David Rundblad remains hopeful while awaiting opportunity

USA TODAY Sports

A closer look at David Rundblad's path to the Phoenix Coyotes and his play so far in the 2013-14 season.

"Ability is nothing without opportunity." - Napoleon Bonaparte

A life saying that translates to sports and one athlete in particular.

David Rundblad, a young, offensively-gifted defenseman whose skill set dazzles scouts. He has speed, poise and great hands, all the young man lacks is the opportunity to display those talents under the bright lights of the NHL on a consistent basis.

Rundblad's journey from a first round pick to the NHL has been anything but smooth. By the age of 21, the Lycksele, Sweden native was with his third organization after being traded twice.

The young Swede's North American story has followed a path from promise to lack of opportunity. He never played for the team that drafted him, he played just a handful games for the first team that traded for him and he's played a combined 25 games, over parts of three seasons, with his current team, the Phoenix Coyotes.

The now 23-year-old defenseman has bounced around the Swedish Hockey League, American Hockey League and the National Hockey League over the past four seasons. The journey from Skellefteå to Ottawa to Phoenix to Portland and back to Phoenix again was long and arduous.

"It's not what I expected but it is what it is," Rundblad said. "I hope (in the future) I can feel like it's a good thing (travelling like this) and I can learn a lot from it."

Rundblad wants to use his time pin-balling around North America to grow as a player.

"I just got to stay with it and keep working hard and hopefully I get an opportunity." -David Rundblad

"It's hopefully going to get me to be a better player from all the travelling, all the practices, playing different teams and everything. You just got to learn from it and keep going," Rundblad said.

Continuing to get better and staying hopeful without knowing if or when you will be rewarded with playing time is one of the most difficult things for any athlete to handle.

"That's probably the hardest job in the whole league - is to do what he is having to do," Coyotes captain and teammate Shane Doan said. "It takes incredible character and a type of mental toughness that's pretty unique."

Unique in his mental toughness, unique in his skill set.

"He's a guy that has incredible poise and incredible hands. You talk to anyone on our team and they always mention how his hands are incredible and his poise with the puck is incredible. Hopefully he gets an opportunity to show that," Doan said.

Rundblad was described on draft day as an elite puck-moving defenseman who sees and thinks the game well. Most of those praises came from then St. Louis Blues' Assistant General Manager and Director of Amateur Scouting Jarmo Kekalainen, now the General Manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Blues selected Rundblad with 17th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft and sent him back to his home country with the chance he would jet across the Atlantic the following season.

But as easily as plans are made, they can go awry.

By the time the 2010 Draft rolled around, Blues' General Manager Larry Pleau was days away from stepping down as GM and Kekalainen was days away from leaving North America to become the GM of the Helsinki Jokerit of the Finnish Elite League.

With the former St. Louis brain trust halfway out the door, the Blues wanted a new prospect -- Vladimir Tarasenko of the KHL. On June 25, 2010, the Blues traded Rundblad to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for the 16th overall pick the Blues used to draft Tarasenko, two weeks after Rundblad signed his first professional contract.

Things were looking up for the Swedish defenseman, however, as Ottawa made strong pushes for skilled Swedish players in its two prior drafts, selecting Erik Karlsson, Jakob Silfverberg and Robin Lehner.

The Senators went without a first round pick for the only time in team history to trade for Rundblad.

Ottawa loaned Rundblad back to his Swedish team, Skellefteå, for the 2010-11 season. Rundblad would go on to nearly break the Swedish Hockey League record for most points in a season by a defenseman with 11 goals and 50 points in 55 games. His performance prompted a highlight video titled "David Rundblad - Unstoppable."

Rundblad's journey to North America began at the start of the 2011-12 season, when he was penciled into the Senators' everyday lineup. He played 24 games in Canada's capital before falling out of favor with the team, after scoring only four points, and was on the move once again.

Ottawa GM Bryan Murray was more interested in Kyle Turris than he was in Rundblad who, reports at the time indicated, was about to be sent down to the AHL.

Phoenix traded a disgruntled Turris to Ottawa in exchange for Rundblad and a second round draft pick on Dec. 17, 2011. The Coyotes added another young defenseman to a system that already included young prospects Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Michael Stone, Brandon Gormley and Connor Murphy and veterans Keith Yandle, Derek Morris and Rostislav Klesla.

To say there was a logjam on the blue line is an understatement.

Caught behind the majority of those players (and others) on the defensive depth chart, Rundblad's NHL playing time is few and far between.

He played six NHL games and 30 AHL games to finish the season.

Rundblad would start the 2012-13 season in the AHL with the Portland Pirates during the NHL lockout. He ended the season with only eight NHL appearances, but scored 39 points in 50 AHL games.

The performance was enough for the Coyotes to re-sign Rundblad, as a restricted free agent, to a two-year, $1.57 million contract in June.

No longer waiver exempt, Rundblad has been on the Coyotes' main roster all season, but has only played 11 games. Stuck in a numbers game with the other NHL caliber defensemen Phoenix rosters, the 6' 2" 195 pound defenseman spends most of his nights in the press box.

Still in the developmental stage, the young defenseman is fighting for ice time while still trying to improve.

"It's not the easiest thing, but I just got to keep working as hard as I can every practice and try to do every little extra I can every practice and just try to stay with it and be ready when the chance comes," Rundblad said.

Although he leads the Coyotes in possession stats this season, he has only one assist to show for it.

"Of course I'm not satisfied (with my play this season)," Rundblad said. "It's tough when your not playing consistent (minutes)."

The Coyotes have a shortage of right-handed defensive prospects in the minor leagues and may need to depend on Rundblad in the future to quarterback their power play.

"I just got to stay with it and keep working hard and hopefully I get an opportunity," Rundblad said.

Will he get that long-awaited opportunity in Phoenix? Only time will tell.

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