Unaware of any long-term plan surrounding his assignment to Charlotte, highly-touted prospect Elias Lindholm is just here to play.
The Carolina Hurricanes’ first-round pick, fifth overall, in his past summer’s draft will be in the Checkers’ lineup as they begin a four-game home stand against the Chicago Wolves on Thursday night. Though his minutes hadn’t been particularly low in his first 10 NHL games, the 18-year-old should get all he can handle in Charlotte.
“There’s no timetable that I’m aware of so he could be a game or it could be longer, but while he’s here, he’s going to play and play a lot of minutes,” said coach Jeff Daniels.
That seems to be the goal behind the assignment, which took place Wednesday afternoon when the Hurricanes exchanged him for Chris Terry, who is tied for the Checkers’ scoring lead. According Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller at Thursday’s morning skate in Carolina, Lindholm’s stay in Charlotte could last around two weeks.
“I had a tough start in Carolina playing one exhibition game and then getting hurt, and then I was getting better and better and got hurt again,” said Lindholm, who missed four of the team’s first 14 games. “I thought that I was playing pretty good, but they just told me to come down and find your game and play more minutes to get more confidence.
“You definitely want to play as much as you can. Three games ago I played 17 or 18 minutes, then 15 against Tampa, 15 against the Rangers and then clearly less in the last game against Philadelphia. If I play around 18 minutes again that would be good, but you’ve got to earn it to so I have to play well.”
Lindholm said he was a little surprised by the move – he had just played his 10th game, passing the mark that teams usually use to make decisions on younger players for contract reasons – but was focused on earning his way back up.
“I’ve heard from others that it’s a good league,” he said ahead of his AHL debut. “Everyone wants to play in the NHL or get back to the NHL, not just me, so it’s going to be tough. I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team win.”
At 18 years and 340 days, Lindholm will become the youngest to ever play for the Checkers, beating Justin Faulk’s old record by 65 days. Like Faulk, a serious candidate to make the upcoming U.S. Olympic team at 21, Lindholm is generally regarded as being quite advanced for his age.
“He’s a smart, smart two-way player that’s really good at protecting the puck down low,” said Daniels of Lindholm, who had two points (1g, 1a) in 10 NHL games. “He’s played in men’s leagues (NHL and Sweden) before and he’s handled it well.”
At least for tonight, though probably for the duration of his stay, Lindholm will play at center. It’s the position he’s played for most of his career and the one the Checkers are in the most need of at the moment, having been able to dress just three for each of their last two games with Brody Sutter injured and Manny Malhotra in Carolina. Along with Brett Sutter, who will also be playing his first Checkers game of the season after coming down from Carolina, Lindholm now gives the team great depth along with active scoring leader Victor Rask and defensive specialist Sean Dolan.
Focusing on center could be of benefit to Lindholm, who switched back and forth between that spot and the right wing to start the NHL season.
“There was one game where (Hurricanes assistant coach) Rod Brind’Amour was showing me some clips and showed me a shift where I played both right wing and center,” said Lindholm, smiling. “It’s kind of tough, but it doesn’t matter where I play.”
Rask and Lindholm know each other, having played together at last year’s World Junior Championship as the Swedish team captured the gold medal, not to mention against each other as youths. They did not play on a line together with the Swedish team, but were on the same power-play unit, something that has an excellent chance of happening again in Charlotte.
“It’s fun to have another Swede around to be able to talk some Swedish,” said Lindholm.
Meanwhile, Terry has gone from having to wait most of four professional seasons to earn his first NHL game to being one of the later cuts from Carolina’s camp and the first forward recalled. That this recall wasn’t absolutely necessary – it’s not as though the team had an open lineup to fill – it speaks even further to how he’s risen in the organizational rankings. At Thursday’s skate in Carolina, he was reportedly on the first power-play unit with the likes of Eric Staal and Alexander Semin.
“He’s obviously closer than he’s ever been in his career, and this is another opportunity to go up and show what he can do,” said Daniels. “He’s been a really consistent player for us, not just this season but in the past.”
Daniels said that, in Carolina’s training camp, the Hurricanes told Terry that they had no doubts about his scoring ability, having notched 230 points in 305 career AHL games and led the Checkers in scoring for each of the past two seasons. That said, they told him to continue to focus on playing defensively and playing well away from the puck, which he was able to do while still scoring 10 points, including a team-best six goals, in 10 games.
“He got the message in camp, and then he came down and did it,” said Daniels.
Tonight’s game will mark just the ninth out of a possible 323 AHL games that Terry has missed in his five professional seasons. Five of those earlier games were due to suspension and three were while he was on NHL recall with Carolina last season.