ARLINGTON, V.A. — “Everybody loves him” is the first thing that Darcy Kuemper had to say about his new Washington Capitals goalie partner Charlie Lindgren, and that’s exactly what he’s bringing to the table as he arrives in D.C.: the role of the team guy.
The 28-year-old is always smiling behind his mask, whether he’s in the middle of an intense drill or chatting with teammates. He has always been that culture guy and that presence over his career. And after hitting free agency, he immediately knew where he wanted to go next.
“You always see Washington, it’s always a really good team,” Lindgren said. “They’ve got a heck of a core here. Obviously talking to [Nic Dowd] and [Nick Jensen] over the years, they’ve both really enjoyed it. When I came here as a visitor, I’ve always loved the city. I think it’s unbelievable and it’s a fun place to play. I couldn’t be any more excited about signing here and being here and being with this group of guys… Just the way the summer played out, being able to sign here and getting to work with Darcy and Scotty Murray has been unbelievable already. I’ve already learned a lot.”
Lindgren is set to make the full-time NHL jump this season. He is coming off a standout year with the St. Louis Blues and their AHL-affiliate Springfield Thunderbirds. He went 5-0-0 with a .958 save percentage and 1.22 GAA up with the Blues and then finished the AHL regular season with a .925 SV% (good for second in the league) before helping Springfield reach the Calder Cup Final.
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It has been a long road to the pros for the Lakeville, Minnesota native. He thrived at St. Cloud State, where he also played with Dowd, before signing with the Montreal Canadiens as an undrafted free agent. It was in Quebec that Lindgren matured, grew his game and learned quite a bit working with Carey Price. However, things didn’t exactly pan out. He wasn’t able to become an NHL regular, and he also saw his minutes dwindle.
“I went through my fair share of adversity in Montreal. But also I look back and I think Montreal is what led me here as well. I got to learn from one of the best goalies all-time in Carey Price, and that is priceless,” Lindgren said, later adding, “Being in Montreal, that is obviously a pressure-cooker environment. I enjoyed my time up there. It got a little frustrating for me at the end.”
Now, after proving himself with St. Louis in somewhat of a “Revenge” year, it’s Lindgren’s time to shine at the highest level, rather than vicariously living through mentors like Price and Jordan Binnington. And at this point in his career, he feels ready enough — and mature enough — to make it happen.
“I’ve worked extremely hard to get to this point. Like I’ve always told everyone, there’s no room for complacency. You’ve got to keep on working and keep on working hard. I’m still trying to climb the ladder and be a better goalie every single day,” Lindgren said. “It obviously feels extremely nice to see some of that hard work pay off, but let’s keep it going.
“We all want to make the league at 21. And for goalies, it certainly does take longer and you for sure got to mature mentally… I’ve been around so many goalies and iron sharpens iron,” Lindgren added later, also saying, “I think keeping the same mindset of going to work and competing and getting better, that is the bottom line.”
In Washington, Lindgren will be the backup to Kuemper, who came to the District on a five-year deal following his Stanley Cup season with the Colorado Avalanche. The two have formed a tight bond and are getting along well as they take over as the new tandem for the Capitals.
With regard to his role, Lindgren is ready to help Kuemper bring stability and consistency in net. But also, he wants to be the character guy and believes that his off-ice presence will benefit the team in a major way.
“No. 1, I want to be a good team guy. I want to be a guy that comes here and puts a smile on other guys’ faces, and I want to make everyone better. I want them to make me better, and I think that’s how we all become better as a unit,” Lindgren explained. “Being here, it’s been so fun already, and we’re kind of just getting started. So we’re going to keep on working, keep on putting smiles on our faces. And I think it’s going to lead to a lot of success.”
Beyond that, though, Lindgren is also ready to show that he is an NHL-caliber goaltender and that he can be relied upon and come up big when the Capitals call his name.
“I’ve always known I can play. I think that’s the big thing. I’ve kept on working, and I’ve certainly gotten better over the years… I certainly come to the rink every day with the mindset that I have to work hard, get better,” Lindgren said.
“Going into this year, every single chance I have to get in the crease, I want to make the most of it and I want the guys to trust me,” he added. “Certainly want these guys to rely on me and know that when I’m back there, they can definitely trust me.”