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With back injury almost healed, Lindstrom ready for the draft spotlight


Cayden Lindstrom knew the questions about his back injury were coming during interviews at the NHL scouting combine. 

"Basically, every team asked me about it," the Medicine Hat Tigers centre confirmed, "because it was such a big thing from the season."

Lindstrom rocketed out of the gates to start the year with 27 goals, 19 assists and 66 penalty minutes in 32 games in the Western Hockey League. But he didn't suit up from Dec. 16 until the playoffs in March when he produced one goal and one assist in four games.  

"It was a disc herniation," Lindstrom said. "That's really it. Those things take a long time to heal. It kind of effected the nerve in my leg and gave me a little sciatica. It was nothing too crazy. It's just a matter of time. Like, nerve stuff takes a while to heal, but I'm feeling great now. I'm on the ice three to five times a week now. I'm in the gym basically every day training and I train hard. It's good. It's healing up nicely."

The 6-foot-3, 213 pound native of Chetwynd, B.C. was able to do some of the fitness testing at the combine and finished second in both left and right grip strength and fourth in the bench press. 

"Probably mid-July or late July I'm hoping to be 100 per cent," he said. "I'm feeling good right now. I'd say I'm about 90 per cent right now."

Back injuries can make teams nervous, but Lindstrom didn't sense much concern when he did his interviews. 

"I just told them the truth and what I was feeling," Lindstrom said. "I told them I was feeling good. As far as I know, they didn't have any worries about it. I don't think it was too much of a big deal."

Lindstrom recently started working with a new skating coach, Barb Aidelbaum, which he believes will help prevent any future issues. 

"I've only done four or five sessions so far," the 18-year-old said. "I just asked my agent [Daren Hermiston] if he could try and find me a skating coach. I feel like all the back stuff might be related to my skating. Yeah, we just thought it was a good idea."

Despite missing 36 games, Lindstrom was still named the Canadian Hockey League's top draft prospect at the end-of-season awards. And with concerns about his back injury fading, Lindstrom is expected to be among the first players picked at the draft in Las Vegas next Friday. 

TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie has Lindstrom at No. 5 in his latest ranking of top prospects, which is based on a poll of scouts. And TSN director of scouting Craig Button also has Lindstrom going at No. 5 to the Montreal Canadiens in his latest mock draft

In a conversation with TSN, Lindstrom explained how he handled his injury absence and revealed why he almost played baseball instead of hockey. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation. 

TSN: How did you deal with the injury absence mentally? 

Lindstrom: It was hard because I wasn't even in Medicine Hat. I was in Vancouver for a month and then Calgary for almost a month just doing rehab and trying to figure out what was going on and different physios. It was definitely hard being away from the team. I was really glad when I got to go back in playoffs and play those couple games, even though I didn't get to play to my full potential and at 100 per cent. It was really good to get back with the guys. It was hard mentally, but I got through it. 

TSN: How did you pass the time? 

Lindstrom: I tried reading. I got a quarter of a way through a book. Like, I read three pages a day for a little bit and then it kind of wore off. I watched a lot of shows. I could do upper-body workouts, so I would work out as much I could without aggravating it. I would stickhandle a little bit, but that was all I could really do. All I could really do is kind of sit around and do my physio workouts. I did my physio workouts about three to four times a day, and then walked around and hung out.  

TSN: What was it like in the playoffs? 

Lindstrom: Oh, it was hard, definitely. It was really aggravating, because I wasn't able to get low and, like, my speed wasn't really there or anything like that. I tried to be as physical as I could because my speed wasn't there yet. I was out of shape. It was brutal. I tried to do everything I could to help my team.

TSN: Our Craig Button says you have "as much upside potential as any player in the draft." What is your potential? 

Lindstrom: There's obviously a lot of great players in this draft, I think I'm one of them. I can be a skilled power forward. 

TSN: Who is your NHL role model? 

Lindstrom: I think I play a lot like a Roope Hintz. Just that skilled power forward, centre, speedy, and physical as well. 

TSN: Where has your game grown the most over the last year? 

Lindstrom: Just my overall game. I'm more confident with the puck. I make plays. I started trusting my shot a lot more. I started shooting from areas I wouldn't be shooting from the previous years and scoring. I'm just trusting my shot and trusting my abilities and staying confident. 

