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Maple Leafs' Top 25 Under 25: A Second Opinion on Jesper Lindgren

Jesper Lindgren was one of two players I had ranked inside my Top 25 Under 25 ranking ahead of the 2015-2016 season not to make our conglomerated final ranking. Here's why he should have.

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When we evaluate defensive prospects, there are certain translatable traits that the vast majority of young defenders will need if they are to ever become NHL defenders.

They need to be strong skaters forwards, backwards and in transition. They need to handle the puck well, able to softly maneuver out of defensive zone traffic to move the puck or skate the puck up ice. They need to be patient with the puck, and able to use the former two traits to wait for the play to develop, rather than force an event.

And while some defenders succeed in the NHL despite lacking one of these traits, making up for it with pure strength or reach, it's tough to be an impact player without all three.

Jesper Lindgren, my 24th ranked player in this year's Top 25 Under 25 and the 27th ranked player overall by our staff, uses all three of the aforementioned tools effectively.

Drafted by the Leafs with the 95th selection of the 2015 NHL Draft, Lindgren entered this year's class as my 58th ranked prospect with McKeen's Hockey, ranked just a few spots ahead my 62nd ranked prospect and 34th overall pick Travis Dermott.

The best defender in Modo's J20 program this season, Lindgren is an instinctual, offensively gifted defensemen who makes quick, skilled plays with the puck in transition, pushing the tempo. In fact, Lindgren was arguably the best under-18 defender at the J20 level, outscoring the next highest scoring defender of his age by 11 points.

Internationally, he has impressed at U18s and the 5 Nations Cup, where he played on Team Sweden's powerplay as a forward.

A strong puck carrier, Lindgren has an uncanny ability to find teammates cross ice or carry the puck into the offensive zone. And while he won't blind you with speed, he manages the puck so efficiently that the end result is an offensive zone entry regardless.

Active as a defender, Lindgren doesn't let his slender frame (6-0, 161 Ibs) impact a physical, up-tempo defensive spirit, pressuring forwards.

With the puck, he's content to turn back and wait for the play to develop, something that's uncommon in young defenders.

When he makes the transition to North America, his heads-up pacing and control of the game will translate well on the smaller ice surface.

In four games with Modo in the SHL this season, three of which were in November, Lindgren registered an assist in the only game he played more than five minutes (6:31), averaging just 3:23 TOI in his brief stint as a 17-year-old in one of the world's best pro leagues.

The assist (primary), saw Lindgren jump up into the play off the rush, receiving a drop pass from Simon Onerud at the bottom of the right-side offensive zone circle where he quickly cradled the reception from his backhand to his forehand, finding Carl Grundstrom with a no-look pass under pressure through two sticks for a tap in on the far post.

Here's how Lindgren intelligently broke down the play and surveyed the ice.

Lindgren identifies that Onerud has the left-handed defensemen beat to the outside and follows the play in a ready stance.

Lindgren jumps into the circle to receive the pass and identifies Grundstrom (#44) coasting to front of the net.

Lindgren sends handles the puck and sends a hard pass across the top of the crease to the far post.

Don't let his fourth round selection fool you, Lindgren is built to succeed as the game changes and the gifted puck managers take over.

It's hard to not include a defensemen with puck-moving potential off a Top 25 Under 25 for an organization with a forward-heavy system that lacks legitimate defensive prospects. If he can add some strength to his frame, he's got a chance.