With their highest draft pick since 2005, the Anaheim Ducks selected a young, relatively unknown Swedish defenseman by the name of Hampus Lindholm with the sixth-overall pick in the 2012 draft. This proved to be a somewhat controversial pick initially as highly-touted prospects Matt Dumba, Jacob Trouba, and Olli Maatta were all still available. Most Ducks fans would love to forget the season that was the 2011-12, one which saw the Ducks fire coach Randy Carlyle after a horrendous start to the season, one which Bruce Boudreau would never be able to get the team to recover from. While those memories might be painful, the gains from such a terrible year are so far from it.
Lindholm struggled with injuries his first season in North America, playing in only 44 games for the Norfolk Admirals in the 12-13 season. The 13-14 season didn't appear to start much better for the Ducks as multiple roster defensemen went down with significant injuries in preseason play, and that proved to be the only opportunity Hampus needed. The young man refused to let himself be sent back to the minors, playing in 78 games that first season, registering 30 points and a +29 rating.
And the rest, they say, is history. Though you'd have to argue that at the age of only 21, he's well on his way to making plenty more.
Season In Review
Lindholm took yet another massive stride this season. Paired once again alongside Francois Beauchemin for the entire season, Hampus became a big-minute... man(?) for the first time in his career, averaging 21:45 per game in 78 contests. In fact, Lindholm actually led the team in total time on ice last season with 1,697:18 worth of shifts, over 100 minutes more than the Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf. That's a lot of minutes.
His utility also began to shine as Boudreau developed the confidence to send him over the boards in short-handed (1:57/game) and power-play (1:37/game) situations. In fact, Boudreau and now-departed assistant coach Brad Lauer turned to Lindholm to quarterback the second power-play unit. He would earn six of his 27 assists from that position.
In possession numbers, Hampus posted a highly-respectable 51.58% SATF% at five-on-five, showing he was a positive-possession player, and he did this despite having a nearly-even percentage of offensive-zone starts. This demonstrates a brilliant ability to generate puck possession and shot attempts out of a potentially really difficult situation. And likewise the ability to do so whilst eating so many minutes shows just how remarkably talented he truly is.
When the playoffs rolled around, Lindholm shook off the growing pains of last year's inconsistent performances and took on the responsibility he thrived under all season. Lindholm averaged 23:15/game, second only to partner Beauchemin, and posted 10 points through 16 playoff contests.
In the so-called "eye-test" of purely watching the games, Hampus was clearly the more spry and adept player on his pairing. As much as Beauchemin also posted excellent numbers on his season, much of them were due to Lindholm's exceptional play and decision making often bailing him out of difficult situations. While Beauchemin was committing turnovers or getting caught in the wrong spot on the ice, it was Lindholm's exceptional skating and quick reactions that were able to put him in the position to catch up and bail his partner (and the entire team) out. Ultimately it was his pairing that was victimized early in yet another agonizing game seven loss at home, but going back it wasn't Lindholm's mistakes that were the reason Jonathan Toews was left all alone: it was his partner's responsibility.
After yet another remarkable season of improvement, poise, and growth combined with remarkable maturity, it's not hard to argue that Lindholm has taken over the title of best defenseman on the Anaheim lineup. For starters, his game is nearly mistake-free thanks to an incredible hockey sense and highly-refined situational awareness to make the right decisions both on and off the puck. No other defenseman on the Anaheim roster plays as solid and reliable a game as the young Swede.
He's being given humongous minutes, which will likely rise only further next season with Beauchemin's departure. Likewise, he's putting up respectable scoring numbers (34 points) and led a second-unit power play that was on multiple occasions far more effective than its first-unit counterpart. He was consistently relied upon to be the guy in clutch situations, and he handled it with the calm demeanor of a grizzly old veteran who's done this hundreds of times before.
Oh, and he's only 21.
It's no wonder that Nicklas Lidstrom, Lindholm's idol growing up, has singled him out by name as someone who has impressed him. This somewhat unheralded and at-the-time controversial pick has turned out to possibly be the steal of his draft (this was the year Nail Yakupov went first overall).
Lindholm is signed to his entry-level contract for this upcoming season and will be a restricted free agent come next July 1st. While I don't anticipate him going anywhere, the Ducks cap situation will definitely be a hot-button topic as the season winds on, as several talented young players will all be due massive pay raises. Lindholm will definitely be among them.
However, a defenseman of this caliber of talent is not one you let walk away. With how spectacularly talented he is at such a young age, it's tantalizing to imagine him with another year under his belt, or two more years, or five more years. At what point does he start contending for the Norris Trophy? Because there is no doubt in my mind that one day sooner rather than later, he will be in that conversation.