The season is only two games old but it might be time to go out on a limb and ask, “…is Elias Lindholm ever going to show up”? Many said last season, that the Carolina Hurricanes’s success would be partially predicated by Lindholm taking the proverbial next step. Back to back 39 point seasons seem to indicate that somebody’s still stuck somewhere on the developmental staircase. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
He was the #5 pick of the 2013 draft, selected one pick before Sean Monahan. Almost certainly the drafting brain trust wavered back and forth between the two. The smart money opinion at the time was that Monahan was closer to NHL ready, but that Lindholm possibly had higher upside. Elias was a kid who already had a pro season under his belt playing with grown men at the highest Swedish professional men’s league. Plus, he’d played pretty darn well.
Lindy was considered a talented and skilled guy who made things happen with a combination of that skill and elite hockey sense. He had made a name for himself by not shying away from the physical game while also demonstrating high levels of competitiveness. This latter trait had some comparing him to Peter Forsberg. Layer over recognized play-making skills and advanced two-way play and most Caniacs felt this was an outstanding 1st round pick holding tremendous promise.
The professional hockey developmental plan for Elias Lindholm could be argued as a blueprint for how NOT to bring a young player along. To say that he was slight of stature is neither accurate nor fair. Yet, at 6′ tall and about 185 lbs., he wasn’t fully baked by NHL standards either. Low and behold a few days into training camp, a check into the boards brought on a shoulder injury that likely hampered Lindholm’s play for a good part of, if not the entire season.
In Jim Rutherford’s and Kirk Muller’s eminent wisdom, at 18 years of age, Elias Lindholm was thrust into a major role at the NHL level with the Carolina Hurricanes. Many fans at the time felt that Lindy would have been best served by returning for another year in the SHL. Many of those same fans saw the promise, but also the need for continued development in a league where he could continue his development progression. But Rutherford needed a right-wing, didn’t want to pay a veteran salary, so Elias Lindholm became a newly minted NHLer at the start of the 2013-14 season.
With 21 points in 58 games there were flashes of what the scouting staff must have seen. His quick release accompanied an accurate, even lethal wrist shot. He was not afraid of board play but was often over-matched by bigger and/or stronger players. Defensively, young Elias held his own quite well as his skating allowed him to keep up with most opponents. While not totally out of place, there were enough “deer in the headlights” moments as to cause questions about development to surface. Regardless, he would need to work hard in the offseason to realize what clearly was obvious potential.
Coming of Age
A changing of the guard should have boded well for Lindholm. Jim Rutherford was essentially pushed out as General Manager, replaced by franchise legend, Ron Francis. One of his first moves was to fire Muller and bring in Bill Peters as the new coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. A new era in hockey in the Carolinas bloomed with something of an inauspicious start. The team finished with 71 points, good enough for last place in the newly reconfigured Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference of the NHL.
Exactly opposite to the team’s progression, Elias Lindholm seemed to take the next step forward, albeit measured. Potting 17 goals on his way to 39 points, he began taking a larger role, particularly offensively for the Canes. Despite what appeared to be “running out of gas” toward the end of the season, he scored 6 goals and twelve points in his last 20 games of the season. He had very nice scoring months in November and February of that season as well. Finishing 3rd in both goals scored as well as overall scoring (on an offensively challenged team) seemed to speak volumes. Additionally he performed quite well in the possession game, finishing at 54.4% in CF% and 3.1 in relative CF%. All indicators were pointing in the right direction.
A Funny Thing Happened
When the 2015-16 season dawned, most pundits didn’t give the Hurricanes much of a chance to make the post-season. However, there were a lot of eyes on Elias Lindholm. This could be, even should be, his big break out year. Alas, it was not to be. Lindy went “1 for October”…as in 1 goal and only 1 point. He followed that up with a 2 goal, 6 point performance in the month of November – 3 goals and 7 points in 24 games. The petal was falling off the rose. The next three months produced much better offensive results (23 points), but still well below what his talent level should have dictated or what expectations reasonably or otherwise predicted.
While a number of reasons for Elias’s difficulties were floated, all one had to do was watch his games and it was easy to divine a massive loss of confidence. He also appeared to not understand what was happening either to him or around him. One of Bill Peters’ most savvy coaching moves was to put Lindholm on the penalty kill. For whatever reason it seemed to help him regain some of that lost confidence, but, maybe more importantly, it seemed to get his head back in the flow of the overall game. This move roughly correlated with his improved offensive output.
The resulting 39 point season, again not terrible, was considered significantly disappointing when one considers Lindy’s talent level as well as the opportunities to excel that were extended. Rumor has it that Rod Brind’Amour essentially called Elias out on his offseason training and strength conditioning.
Today’s Version: On Its Way to Being New and Improved?
For the first time over a summer, there was video of Elias Lindholm in the gym, working out with a recognized trainer. His legs and his upper body appear to be bigger. If the first two games are any indication, he doesn’t appear to be knocked off the puck as easily and he’s taken his physical game up a notch or so. Paired with a couple of Finns, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, the putative 3rd line centered by Elias Lindholm is going to be counted on for noticeable scoring. Even considering this line’s pedigree (two 1st rounders and an early 2nd rounder), there remains some concern that 3 “pass first” guys have been put on a line together.
Lindholm’s offense appears to have recovered from his crisis of confidence. While not yet on the scoreboard and only taking 3 shots in 2 games (not very far below his career average and easily attributable to the tiny sample size), the offensive looks appear to be of significantly higher quality, the release has recaptured its quickness, but the accuracy is still a bit wanting (at least two of the shots were noticeably high). Still, he appears to be looking for offense, whether with his shot or finding an open man in scoring position. He’s playing in all situations having put up minutes on the power play and the penalty kill. In fact, at 18:14 ATOI, he’s putting up the 2nd most ice time of the forward group.
Bill Peters seems to be determined to let the Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen line marinate and get a real chance to succeed. They might be missing some size or they might have to convince one of those guys that he’s a trigger man. However, if that line does click and starts to put up the points it should, Lindy will get his fair share of those points…maybe more than some believe.
It would be easy to be as disappointed with Elias Lindholm as many are with the rest of the team (losing two 3 point leads in the 3rd period will do that). Or one can see the glimmer of progress that he’s made….or is making. With 80 more games on tap, there’s a lot of time to see if the “new and improved” version surfaces. If so, it bodes well for his future and the future of the Carolina Hurricanes franchise.