How Henrik Lundqvist went from 7th-round pick to King of New York

Coyotes goaltender coach Sean Burke says Henrik Lundqvist is a master at playing deep in the crease and putting himself in position to make every save.

Adam Hunger/Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Don Maloney would love to take credit for drafting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist while Maloney was the New York Rangers assistant general manager from 1996 to 2007.

"I swam the Atlantic Ocean, climbed mountains and screamed and yelled until we took him," Maloney said Monday.

The truth?

"It was dumb, blind luck," said Maloney, now the Coyotes GM. "I liked his brother. He was a forward in the same draft. I didn’t even know who Henrik Lundqvist was."

The NHL annals are littered with late-round picks who achieved stardom. Mark Messier and Nicklas Lidstrom were third-round picks. Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Alfredsson and Brett Hull were sixth-round picks. Henrik Zetterberg and Doug Gilmour were seventh-round picks, and Luc Robitaille was a ninth-round pick.

But the talk of this year’s Stanley Cup Final is Lundqvist, a seventh-round selection who is now considered New York’s greatest asset and greatest hope for ending a 20-year Stanley Cup drought as it opens up against the heavily favored Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday at Staples Center.

"It’s been a dream ever since I came to New York to try to win and bring the Cup to New York," said Lundqvist, who is making his Cup Final debut in his ninth NHL season. "We definitely have the team to do it."

While he was still playing for Vastra Frolunda in Sweden, Lundqvist’s agent talked him into flying to the 2000 NHL Draft in Calgary — a decision he was questioning after six rounds had passed and he was the only Swedish prospect (including his brother, Joel) to make the trip who had not been chosen.

"All my buddies had been taken and were kind of looking at me. We were all sitting in the same row. Nobody knew exactly how to act or what to say," Lundqvist told the New York Post. "It was kind of like, ‘Come on, Hank.’ It was not a great feeling."

Crister Rockstrom was the Rangers director of European scouting and a rock star in the Rangers front office due to his prowess in identifying international prospects. Martin Madden was New York’s director of scouting.

"There was a little bit of resentment with some of the staff. They felt Crister had undue influence over myself and Larry Pleau prior to me," Maloney said. "They felt when push came to shove he was always getting his players picked."

And Maloney said of Madden, "he was determined to put his stamp on it."

The draft took place about three weeks after Glen Sather was hired as Rangers GM. Twenty-one goaltenders had already been selected (13 never played in the NHL) by the time the Rangers were ready to make their seventh-round pick. Maloney thought New York really needed another goaltender in its system.

"I happened to glance at Crister’s list of everybody in the draft and I saw one name at the top of the list. It was Lundqvist," Maloney said. "I said, ‘Crister, who’s this guy?’ He said: ‘Well, he’s the top goalie in Europe for me.’

"I asked, ‘Why isn’t he drafted?’ and Crister says, ‘Well, Martin doesn’t like him.’ "

That wasn’t enough for Maloney, who approached Madden to ask him about Lundqvist.

"He kind of threw up his hands as only a Frenchman can do and said ‘Sure, we’ll take this guy and Crister will get another guy he wants!’ " Maloney said, laughing. "To Martin’s credit, in November of that same year, he saw Henrik in a tournament and he said, ‘Don, I think we’ve got a real good goaltender here.’"

By the time Lundqvist arrived in New York for the 2005-06 season, he had already played five pro seasons in Sweden.

"I felt like I was well prepared for it," he said.

It was apparent to Maloney, too, who decided Lundqvist didn’t need any seasoning in the American Hockey League before making his NHL debut. Under the tutelage of famed goalie coach Benoit Allaire, Lundqvist has arguably been the NHL’s most consistent goaltender of his era. 

He posted a 2.24 goals against average and a .922 save percentage in his first season. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2012 after being nominated for the award each of the three previous years.  And he leads the 2014 postseason with a .928 save percentage while ranking second in goals against average at 2.03.

Allaire does not conduct media interviews, but another one of his star pupils, Coyotes goalie coach Sean Burke, sees Allaire’s teaching at work.

"He just plays a lot deeper in the crease than most goalies and he’s not super aggressive, but he’s always in position and he gives himself a chance to make every save," Burke said. "I don’t want to make that sound so easy, because it’s not as simple as sitting back in goal and hoping puck hits you. He’s found a way with his skills and experience to play that game every night and be consistent."

"It’s an interesting contrast in this series because (L.A.’s) Jonathan Quick is really athletic and more aggressive, coming out and challenging shooters. It’s a much different style but no less impressive."

Lundqvist said that after years of dreaming about the finals, it is important not to get caught up in the emotions of New York’s playoff run.

"You try to enjoy it, but it’s not like every game you go out and have a blast," he said. "There’s moments throughout the game where you get a rush. You take that and then you go back to being focused on what you have to do."

When asked if he needs to win a Cup to cement his legacy in a city where second-best is insignificant, Lundqvist shook his head.

"I don’t feel that way," he said. "I see this as a great opportunity for us as a team and me personally to try to win a Cup. When you play this game you want to win — it’s about winning. But now is no different from earlier years. This is something that I’ve wanted for a long time, and it doesn’t change when you get close."

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