Position: Center/Right Wing
Weight: 192 lbs.
Drafted: 1st Round, 2013 Draft
Last Year's Ranking: NR
When it came time to think about how the Hurricanes should use the #5 pick, most believed that they would take whoever was "leftover" from the consensus top five.Those players being Seth Jones, Jonathan Drouin, Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov and Valeri Nichushkin. Most scouts and hockey minds had these players as the guys who had the potential to be elite at the NHL level and some of the best prospects to come out of their respective leagues in years. However, when the time came for the Hurricanes to make their pick, they ended up passing on Nichushkin (who fell all the way to #10), and selected another high-end player in forward Elias Lindholm.
Since most of the pre-draft buzz was about guys like Nichushkin, Jones & Nurse, Lindholm didn't receive a ton of press and selecting him at #5 came as a surprise to some fans. There was a group who saw him as another "small and safe" pick and a missed opportunity to add an elite talent to the club. It's a shame that some saw Lindholm this way because he, like the projected "big five," is one of the best prospects to come from his country in years and should be an excellent NHL player very soon.
Lindholm is considered an "advanced" player for his age because he doesn't have any real holes in his game and has already played a contributing role at the professional level. The Swedish Elite League is obviously at a lower tier than what he'll face in the NHL, but it's still rare to find a teenager with this kind of pedigree and it speaks well of his ability to make the jump to the NHL within the next couple of years. Lindholm played 48 games with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League last year and while a lot of junior-age players struggle to produce at that level, Lindholm had 30 points in 48 games, ranking third on his team and first among teenage players in the Swedish Hockey League.
What made Lindholm fit in so well in the pros, though? To put it simply, he is a complete player who contributes in all three zones and is one of the smartest prospects in this year's draft class. Lindholm's skating, passing and terrific vision give him a skill-set that would make him a fit on any team's first or second line, but his strong defensive game and hockey sense is what separates Lindholm from other prospects. He plays a sound game away from the puck, makes great reads in both the neutral & defensive zone and uses his stick well to break up passes. Lindholm is also not shy about playing in front of the net or forcing turnovers along the boards despite not being the strongest guy on the ice.
Getting skilled, young players to contribute in areas that don't show up on the scoresheet is usually a challenge, but Lindholm has already done that on a professional stage, which is why he was considered a "safe" pick and close to being ready for the NHL. If he makes the Hurricanes out of camp, he could slide into a third line role and eventually work his way into a top-six role as he gets older. Although, you might be able to make the argument that he is ready now.
As a natural center, most expect him to play on the third line on the Hurricanes with the Staal brothers manning the top two spots, but playing him at right wing is also an option. That is where he played for most of last season and he was used in a pretty big role too. He was used on both the power play and penalty kill and had a few nights where his ice time reached over 20 minutes. I'm not sure if he'll be able to handle that kind of workload as a teenager in the NHL, but he is considered mature and advanced for his age so he might be ready for top-six minutes as soon as next year. The decision will come down to whether or not they want his contract to start now, making him a free agent much earlier in his career than he would be otherwise.
My guess is that the Hurricanes will keep Lindholm if he doesn't look out of place after 10 games and is able to find some sort of role in the lineup. The Canes have too much money committed to the roster to have a rebuilding season and it makes more sense to put together the best team possible instead of holding it off for another year. I might be singing a different tune if the Canes have an awful first ten games, though because then it wouldn't make much sense to burn a year of his contract.
That being said, Lindholm has all of the tools ot be a an excellent two-way forward at the NHL level and we should see some glimpses of that within the next few months. His game reminds me a lot of Sean Couturier, the Philadelphia Flyers first round pick from 2011, in that he might not be a top-line player right off the bat but his two-way play makes him good enough to play in the pros. Both players also possesses a terrific offensive skillset and that part of their game should slowly come around as they get older. Lindholm is never going to be someone who leads the NHL in scoring, but he is someone who can play an excellent game in all three zones and these players can be incredibly valuable. Factor in Lindholm's offensive upside and he could turn out to be a top-tier player in his early/mid 20's.
So, while Lindholm was a "safe" pick, he may turn out to be the best option available if he turns out as good as advertised. He certainly has the skillset, talent and the drive to be a terrific NHL player and now it is all a matter of finding out when he will be at this level full-time.