They say that you shouldn’t attempt to evaluate a defenseman until he’s played 300 NHL games. Having been selected in the 2012 Entry Level Draft, the Swedish born Hampus Lindholm, knocked over that milestone in the past season and has now played in over 400 (including post-season contests). A great deal of hockey, and a boon for playing on a near lock for a Pacific Division playoff team.
This past season, was perhaps the most trying for him from an outside perspective. Entering into the season without a preseason (due to surgery in the offseason), he was always going to be behind the 8-ball. However in addition to that, his Scandinavian defensive teammate was also entering the season underdone and the Ducks had moved 2 of their top 7 defensive players from the season past. After Sami Vatanen was moved mid-season, this left Lindholm as one the heavy lifters on defence with little help behind him.
Like he has for most of his career, Lindholm played the bulk of his minutes this season with Josh Manson. As a pairing they appeared to be near enough as steady as in years past. However, Lindholm is oft considered to be an elite defenseman, or at least in the running to take the role of a number one defenseman. In many cases, he’s thought to be as good as any of the elite defensemen in the NHL, although without the scoring. Thus this article attempts to look into Lindholm’s development thus far, and see where he falls amongst other NHL defensemen.
The Offensive End
Lindholm from a shots attempts perspective at least, appears to be very steady over his career. For the most part he hasn't improved in terms of generating Corsi attempts since he entered the league, and this for the most part has been reflected in his pairing with Manson also. This appears to be true even prior to changing coaches, thus it doesn't seem that the lack of change can be attributed to one coach over another.
Interestingly, the chart below shows us how a small change in these metrics can impact a players ranking on league level. In Lindholm’s case, an extra 2 Corsi attempts directed at net per 60 minutes of play (or approximately 1 per game), improved his league rankings from a sub 50’s, to a low 20’s rank amongst his peer group. This information can provide us with two points to consider.
- Firstly, is this a point of focus for Lindholm going forward? Obviously Corsi-attempts aren't a skill in themselves, but an effect of a single, or multiple, skills. However an increase in Corsi attempts directed at net may contribute to greater individual and team scoring, which may boost is profile on the league stage. For Lindholm to take the next step, is this an area he needs to improve?
- Secondly, given the small changes and the subsequent big swings in league rankings it may be that influencing positive Corsi attempts is difficult for defensemen, and is an effect predominantly driven by forwards.
Nonetheless, it seems clear that Lindholm has not really improved in the aspects of his game that produce positive Corsi attempts. Given that his average league ranking would be 63rd overall, that's not a particularly bad thing. It just provides a cautionary note towards a player that doesn't appear to have improved a great deal at first blush, and that it appears his offensive contributions will remain relatively mild.
Positive scoring chances has remained relatively in tune with positive Corsi attempts in remaining relatively stagnant over Lindholms 5 seasons to date. A point of difference is the high water marks for both Corsi-for and scoring chances for being in separate seasons. It also bears mentioning that Lindholm would average around the 39th rank over all of his season compared to his peers. A much better result than his Corsi for attempts, and even his high-danger attempts (~60th). It is unclear at present what this may mean, although once again it is clear that the Lindholm-Manson pairing is superior to either player outside of this. In particular, Manson appears to struggle offensively without Lindholms’ steady hand.
As expected High Danger Chances For (HDCF) followed a similar pattern to SCF. However, it should be noted that Manson’s on-ice goals-for rating has trended upwards over his short career, despite what appears to be mediocre shot metrics away from Lindholm. The same cannot be said for Lindholm himself, nor their joint partnership which for the most part appears to remain steady.
As the chart above shows, Lindholm has for the most part hovered above 3 (on-ice) goals per 60 minutes of play. The 2015-2016 season did bring his average down somewhat (2.92 goals per game), but gives him 3 of his 5 seasons above his average. While there isn't a notable trend, nor any sign of improvement, it does suggest that Lindholm may level out over his career and settle around the 3 goal range. A range that would have him somewhere in the 30-60th rank amongst his peers.
The relative steadiness of Lindholms goals-for rates, is further reflected in his individual scoring.
As the chart above shows, there isn't a strong trend in either direction for total points, and secondary assists has also remained stagnant over the past 5 seasons. If a trend is to be seen, it is within the primary points categories, with goal scoring trending up, and primary assists trending down. Theoretically, this suggests that - when combined with Lindholms climbing shooting percentage - that Lindholm is scoring more goals and thus providing fewer rebound attempts from which others can score on.
