Every time a rookie has a great first season this question is inevitably asked. Will they continue to impress and improve upon their game or have players found weaknesses and how to exploit them?
This is a big question to ask of now second year Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm. Lindholm shined in his rookie year on Katella Ave. and the Ducks are hoping for more of the same this season. Truthfully they are counting on it.
Following the Ducks early exit from the post-season the front office felt the team needed to be tougher. Those feelings were shown in bringing Ryan Kesler and Clayton Stoner into the fold. Minus Stoner and Luca Sbisa being included in the deal that brought Kesler in the Ducks left their d-corps completely intact. Because of that Lindholm needs to be as good and maybe even better this season and I believe that he can be.
Lindholm was the 6th overall pick by the Ducks in the 2012 Draft. With the lockout shortened season of 12-13 the Ducks felt Lindholm should get his feet wet in the AHL before being called up to the Ducks. He only picked up 11 points for the Admirals but the Ducks saw something in his game that felt he was NHL ready. His smart and composed plays, skating ability, and getting his shot to the net were big reasons why the Ducks felt he was ready to come up and contribute. Lindholm was in the line-up for the opening game of the 13-14 season and spent the whole season in Anaheim.
He finished the regular season with a 6-24-30 line in 78 games played. Playing in all but 4 games and scoring 30 points in your rookie season is a great achievement and something reminiscent of what we saw in Cam Fowler. You can make a lot of comparisons between how Lindholm and Fowler both play the game. Both are offensive minded defensemen that like to jump up in the play and get their shots to the net.
Now even though Fowler has become a high quality defenseman in the past season or so you could make the argument that he did suffer a sophomore slump. However Lindholm achieved something Fowler did not in his rookie season, a positive +/-. Fowler finished his rookie campaign with a -25. Lindholm finished his rookie campaign a +29.
Now you cannot make a direct relationship between the two, the Ducks were a very different looking team in Fowlers rookie year and in Lindholm’s rookie year. They also were under different schemes and coaching staffs with Randy Carlyle still coaching the Ducks when Fowler made his appearance. But a +29 is a very high +/- and even more impressive when he played in all but 4 games, and averaged 19 minutes on ice a night. Those are numbers you don’t typically expect of a rookie and Lindholm excelled at the highest level.
If there is cause for concern it is his play during the post-season. Lindholms minutes diminished only slightly, 17 minutes on ice a game, but he only picked up 2 points and was a -2. The playoffs also bring more of a battle to the table than in the regular season and Lindholm needs to step up to the plate. Bone-crushing hits are not part of his game and I’m not suggesting he should try to be that when he’s not. But you need to be ready to battle in the playoffs and be able to go in the corners, knock forwards off pucks and get out of your zone quickly. That is one area that Lindholm needs to improve upon to avoid a step back in year two.
The argument can be made he wasn’t right after taking some punishing hits in the Dallas series and regardless of how well you play in the regular season the post-season is a completely different animal. Every player on every team is at their best, the speed of the game increases and the tension is palpable. That combination can sometimes rattle a young player and I’d be willing to bet that Lindholm has never played in an environment like that before. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes but he didn’t look as relaxed or composed as he was during the regular season. And at times you could see some indecision or nerves creep into his game.
Very few rookies look as composed in the post-season as they were in the regular season but it needs to be corrected. If there is one positive to the Ducks post-season it was that guys like Lindholm got some serious exposure. He got a feel for how the NHL playoffs go and especially how playing two rival teams in the playoffs will go. He needs to use that experience and put it into his game for the playoffs this coming season.
Lindholm is a big kid 6’3” 197 pounds and at only 20 years old. Although he is probably done growing he can add some muscle and bulk which would help his physical game. He is a good skater makes a smart first pass, and can get his shots through to the net.
Although he came as a little bit of a surprise pick when selected, its clear the Ducks brass knew what they were doing in taking him. He has some areas of his game that need some improvement and he needs to realize how to rise to the occasion on the biggest stage.
But Lindholm is young and has all the skills and tools to be a great defenseman. So can Lindholm avoid the dreaded sophomore slump?
In a word I believe, yes.