N.Y. Rangers at Carolina 7 P.M. (FSCR)

Canes' top pick Elias Lindholm seeks strong finish

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 10, 2014 

— In the past nine months, Elias Lindholm has been a first-round draft pick by the Carolina Hurricanes, been injured during rookie camp, made the Canes’ roster, been injured again, scored his first NHL goal, spent time in the American Hockey League with the Charlotte Checkers, competed in the World Junior Championship and returned to the Canes lineup.

Any wonder why Lindholm smiled a few days ago when asked if he feels 19 going on 29?

“Yeah, it does feel like that,” he said. “As much as has happened this year, it has been a lot.”

The Canes made the Swedish forward the fifth overall pick of the 2013 NHL entry draft, believing he could be an impact player as a rookie. That hasn’t happened – Lindholm has five goals and nine assists in 41 games – but there have been moments, flashes, that showcase his skill and ability and perhaps what’s to come.

Last Tuesday in the game at San Jose, the Canes and Sharks were in overtime. Lindholm got the puck to the left of the goal and made a no-look pass between Sharks defensemen Scott Hannan and Justin Braun to Jay Harrison flashing in on the backdoor.

Goal, Harrison. The Canes won 3-2 as Lindholm finished with a goal and the assist.

“That’s one of the things about ‘Lindy’ that’s really been impressive this year,” Harrison said. “He has incredible vision to match his positional play. He knows the game the way a 19-year-old really shouldn’t know the game. When you see intangibles you can’t teach in a guy who’s got the confidence to do them at 19, you know he’s very special.”

Lindholm has spent time on all four lines this season, and more recently with center Eric Staal and winger Jeff Skinner. Lindholm and Skinner, 21, also are friends off the ice, often palling around with defenseman Ryan Murphy.

If there is someone who understands the expectations of being a high draft pick and demands of playing as a teenager in the NHL, it’s Skinner, the 2011 Calder Trophy winner. But Skinner played all 82 games for the Canes as a rookie, made the All-Star Game, had a dream season.

“To go through what he’s had to go through, it’s a lot to balance,” Skinner said.

Lindholm banged up a shoulder during the Canes’ rookie conditioning camp in July. Injured again in mid-October, he missed five games. The Canes sent him to the Checkers to help his conditioning then allowed him to compete for Sweden in the World Juniors in his home country.

“I played a lot of minutes there, and I played pretty good, too,” Lindholm said. “So it helped me with the confidence when I got back.”

Lindholm had a goal and two assists against Toronto in his first game after his return, but then just two assists during his next 13 games leading to the break for the Winter Olympics. During the break, he again returned to Sweden to visit family and friends.

“He’s had the injuries, he’s had the breaks in the schedule,” Skinner said. “He’s handled a lot of adversity well at a young age.”

When the NHL season resumed after the Olympics, Lindholm was made a healthy scratch against the Buffalo Sabres. But he soon was with Staal and Skinner as coach Kirk Muller switched up the lines, and Lindholm played almost 23 minutes March 2 against the Anaheim Ducks.

“I think I’ve learned a lot this year,” Lindholm said. “A lot is the small details, and there is still stuff I need to work on, like getting more shots. When you’re in the (offensive) zone, you need to work to get the opportunity to score, getting off shots from angles that make it hard on the goalie.”

The Hurricanes (27-28-9) need more scoring. They need a lot more wins, and quickly. They will face the New York Rangers (35-26-4) on Tuesday having lost seven of their past eight games.

Barring a stunning turnaround, the Hurricanes will miss the Stanley Cup playoffs for a fifth straight year. That will hurt the organization and likely lead to a number of offseason changes. But Lindholm has made his mark with some solid two-way play. He’s part of the Canes’ core group for next season and beyond.

“He has that ability to slow the game down,” Skinner said. “He plays the game on a different level from kids his age. He thinks the game on a different level.”

Note: The Canes on Monday recalled defenseman Michal Jordan from the Charlotte Checkers on an emergency basis. Jordan, 23, has three goals and 12 assists in 53 games this season for Charlotte.

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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