TSN: Did something click with your shot? 

Lindstrom: Well, I've always had a pretty average shot, I'd say, but last summer I worked on it quite a bit. I'd always stay on and work on it after practice and then in-season as well. I just worked on different shots and things like that. So, just the extra time working on it has helped a lot.

TSN: In his latest mock draft, Button has you going to the Canadiens. What goes through your mind when you think of that possibility? 

Lindstrom: Everything, really. I didn't see that mock draft, but that would be a cool place to go. I've done a couple interviews with media from Montreal, and they make it sound like an unbelievable place. I know it's a good franchise and a good hockey market. Their fans are crazy, obviously. But, yeah, I think it would be a really fun to place to play and get drafted to. 

TSN: What about your makeup, your personality, do you think would fit the intensity of a Canadian market? 

Lindstrom: I've heard a lot about how there's a lot of spotlight and a lot of media things, but I think I can handle it. I really like the bright lights. I like the loud crowds. It motivates me more than anything. 

TSN: What's the trickiest question you faced at the combine? 

Lindstrom: Nothing too crazy. Obviously everyone is saying that Uber rating one, but I don't even have Uber. I got asked to count the ABCs by numbers. Like, A1, B2, C3 and D4, like all the way up. It took me like 10 to 15 minutes. That was a weird one. 

TSN: You went to dinner with Montreal, Utah and Columbus at the combine. What's it like ordering in that scenario? Do you follow their lead? Are you staying away from anything that might be messy? 

Lindstrom: They tell me to get whatever I want so I get whatever I want, you know what I mean? If I see something good I'm going to have it. I stay away from the really greasy stuff. It's usually always steak. They always take us to a steakhouse, so just get a nice steak. 

TSN: They want to get to know you better in a more relaxed environment. So, what's one thing most people don't know about you? 

Lindstrom: I was a multi-sport athlete for quite a long time, until I was 14. I grew up playing different sports. I played a bit of basketball. Baseball was my second sport. Soccer, I played a lot of soccer. I golfed. I boxed a lot. 

TSN: You still box? 

Lindstrom: Well, yeah, but I had to kind of stop because of the back stuff. But when I can, I do a lot. 

TSN: Why did you choose hockey? 

Lindstrom: It was really close with baseball and hockey. I really loved baseball and my whole family was ballplayers growing up. Like, my grandpa loves it. He still wishes I played baseball. He always tells me, 'Ah, man, baseball would've been sick.' I'm like, 'Yeah, whatever, man.' It came really close. I really enjoy hockey. I really loved the challenge. I think it's the hardest sport to play and I like that about it. I just loved all the skills you can learn through hockey and different things you can do with the sport. 

TSN: Why is it the hardest sport? 

Lindstrom: Well, you're on skates and you're going, like, what, 30 miles an hour or something like that? I think it's one of the fastest sports in the world. 

TSN: It's looking very fast in the Stanley Cup Final. You and three other top prospects were invited to Game 2 in Florida. What will you remember most? 

Lindstrom: I'll remember a lot. It was, overall, such a great experience. The atmosphere in that rink was unreal. And just everything. Just meeting the players and meeting different celebrities. We met Wayne Gretzky, Charles Barkley and Ariana Grande. It was just a really surreal experience. We all had a blast there. I'll remember the whole trip.

TSN: What was your most star-struck moment? 

Lindstrom: Definitely seeing Gretzky because, like, it's my first time ever seeing him in person. You don't even think he's real until you meet him, you know? So, yeah, that's probably the most star-struck I've ever been. 

TSN: Did you say anything to him? 

Lindstrom: I just got to introduce myself. We didn't really have a conversation, but he talked to all of us as a group. Him and Charles Barkley were just cracking jokes to each other.

TSN: What do you think of what Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid is doing right now? 

Lindstrom: Watching him in person is just crazy. Just how quick he is and what he can do, how much he can create. He's doing so good. It's unbelievable what he can do.

TSN: What would it take to slow him down if you were out there against him? 

Lindstrom: Oh man, I don't know. I'd try and rub him out or something. Try and keep up. I don't know. I'd just try and play him as hard as I can.