KF: I’m very happy about that. When I got drafted, that was the first thing I thought of, that Josi was already there and established. I knew that would be good for me. On the ice he is of course a great player who keeps getting better. Off the ice, he is also a very nice person and he helps me. It’s important that I have that ‘older brother’ there like him to help me along.
HF: What feedback have you gotten from the organization?
KF: We just discussed things to do over the summer to come to camp fit. We’ll then see where things go next year. Any shot at the NHL roster will have to be earned in camp.
HF: How was it for you to face future teammate Seth Jones of Team USA?
KF: I know him a little bit. We were actually roommates in Chicago. Facing him was nice, but you don’t think about it when you’re out there.
HF: And there was no texting or trash talk in advance?
KF: No, nothing like that. We’re all just focused on our own preparation and teams.
The aforementioned Roman Josi is now an established NHL star. He shared some thoughts with Hockey’s Future about the tournament and Kevin Fiala.
HF: You played against Seth Jones and Steven Moses, a future teammate perhaps. Thoughts on that?
Roman Josi: Well, Seth is a good friend of mine and it was great to face him. There’s no love lost though and we weren’t friends on the ice during this game. We’re friends again afterwards. I don’t know Steve Moses personally yet, but he has some skills and is difficult to play against. He has a shot at making the team as do a number of our younger players next season.
HF: You’re a young player, but already established as a star in the NHL. Did you see yourself being where you are now, say, 3 or 4 years ago?
RJ: No, but clearly it was always my goal to make it to the NHL one day and I’m now living out my dream over there. I love being in that league and heck, we had a wonderful and fun year in Nashville. We have a lot of good young players and feel we’re on the rise. It was fun being in the playoffs and we want that to happen on a yearly basis.
HF: Speaking of young players, your Swiss and Nashville Predators teammate Kevin Fiala – what you can say about his development?`
RJ: He’s been just great. He’s such a talented player and he’s still so young. He’s played really well in this tournament and was huge against the Czechs. He came over to North America already this season and that really helped his development. He showed why Nashville picked him so high, and the sky is the limit.
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