This day was over two years in the making for Mattias Norlinder, the 64th pick in the 2019 NHL Draft who arrived in Montreal with the spotlight squarely focused on him, and he handled it well.
How the five-foot-10, 179-pound defenceman manages the remainder of this rookie camp, and his first NHL training camp to follow, will ultimately determine if he starts the season with the Canadiens or returns to Sweden to play in the SHL with Frolunda.
But on this day, he was a standout among 26 other prospects taking part in the first on-ice session under Laval Rocket coach Jean-Francois Houle. Norlinder’s a smooth-skating, quick-thinking, pure-shooting talent, and he appeared perfectly comfortable showing that while taking his first strides on a North American ice surface.
He seemed just as comfortable fielding questions from reporters for close to 14 minutes after Thursday’s hour-and-a-half practice wrapped.
“I’m here to take a place,” Norlinder said, “and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
One person who believes he may do it is Fredrik Sjostrom, an NHLer with four different franchises from 2003-11 who has been serving as Frolunda’s general manager since 2016.
Selfishly, though, Sjostrom would prefer to have Norlinder playing big minutes on the left side of his team’s defence and quarterbacking its power play.
“I think he will impress people with his skating and his skill,” said Sjostrom in an interview with Sportsnet on Wednesday, “and it’ll be up to him to prove he’s ready.”