Why did David Rundblad never make it in the NHL? At only 25 years old Rundblad has already been traded 3 times, and bought out. He played for three different professional teams this season alone. Rundblad is an undoubtedly talented player, so why is it he’s never managed to stick and is he of any value to an NHL team in the future?
First a little back story. Rundblad was drafted 19th overall in 2009 by the St.Louis Blues. He signed his ELC with the Blues before being traded to the Senators in exchange for the 16th overall pick in the 2010 draft, which turned out to be Vladimir Tarasenko. At this point, Rundblad was still playing in the Swedish Elite League, where he had a tremendous breakout season the next season totaling 50 points in just 55 games for Skelleftea AIK, which was the second most points by a defenseman ever for the club. Typically defensemen who fare well in Sweden have gone on to experience tremendous success in North America. There’s a reason many of the top blueliners in the league hail from Sweden.
It’s fair to say Rundblad was one of the top defensive prospects in the game at this point. He played 24 games for the Senators the next season after earning a spot on opening night. It speaks to how highly valued he was that he was traded, along with a second round pick for Kyle Turris who was in the midst of some difficult contract negotiations with the Coyotes. Turris was a 3rd overall pick just four year prior, and while he had yet to breakout, Turris was still highly valued.
Rundblad played six games in Arizona before being sent to the AHL for the first time of his career. Rundblad played well in his 30 games in Portland, netting 14 points. During the lockout of 2012 Rundblad returned to Portland where he improved with 39 points in 50 games, extending his reputation as a defender with excellent offensive instincts. The next year he battled injury and split what few games he did play between the AHL and NHL before being traded to the Blackhawks for a second round pick (which became Memorial cup champ Christian Dvorak).
Rundblad lasted in Chicago for a little while, playing small minutes and often a healthy scratch. That is until his contract was mutually terminated by him and the Hawks. Pretty odd for the Hawks to give up on a player who was traded for Vladimir Tarasenko, Kyle Turris and Christian Dvorak, especially when he is only 25 years old and making a tad more than a million.
In terms of Rundblad’s results while he is on the ice, we don’t have much of a sample size to work with. Going back the last three seasons, David has only played 75 games. However in this time, his teams have generated more shot attempts, while conceding fewer. He has outperformed his team averages 3.8% in terms of possession at 5v5. What’s more impressive is that his team’s control over 10% more of the goals while he is on the ice. This is unsustainably high, and could be a result of many factors (usage, small sample size, PDO) but is nevertheless worth mentioning. One of the knocks against Rundblad is that, while his xGF% is still above team average, it is fairly significantly lower than his CF% at +2.3%. From this we can determine either that Rundblad gives up higher quality chances against, or lower danger chances for. Again, he is still noticeably above his team average so this is not a true negative, just something to be aware of.
As we can tell from his HERO chart, he is within the 1st pairing tier for all of the listed categories. Since the sample size is so small, it is expected he will regress to the mean, or in other words become more average. This is taken to account in the performance tier probabilities boxes at the bottom, but even with regression, Rundblad is still very likely to be at least an NHL level defensemen. Perhaps even a top pair guy if given the opportunity.
So to sum up what we’ve covered thus far, Rundblad is a guy who is good defensively, while also providing copious amounts of offense. He helps his team score more than the other team which is really the most important factor in any player. He is 25 years old, just hitting his prime and was on a contract that paid him $1,050,000. He also managed to clear waivers this season, which begs the questions; why?
Well to be quite honest, I have no idea. Perhaps it is due to the fact that many teams do not pay enough attention to stats. Perhaps he has off ice issues the public hasn’t been made aware of. Perhaps there were teams interested, but didn’t have the cap space, roster spot or organizational need to claim him. David Rundblad is a free agent as of right now, and could be a hidden gem for a team looking to add to their defense for cheap. There are a number of contenders who could do well adding a talented blueliner for cheap such as: Tampa, Chicago or Dallas. I can’t imagine there are many, if any teams with are 100% satisfied with all seven defensemen on their roster. Yet in spite of this I fear David Rundblad will be forced to take his game to Europe this season. Maybe he’ll play for Las Vegas next season?
If one thing is clear in the curious case of David Rundblad, it’s that he has been severely misunderstood throughout his career and can still be a meaningful addition to any team willing to give him minutes.