ST. PAUL, Minn. — A season of starts and stops for Carolina Hurricanes rookie Elias Lindholm is about to start up again.
Lindholm, the Canes’ first-round draft pick this year, has missed the past four games with a recurring shoulder injury. If all goes as planned, he could be back in the lineup Thursday against the Minnesota Wild.
To say the injury has been frustrating for Lindholm is an understatement.
“To be honest, it (stinks),” he said.
“It’s been kind of weird. This has been going on since the beginning of the season. Just when I start feeling good on the ice, I get injured.
“All I want to do is play and to be on the side (stinks). But what can I do? It will only be added motivation to play good when I’m back.”
Even Wednesday in practice, Lindholm didn’t make it through unscathed. The visor on his helmet was knocked down by an elbow, leaving him with blood on his upper lip.
“Yes, blood, but I did stay on the ice,” he said, smiling.
The Canes made Lindholm the fifth overall pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, confident he could immediately play at the NHL level. But his first trip to Raleigh, for the team’s prospects conditioning camp in July, was cut short when he went into the boards during a drill and first hurt the shoulder.
Lindholm, 18, went to the Traverse City (Mich.) prospects tournament in early September but was limited to two games. When the Hurricanes’ training camp began, he still was dealing with the shoulder issue.
The problem persisted during the preseason, although he played in the first five games of the regular season and scored his first NHL goal Oct. 10 in a win against the Washington Capitals – the youngest Swedish-born player in NHL history to score a goal, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The next night, Lindholm centered a line with wingers Jeff Skinner and Radek Dvorak against the Los Angeles Kings at PNC Arena. But he twice was forced out of the game after hits and has since been sidelined.
“We feel good about Elias. We’ve just got to get him healthy,” general manager Jim Rutherford said Wednesday. “Give him credit. He was not healthy when he came to training camp but played through it, then got some more bumps on that shoulder.
“He’s a very smart player. We just need to get him healthy and get him back in the lineup.”
It’s possible Lindholm could center the fourth line this week during the two-game road trip to Minnesota and Colorado. Canes coach Kirk Muller had Lindholm working Wednesday with forwards Drayson Bowman, Brett Sutter and Kevin Westgarth, and said he needed to talk with Lindholm to assess his physical situation before making a decision on Thursday’s game.
“They want me coming back with the confidence (that) the shoulder, when I get hit into the boards, doesn’t get injured again,” said Lindholm, who has been fitted with new shoulder pads. “It feels better and better.”
Away from the rink, Lindholm – called “Eli” and “Lindy” by teammates – rooms with defenseman Ryan Murphy, and the two spend a lot of time with Skinner, the oldest at 21. The three joined center Riley Nash for a trip to the N.C. State Fair this week, where Lindholm said he saw the “world’s smallest woman” and tried his hand shooting basketball with little success.
“I’m not very good,” he said.
Put a hockey stick in his hands and that changes. Lindholm played in the Swedish Elite League last year at 17 with players in their 20s and 30s.
“He’s got the skill and thinks the game well,” Sutter said. “He has a quiet confidence about him. He’s a pretty cool character and the guys really like him. He’s gone through some tough times with the injuries but he’s handled it like a man and prepared himself every day to get back in the lineup.”
Lindholm recently heard some chirping from Sutter and other teammates when he failed the N.C. driver’s license test.
“It was the written part. There are some tough questions,” Lindholm said, laughing.
As a European draftee, Lindholm could be sent to the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League if the Canes decide they want to get him more minutes and in better game shape. But Rutherford said that decision can wait.
“We’ll play that by ear and go week to week,” Rutherford sad. “We’ve been very impressed with him. Even when he’s been out for a while he seems able to jump back into the lineup like he hasn’t missed any games.”
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