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If you have been away and are catching up on the 2016-17 ‘report card’ series, you can find a clickable menu of previous articles at the bottom of the page.
Elias Lindholm’s starting point for the 2016-17 season
Elias entered the 2016-17 season with 3 seasons and 221 games of NHL hockey under his belt. Given that he was only 21 years old, I do not think it would have been fair to call him a veteran, but he was no longer a wide-eyed, inexperienced kid either. During his first 3 seasons in the NHL, Lindholm had shown flashes of goodness in the form of a good play, a run of shifts or maybe even a couple games, but his potential as the #5 overall pick in a deep draft had come nothing close to being fulfilled. As of the end of the 2015-16 season, Lindholm was still prone to extended stretches with an invisibility cloak on the ice. He played entire games and sometimes multiple where one had to try just to notice him. He put up consecutive 39-point seasons in 2014-15 and 2015-16, offering reasonable depth scoring but not really looking like the bona fide top 6 forward that he was drafted to become.
In short, he entered his fourth NHL season in 2016-17 as a serviceable third line forward, nothing more, nothing less, but with an increasing urgency for him to push over the hump and become much more.
Elias Lindholm’s 2016-17 season with the Carolina Hurricanes
The start of the 2016-17 season was more of the same for Lindholm. He was the elder statesman on a line with rookie Sebastian Aho and newcomer Teuvo Teravainen. The trio looked good in preseason but then was slow out of the gate when the real games started. Elias Lindholm’s only point in eight games in October was a power play assist, and he did not pick up an even strength point until he scored a goal in game #10 on November 5. The combination of the Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen’s slow start and the team’s struggles saw Coach Bill Peters’ shuffle things up fairly early into the season and Lindholm play on a couple different lines. Lindholm mustered only 2 goals and 5 assists in the first quarter of the season was most often adequate and very rarely a difference-maker in the early part of the 2016-17 season.
The second quarter saw Lindholm hit a couple minor injury setbacks but also put up a few more points with 2 goals and 5 assists in only 10 games played. But somewhere right around the mid-season cut line, Lindholm was put on a line with Jordan Staal and out of nowhere seemed to find a higher gear. He did not bust out instantly on the score sheet, but for those watched Hurricanes hockey regularly and closely, the change was unmistakable. Lindholm dialed up a higher level of physical play and suddenly became more noticeable whether he was winning pucks, fighting for position in front of net or engaging opponents with the puck. The third quarter of the season for Lindholm was all about the noticeable difference in his every-shift level of play and watching closely to see if it would last. And along the way, he found a higher gear as a playmaker. He found a comfortable role set up at the side of the net on the power play and created a bunch of great scoring chances for teammates dishing the puck from his new office. He also started to tally more assists mostly of the higher-quality primary variety at even strength. His goal scoring continued to be light, but Lindholm’s point total of 17 (2 goals and 15 assists) was a big step up from his slow start. The final quarter of the season saw Lindholm post a 10-game point streak and finish it with 5 goals and 9 assists and importantly extend his run of playing at a higher level physically.
If you add it up, Lindholm played the second half of the season at a solid 62-point pace. He was a noticeable physical force even on non-scoring shifts. The burning question with Elias Lindholm is whether his strong second half of 2016-17 represented the maturation that Canes fans have been eager to see for a few years now or if it was just the better half of another up and down season.
Grading Elias Lindholm
Graded as: Top 9 scoring forward.
Grade: B. In total, Lindholm had a decent season. But his season was a very striking before and after picture. The ‘before’ looked no better than seasons past. I would rate it a C+. The ‘after’ saw Lindholm transform into and remain a regular force physically and also boost his scoring. I would rate it an A-.
On the whole, Lindholm’s 45 points were 6 more than 2015-16, and he made strides in other areas of his game. Most notably, the Peter Forsberg comparison from his draft year that was nowhere to be found in his first three years finally reared its head on a regular basis. Lindholm acquired a newfound penchant for playing physical on the walls, being a bulldog battling for pucks and just simply being more noticeable and difficult to play against on every shift. While he gets a B for the season in total, his trajectory once he found the ignition switch was at least a B+ and offers hope that even better could be within reach.
Looking forward to 2017-18
Elias Lindholm will be near the top of my watch list when the 2017-18 season kicks off. After an extended run that saw him morph into a completely different player in terms of style of play, power forward ruggedness and compete level, it seems reasonable to consider this a permanent transformation. But until I see it extended into a new season and not something he needs to work his way up to, there is at least a chance that it was simply a longer burst at a higher gear but still part of what will continue to be an up and down, inconsistent pattern.
For the 2017-18 season, I would hope for 50 points if he plays on a checking type line with Jordan Staal or more like 55-60 if he finds himself on more of a scoring-focused line. I would also look for him to continue his playmaking magic from the side of the net on the power play. He could also benefit from a bit more accuracy on his shooting from close range which could boost his goal scoring. For as much as Tripp Tracy loves to rave about his release, Lindholm is currently a below average NHL finisher. More significantly, he can be difference-maker regardless of the score sheet if he continues the brand of hockey that he played in the second half of the 2016-17 season.
What say you Hurricanes fans?
What grade do you give to Elias Lindholm? Was his run of stronger player long enough to boost his full-season average higher than the B that I gave him? And if you had to grade him by halves of the season what would the splits be?
How certain are you that the new Elias Lindholm is a permanent transformation?
If you could pair him with one forward in starting to build lines for the 2017-18 season, who would it be?
Previous report card articles