General manager Matt Bardsley chose to see through the ghost of Mazzimo Rizzo at the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft in May.
Ghastly reaction was readily available on social media when his Kamloops Blazers selected a pair of players verbally committed to the University of Michigan — Mats Lindgren, seventh overall, and Connor Levis, 20th overall.
The picks took a big step toward looking like ghoulish draft robbery on Tuesday when Lindgren signed with the Blazers.
“Sometimes, if you go the safe route, you might get a player, but you want to get what you feel is the best player,” said Bardsley, who is entering his second season as the Blazers’ GM.
“Am I relieved? I don’t know about relieved, but I’m very happy for our organization and real happy for Mats, as well. It’s going to be a great fit for both sides.”
Lindgren, a 5-foot-8, 140-pound defenceman from North Vancouver, is, in Bardsley’s opinion, an elite defenceman who can be a cornerstone of his club. The book on his skating is pretty much unanimous — it’s off the charts.
“The staff and everyone since development camp, they’ve been so welcoming to me,” Lindgren said. “They really made me feel part of the team.”
Bardsley tried to find the fine line between wooing and badgering the Lindgrens.
“We stayed in communication, but I wasn’t calling every day — what are you doing? What are you thinking?” Bardsley said.
The Blazers and Lindgrens met at the NHL Draft last weekend in Vancouver, where Bardsley got a good feeling about the decision to come. The contract came through on Monday.
“It’s outstanding how much they care about me,” Lindgren said. “They’ve been really nice to me with everything and letting me take my time to make the big decision.”
Hiring Shaun Clouston as head coach and retaining associate coach Darryl Sydor — an elite NHL defenceman in his prime — may have influenced the Lindgrens’ final call.
“We hear lots of great things about him [Clouston],” Lindgren said. “I’m very excited to be coached by him. Hopefully, I get up for a few games next season. And Darryl Sydor, I’ve heard lots of great things about him, as well. I can’t wait to put the Blazers jersey on.”
Levis, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound forward from Vancouver, remains in Bardsley’s crosshairs.
“With Mats signing, I’m sure they’ll look at that, but I’m not sure if that will have any influence on them,” Bardsley said, noting he also met with the Levises at the draft last weekend in Vancouver.
“People say, well, maybe they’re a package deal. For us, they’re still individuals. I still feel confident that Connor is going to be a Kamloops Blazer.”
Will Lindgren’s commitment spur Levis to sign?
“That’s up to him,” Lindgren said. “It’s hard to say. I don’t know.”
Had neither of them signed, some might have wondered if the GM’s tenure was destined to be a brief apparition.
If Levis inks, Bardsley will look something like the Phantom of the WHL Draft.
“As far as relief, yeah, I guess you could say we stuck our necks out there by drafting them, but I feel confident,” Bardsley said.
“If you want to be the best, you need the best players.”