Elias Lindholm: the Flames’ Secret Weapon

When the Calgary Flames made their blockbuster trade with the Carolina Hurricanes at the 2018 NHL Draft, the thought was the deal would be important for both clubs. For the Flames, the notion was that Noah Hanifin would probably be the biggest piece right away given his youth and promise.

Calgary Flames Elias Lindholm
Calgary Flames forward Elias Lindholm (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

However, forward Elias Lindholm has very quickly and quietly become one of the most important pieces in the Flames’ arsenal. A skilled, disciplined and versatile player, Lindholm has arguably become the team’s secret weapon.

Lindholm’s Impressive NHL Introduction

A skilled two-way player who managed to land a spot on a Swedish pro team at the ripe old age of 17, Lindholm turned a lot of heads in his draft year with a strong performance with Brynas IF of the Swedish Hockey League. After winning a silver medal at the World Juniors, he cemented himself as a top prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft. The thought among many scouts was that he and Ottawa 67’s forward Sean Monahan were pretty close in talent – one was likely to go fifth overall to the Hurricanes, while the Flames would grab whoever was left at sixth overall. Lindholm ended up going to the Hurricanes.

With the Hurricanes, Lindholm was given the gift of opportunity but the challenges that went along with a team that was really reliant on its youngest, least expensive players to carry the mail. As a result it was sometimes a bit of a challenge to produce consistently with the Hurricanes when his line was often the target for the other club’s shutdown lines, something related by former Hurricanes goaltending coach David Marcoux in a recent exchange on Twitter.

On veteran teams there is often less ice time in key situations for young players, but it’s also easier for coaching staffs to shelter their youngsters from tough situational battles and bring them along slowly. The Flames had the ability to “hide” Monahan as he transitioned into the NHL due to having the likes of Matt Stajan, Mikael Backlund and Mike Cammalleri on the roster – the Hurricanes just didn’t have enough depth to make life easy on Lindholm.

Following the 2017-18 season Lindholm was a pending restricted free agent and when contract talks with the Hurricanes stalled, he was swapped to the Flames (with Noah Hanifin) in exchange for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and prospect Adam Fox.

Impressive Early Returns for the Flames

When the Flames acquired Lindholm, they probably thought they were getting a versatile young forward with untapped offensive potential. His strongest offensive season with the Hurricanes saw him amass 17 goals on one occasion and 45 points on another. Given his lineage and playing style, the Flames probably hoped they found themselves with a right-handed version of Selke Trophy contender Mikael Backlund.  Instead, they may have found themselves with a considerably more valuable commodity.

Calgary Flames' Elias Lindholm
Calgary Flames’ Elias Lindholm (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Early in the preseason, Flames head coach Bill Peters tried out Lindholm as the right wing on the team’s top forward line. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are impressive offensive players, but their two-way games aren’t as developed as Lindholm’s, to the point where they were frequently used in the offensive zone to avoid them having to spend a lot of time defending. But Lindholm’s two-way play has been a game-changer for the top line, allowing them to be used in more on-ice situations and to generate turnovers and scoring chances with more regularity.

Offensive Outburst Enabled by Flames Depth

While Lindholm’s two-way play has been impressive, perhaps more eye-opening has been his offensive production. Through his first 35 games with the club, he put up 17 goals and 37 points – good for fourth on the team. He’s poised to put up a career season in both goals and points and a lot of it is because he’s on such a deep club – the Flames have so many offensive weapons they can swap around that it’s difficult for opposition coaches to isolate and shut him down.

Lindholm is arguably the third most talented offensive player on his line, behind Gaudreau and Monahan. That means that defensive zone coverage will inevitably cheat towards that duo, allowing Lindholm a bit more time and space than he would be afforded on other teams. In his last season with the Hurricanes, he averaged 1.9 shots per game (and a 10.5% shooting percentage). So far with the Flames he’s averaging 2.6 shots per game (and an 18.3% shooting percentage). In other words: he’s getting more chances to score and he’s scoring more often.

But Lindholm’s strong play has also given the Flames more options. He can play the wing on the top line but he can also play center, which potentially spreads around the scoring and makes them a tougher team to line-match against. He’s also provided strong contributions on both sides of the Flames’ special teams, adding some offense to each unit.

Lindholm Laying a Strong Foundation

Lindholm turned 24 years old in early December. He’s a strong 200-foot player and the Flames’ top right-handed face-off option, and he’s in the midst of a breakout offensive season. He’s in the first season of a six-year deal with a $4.85 million cap hit. With five full seasons remaining on the deal, Lindholm already looks to be a great bargain for the Flames.