There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in Caniac Nation over the struggles that have plagued Elias Lindholm in the season’s early going. Lindholm, who the Hurricanes made the 5th overall pick in 2013’s draft, has yet to score a goal on the season and is currently a minus-8 in terms of raw on-ice goal differential.
While it’s impossible to argue that a stat line like that one isn’t bleak, I do think there’s a lot of reason for optimism for Lindholm’s future performance. My focus this week is going to be to take you through just a few of those reasons, so let’s dive right into the numbers and see what they have to say about Carolina’s embattled forward.
(note: All of the following data comes from Corsica.hockey, unless otherwise noted)
Reason #1: He’s Driving Play
With Lindholm on the ice at even strength, the Hurricanes are controlling 55.69% of the shot attempts. That number is good for fifth among the team’s regular forwards, and it even puts him ahead of Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, and Lee Stempniak.
That’s obviously one good sign; he’s not out there getting dominated from a territorial perspective when he’s on the ice, in fact the opposite is true. His on-ice expected goals share is actually slightly in the negative (it’s 49.5%), but that number has been trending upward since a rather rough stretch to begin the season, and this early in the season, past corsi is usually a better predictor of future expected goals than past expected goals.
As long as he continues to drive play at a rate better than a solid amount of his teammates, he’s at least useful to the team in that regard.
Reason #2: He’s Been Almost Historically Unlucky
According to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, there are 349 forwards who have played at least 1,500 minutes of 5-on-5 play since Lindholm entered the league in 2013-2014. Of those 349, Lindholm ranks 348th in PDO at 96.2. Only poor Nail Yakupov at 96.1 is beneath him.
The next lowest mark comes in at 96.7, so there’s a good bit of separation between those two and the rest of the field.
Lindholm’s career trend of poor luck has carried over into this season so far. According to DTMAboutHeart’s expected goals data, Lindholm ranks 149th out of 680 players in individual expected goals per 60 minutes at 0.734. That’s good enough to put him ahead of Aho, Nordstrom, Teravainen, and some of his other peers from the ‘Canes.
So there’s reason to believe the puck is going to start going in for Lindholm at some point. His shooting percentage is not going to be zero forever, nor will the Hurricanes continue to shoot at a 2.56% clip as a team while Lindholm is on the ice. As those numbers go up, so too will Lindholm’s production rate of goals and assists.
Reason #3: He’s 21 Years Old
Seriously. Lindholm hasn’t been good this year, but let’s not undermine the fact that his career has been relatively solid so far.
In his rookie year, he was put in a position that he was not ready to be in by then general manager Jim Rutherford. He still managed to put up a respectable 21 points in 58 games as an 18/19 year old.
In his second year, the first under Bill Peters, he put up 39 points in 81 games. In the new NHL, that’s elite production from a third-liner, even if it’s a bit underwhelming from a second-liner.
Last season, Lindholm’s assist total improved as he compiled a career-high 28, but a dip in shooting percentage caused his goal scoring to regress, resulting in another season of 39 points.
We know that players don’t usually hit their peak production until they’re about 24 or 25 years old. While Lindholm’s start to this season is discouraging, there’s still time for him to rectify the situation and become a productive second line forward for the next six to eight years or so.
I don’t think there’s much hope for him to become an elite first line player like there once was, but not being an elite first liner does not a bust make. You can’t hit a home run with every player, some players are doubles.