After a rough start to the season for Elias Lindholm, things finally seemed to be getting back on track. In Carolina’s big 3-2 comeback win over the Bruins right before the holiday break, he collected two assists.
In his first game back from injury, Lindholm looked like he hadn’t missed a beat from while he was out of the lineup. He was quick and sharp on his feet. He was engaged physically. He even got an assist on the game-winning goal. Sure, it wasn’t on a gorgeous centering feed or anything, but it was still a very smart play to throw the puck toward the net against a goalie who had displayed lots of shakiness in the game to that point.
Lindholm was rewarded for his efforts on Tuesday as he was recognized by his teammates with the “Chop Wood Carry Water” award that the team gives out following each victory.
Lindholm’s coach certainly took notice of the impact the winger had in his return. In his post game press conference after the win over Columbus, Bill Peters spoke highly of the Swede’s play.
“You see the addition of Lindy into the lineup, what he means to this team. I thought he was very good,” Peters said. “I thought he didn’t miss a beat. He got better every period, but he was playing very well when he went out, and it’s a credit to him to be able to come back and play at that level coming off that type of injury,” he continued.
It’s hard to disagree with the coach’s assessment there.
When Lindholm is on his game, as he has been recently, he brings a blend of everything that makes up the Hurricanes’ identity as a team.
He’s pursuing the puck relentlessly in his own zone, making smart decisions with and without the puck in the neutral zone, and providing creativity with the puck in the offensive zone. He’s even shown flashes throughout his career of having high-end finishing ability.
But it’s his struggle with finding consistency with that creativity and finishing ability that have prevented Lindholm from truly breaking out as a prolific point-getter at the NHL level.
Lindholm’s point production at even-strength has been a bit of a weakness to this point in his career. According to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, In his rookie season, he put up just 1.16 points per 60 minutes at even-strength. He followed that up with 1.21 in an expanded role in 2014-2015, and last year he hit a career low at just 1.06.
Over that entire three-year stretch, he was good for just 1.14 P/60. Simply put, that’s not good enough for a player taken at fifth overall. Yes, he was rushed to the league before he was ready. Yes, he has dealt with some injury issues in that time frame, but out of the 179 forwards who played at least 2,500 minutes at 5-on-5 from 2013-2016, Lindholm ranked 174th in P/60.
This year, however, there has been an encouraging uptick in Lindholm’s production levels. To this point in the season, he’s at 1.32 P/60, which would be a career high should he sustain that level of output.
That number also puts him in more respectable company league-wide. Of the 251 forwards to play 400 minutes so far this season, Lindholm ranks 178th in this metric. That still isn’t ideal, but it’s a clear and marked improvement in his production, and thus it signals an upward tick in his development curve.
Peters’ opinion of Lindholm’s level of play seems to track closely with those numbers. “Lindy’s playing the best hockey he’s played under my time here,” the coach opined. “Probably some other guys you could say that about, but Lindy for sure.”
If Lindholm wants to continue his development and really establish himself as the top-six forward that he was drafted to be, he’ll need to build off of his recent strong play and find another gear.
Pairing him with Jordan Staal, as has been done when he’s healthy lately, seems like a good place to start with that. Throughout Lindholm’s career, the two of them have put up a 55.4 percent corsi share when on the ice together. When Lindholm is apart from Staal, his number dips to just 51.9 percent.
According to corsica.hockey, with the two of them on the ice together in statistically significant line combinations throughout Lindholm’s career, the Hurricanes have an expected goals share of 55.63 percent.
Staal’s line is always going to be dominant territorially, and having Lindholm on his wing seems to aid in that process. If the two of them are going to form a legitimate second line with whomever is on their left wing (Brock McGinn currently), they’re going to need to start scoring more. Maybe it’s unreasonable to expect them to continue the pace they had going right before Lindholm’s injury, but if they could settle in a notch below that it would do wonders for this team’s offensive output going forward.
With Jeff Skinner, Victor Rask, Teuvo Teravainen, and Sebastian Aho seemingly beginning or continuing to heat up, it would be a big boost for the team if Lindholm and Staal could join them to give the team six legitimate top-six forwards spread out over three lines.
That sort of balance up front would be crucial to the team’s effort to prolong this season’s playoff push, so I think we can all agree that it’s a good thing that what we’ve seen from Lindholm recently has been encouraging.