When the Carolina Hurricanes made Elias Lindholm the fifth overall selection in June’s NHL Entry Draft, they had expected him to be a fixture down the middle for years, starting immediately. Scouts everywhere raved about his readiness to play in North America and ability to contribute as an 18-year-old. So far, success has been hard to come by.
Through the first quarter of the season, Lindholm’s rookie campaign can only be described as tumultuous. After scoring his first NHL goal in just his fourth game, he battled a pair of shoulder injuries in October, and found himself on a bus to Charlotte for a few weeks in November. The ‘Canes brought him back to help a struggling powerplay, but as the calendar rolls into December, a return to the AHL may be in his best interest.
In a year where not much has gone right for the Hurricanes, the lack of firepower on the powerplay has stuck out like a broken thumb — nevermind sore. In Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks they went 0-for-6 with the man advantage, including nearly six straight minutes of failure.
Despite averaging 2:26 per game on the powerplay, Lindholm only has two points to show for it. His vision and passing ability is a rarity in Carolina, but it hasn’t translated to much success as of late.
But because of the lack of other options, Lindholm is being forced into a third line role that he’s not ready for. He’s a step slow, and has been outworked along the boards more often than not. He’s not even getting pucks on net; Tim Gleason has as many shots on goal as Lindholm in half as many games. When it comes to shot attempt differential, he’s the worst among all Carolina forwards. It’s led to long stretches on the bench — he recorded just two seconds of ice-time after the 11:00 mark of the second period Sunday.
If Kirk Muller can’t trust Lindholm at even-strength, he’s essentially become a powerplay specialist that isn’t producing for one of the league’s worst powerplays.
During his first stint with the Checkers, Lindholm gained some scoring confidence, recording 3 points in 6 games. But he quickly racked up a minus-four rating and was only recalled after an injury to Alex Semin forced Muller’s hand.
Given Lindholm’s recent play, more time in the AHL appears necessary. With Semin still ailing, it may not be ideal for Carolina, but continued development at a lower level with less pressure will help Lindholm in the long run.
The ‘Canes, however, are short on bodies — especially those talented with the man-advantage. Though one of the first cuts during training camp, Zach Boychuk has quietly put together a solid season for the Checkers.
Once criticized by Barry Trotz for being soft on his skates, Boychuk may not be Muller’s prototypical forward, but with time running out on an NHL career, could have a chip on his shoulder to make a difference. He and Lindholm are not he same player, and both excel at different aspects of the game. But, at worst, this would be a lateral move. It’s not as if there are many other options to select from at the moment.
The concern over Charlotte’s inability to properly develop players has been well documented. There is risk in sending Lindholm to the AHL for an extended period, but there is more risk in him remaining in Carolina. On-ice play aside, he is just one hit away from another shoulder problem.
If Lindholm continues to ride the bench for much of the game, only coming off for powerplay work, his time will be better served in Charlotte. At this point, year one of his entry-level contract has already been burned. It’s time to look out for what’s best for Lindholm — not what’s best for Carolina.