Luke DeCock

Lindholm at center offers look at Hurricanes’ future

The Carolina Hurricanes' Elias Lindholm (16) celebrates his goal after he scored against the Florida Panthers' Al Montoya (35) during the second period of an NHL game played between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Oct. 13, 2015.
The Carolina Hurricanes' Elias Lindholm (16) celebrates his goal after he scored against the Florida Panthers' Al Montoya (35) during the second period of an NHL game played between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Oct. 13, 2015. cseward@newsobserver.com

With no time, space or hesitation, Elias Lindholm one-timed a Brad Malone pass on net from the top of the right circle. Most of the time, the best possible result in that situation is a deflection or rebound. Lindholm snapped it over the goalie’s right shoulder before he even knew it was there.

Few players have the hands, reflexes or skill to pull off that kind of shot. Lindholm does, which is why the Carolina Hurricanes took him with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Now they need to see more. A whole lot more, because the goal was an exception in a game – a season – where Lindholm has been largely anonymous.

Even if the Hurricanes struggle mightily this season – and they’re not off to a great start, without a point in three games as they head onto the road for the next seven – there is still plenty at stake, especially for someone like Lindholm, of whom much is expected after scoring 17 goals last season playing almost exclusively on right wing.

If Lindholm is going to be the player the Hurricanes think he can be, he’s going to do it at center, where he played in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers. The 20-year-old went fifth in the draft because he was seen as a potentially multidimensional player, and you would expect someone drafted that high to be a top-six center sooner rather than later, especially if the post-Eric Staal era is nigh.

A quiet training camp led to a quiet early season, with Lindholm yet to appear on the score sheet in the first two games. He wasn’t scoring goals and he still isn’t making plays or throwing his body around. To begin his third season, he has been a very average player, while he can be – should be – so much more. His goal Tuesday was proof of that.

It’s usually unfair to compare players, but there’s a direct comparison to Calgary’s Sean Monahan, taken one pick after Lindholm in 2013 – the same position, the same size, the same pre-draft assessment. Going into Tuesday’s games, Monahan had 54 goals and 98 points in 158 career games. Lindholm had 26 goals and 60 points in 141 career games.

Only No. 1 overall pick Nathan McKinnon has scored more points from that draft than Monahan. Lindholm is fourth, behind Florida’s Aleksander Barkov and just ahead of defenseman Seth Jones.

Monahan, an alternate captain for the Flames, is seen as a potential future Selke Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defensive forward (and finished 20th in the balloting last season, with one first-place vote). Lindholm, to this point in his career, is not.

There’s no getting around this: The Hurricanes had their pick of the two. They chose Lindholm. And right now, Monahan is a considerably better player.

That doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Lindholm is certainly capable of equaling or surpassing Monahan, even if he’s not there now. But at 20, now in his third year of NHL hockey, the time has been coming for Lindholm to start making a case for himself.

It arrived Tuesday, when Lindholm centered a nominal second line with Jeff Skinner and Chris Terry. While the Hurricanes, at home, could keep Lindholm away from Florida’s two big centers, the 6-foot-3 Barkov and 6-foot-5 Nick Bjugstad, there was nowhere for Lindholm to hide defensively playing with Skinner and Terry, the two players who fell asleep on Detroit’s game-winning goal Saturday. Nor will he be able to hide from difficult matchups on the road, where the home team gets the last change.

He’s capable of delivering more than this. He showed another hint Tuesday, but the goal was merely a start. If he’s going to do it, it’s now or never. Even if this isn’t the Hurricanes’ season, it needs to be Lindholm’s.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

  Comments