When you look at the Phoenix Coyotes and you assess their strength as a team, you have to look at the blue-line play of a group of young and talented defenseman.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Keith Yandle, Zbynek Michalek and David Schlemko are all under the age of 30 and playing at a very high level.
One name that is often overlooked when examining the depth that the Coyotes have on defense is 22 year-old Swede David Rundblad.
Rundblad played for the Swedish national program for a number of years growing up. He participated in the U-18 World Championships and the World Junior Championships twice in his young career.
Overall, he was the sixth-ranked prospect coming out of Europe in 2009 NHL draft. He was selected by St. Louis (17th overall, first round) after playing in Swedish Elite League for Skelleftea during the 2008-09 season. He posted 10 points (all assists) in 45 games for the Swedish club that season.
After being selected in the 2009 NHL draft, Rundblad elected to stay in Sweden and continue to play for Skelleftea, where he had two very successful seasons putting up big numbers.
In the 2009-10 season, Rundblad amassed 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) in 47 games and followed that season up with a more successful campaign in 2010-11. In 2010-11, Rundblad came into his own, posting 50 points (11 goals, 39 assists) in 55 games.
Rundblad was dealt by St. Louis to Ottawa in 2010 for the 16th pick in the 2010 NHL draft. Rundblad had mixed success in Ottawa, playing in 24 games and registering four points (one goal, three assists). He would play only that one season in Ottawa before being shipped to the Coyotes in 2011 for Coyotes forward Kyle Turris.
He played in spurts for the Coyotes last season (three assists in six games), but spent most of his time with the AHL's Portland Pirates. Rundblad needed to work on the defensive aspects of his game as well as his physicality if he hoped to stay in Phoenix long term.
His season in Portland was met with mixed success. He got physically stronger and scored 16 points (seven goals, nine assists), although his defense was still a question mark (minus-18 rating).
Rundblad has always been viewed as a quality prospect. The 6'1", 190-lb. defenseman is viewed as an offensive defenseman that has fantastic puck skills and an innate ability to create goals from the back end.
He is known for his intelligence and his shot from the point. But, his defensive play has been viewed in the past as suspect. His minus-18 last season in Portland truly had to have the Coyotes brass worried.
Rundblad is spending the NHL lockout in Portland and is having a very solid start to the season. After 26 games, Rundblad has posted six goals and 12 assists for 18 points. But, the number that has to have Phoenix Coyotes fans and the organization excited is his plus/minus rating of minus-one after 26 games. This rating means that Rundblad is learning the defensive aspects of the game and making a marked improvement of the area of his game that needs the most work.
Coach Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes loves defenseman who can be responsible in their own end. It is what Tippett's system is all about and Rundblad will not get a long-term sniff of the NHL in the Phoenix organization until he fixes that part of his game.
His season in Portland this year is beginning to establish Rundblad as an all-around defenseman, something that 'Yotes fans should salivate over. His offensive skills have not gone anywhere, yet his defense is improving day by day. If he is able to crack the roster this season, it would make the Coyotes even more potent on the back line and give them another option for the power play, an area in the past that has been dismal for the Desert Dogs.
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