The Canes 2015-16 was a relative success, going from a projected last-overall team to a team that fought hard into late March for a playoff game and finished just 7 points out of a playoff spot. Much of this success was due to growth and contributions from the Canes’ young talent, which gives plenty of reason for excitement moving forward. However, one player who didn’t take the strides expected from him, was a player who had perhaps the highest expectations of any young Cane. The player in question is 21-year old Swedish forward Elias Lindholm.
Lindholm, drafted as a center, is a very skilled forward who was the Hurricanes first pick in the 2013 draft, when they made him the 5th overall pick ahead of players like Sean Monahan, Rasmus Ristolainen and Max Domi. Scouts said at the time Lindholm’s vision, playmaking ability and his defensive play made him the safest pick at that spot. I’m not sure that’s been the case so far.
Lindholm, arguably rushed into the league as an 18 year old, played 58 games as a winger with the Canes as a rookie and managed 9 goals, 12 assists and a team-worst (other than traded Tuomo Ruutu) -14 rating. While he didn’t look out of place, it was evident he wasn’t adjusted to the smaller North American ice surface, and spent a stint with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL and as well as an assistant captain for the Swedish WJC-20 team, where he amassed 9 points in 6 games.
Improvement was expected from Lindholm before the 2014-15 season, and he came out of the gate strong scoring 6 goals, 3 assists for 9 points in the Canes first 14 games of the season. His production sort of trailed of after that, as he scored just 11 goals and 19 assists for 30 points in his next 67 games, boasting a nearly team-worst -23 rating. After the season, going into the final year of his entry-level deal, he signed a 2-year bridge contract with the Canes at an average of 2.7 million per season.
Thus, expectations ran higher for Lindholm heading into his third season, where he was to be teamed with Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg to form the Canes top-line. It didn’t quite go as planned, as Lindholm bounced up and down the top-9 without really sticking with any line and admittedly not building chemistry with any certain player (Nordy-Staal, Skins-Rask). After the Canes roster dismantled itself due to injuries and the trade deadline, Lindholm was bumped up permanently to the first line where he scored 3 goals and 5 assists in 18 games. He also spent 2 of those games at his natural position of center, where he was particularly ineffective, scoring no points and a -4 rating in those games. Lindholm finished the 2015-16 season with just 11 goals, 28 assists and 39 points despite averaging over 18 minutes per game and, once again, sported a team-worst -23 rating. This shouldn’t be a recurring theme for a player billed for his defensive ability. Canes fans will agree that Lindholm has been inconsistent and at times soft during his Hurricanes tenure.
In spite of that, lots of question marks surround Lindholm heading into the 2016-17 season. Where does he fit in the lineup? Can he still become the #1 Center the Canes envisioned him being when they drafted him? Can he reach the 20-goal, 50-60 point mark that was projected from him? At just 21 years of age, he still has the time to put his game together, as his offensive instincts and skating ability are unquestionable. With just 37 goals in 221 career games, Lindholm’s hesitancy to shoot the puck needs to change. He has a very good shot and needs to make better use of it. He also needs to spend time in the weight room, getting stronger and watching tape to help him get in better areas to create scoring chances and capitalize on them. Needless to say, 2016-17 will be a very important year for Elias Lindholm, as well as the Carolina Hurricanes.