There appears to be something to this theory, however this doesn't entirely cover all of the bases, as the relationship between shooting percentage and rebounds is only moderate (r = .52). The relationship between shots on net and rebounds across the league is extremely strong (r = .99; no surprise to anyone right?), however despite and apparent trend, the relationship for Lindholm personally is much weaker (r = .21)
This may indicate that Lindholms shot isn’t as strong as it could be, or that he’s not challenging net minders with difficult to save shots. Nonetheless, it presents a clear avenue for improvement going forward.
The Defensive End
Like the Ducks in general, the Lindholm-Manson pairing appears to be progressively deteriorating defensively. However in essence this current season should be taken partially with a grain of salt given the injuries, and that both players (when apart) remained relatively in line with the two seasons prior.
While it would be easy to attribute the decline of the pairing to the coaching change, it seems more likely - given the players apart remained steady - that the decline was due to greater responsibilities heaped upon the pairing. As would be typically expected, the Lindholm-Manson pairing was given more responsibility under Carlyle as coach, and thus faced likely faced stronger competition for longer. This past season the greater decline can be attributed to injuries, and that 3 of last seasons top 6 (Stoner, Theodore & Vatanen) were moved through the season. This reduced the overall quality of the defensive corp, and meant that even more responsibility was given to the Lindholm-Manson pairing. Given as presumably healthy line-up next season, I would expect the Lindholm-Manson pairing to rebound to 2016-2017 numbers.
With respect to negative Corsi attempts, Lindholm has seemed to somewhat improve from his initial seasons, which is a likely product of better positioning amongst other things gained from experience. Over the past 3 seasons he would be ranked on average ~30th in the league for this metric. A fine improvement from a player who’s first two seasons ranked him 116th and 113th for Corsi attempts against.
Similar to Corsi-against, both scoring chances and high danger chances against, peaked in Lindholms 3rd season. This suggests an improvement based around knowledge of one coaches system, with the new coach commencing at the beginning of Lindholms 4th season. Overall, there appears to be little change in the average attempts against, measured out over his career. However his peak seasons suggests there is room for improvement. Given Lindholm will be entering the 2018-2019 season at 24 years of age its plausible we will see this improvement. It should also be noted that the pairing with Manson has remained relatively steady, meaning that the increase in negative Corsi attempts has come on the backs of Lindholm being paired with other players. Given that this pairing has dipped for Corsi attempts it seems unlikely that it will continue to remain completely steady. However that they have remained steady thus far, gives cause for optimism.
Similar to Scoring Chances Against, High Danger Chances Against, peaked in the 2015-2016 season before a gradual decline. However, the Lindholm-Manson pairing proved an exception, improving upon the numbers it produced in the season previous. This again provides some hope of a steady defensive platform going into the future, with the caveat that scoring chances again suffered slightly, as did Corsi attempts against.
With respect to Lindholm himself, it appears thalike other metrics thus far, he had one good season that stands out as an anomaly, but has otherwise remained relatively even through his career thus far. Assuming this season was an aberration due to injuries to himself (off-season surgery) and to others, it appears that Lindholm’s defensive game has trended in the right direction since he entered the league. He may have only one season in which he was ranked above 60th for SCA and HDCA, yet that has some value given his age and his overall combined play.
For the most part however, good goal tending appears to have papered over any deficiency in defensive ability. When assessing my rank, we can see that a sub-60’s SCA or HDCA hasn't overly impacted actual goals on ice scored against, as for 3 of the past 4 seasons he’s been ranked between 20-50 for goal prevention.
It may not necessarily fit in the offensive or defensive categories, however it should be noted that Lindholm has been one of the better performs with respect to Corsi Rel. That is to say he is one of the more effective members of the defence at driving positive shot metrics compared to his team mates (At its most basic level, Corsi Rel reflects a player’s raw Corsi relative to the raw Corsi to the rest of the team when he is not on the ice).
Thus, the chart above shows us that Lindholm is very likely a driving force for the Ducks. Although care needs to be taken when discussing this particular metric, as it is easy to introduce bias based on false presumptions. That said, the accumulated data presents a picture of Lindholm’s importance to the Ducks, an importance that cannot be understated. However, it should also be noted that taken outside of this bubble he doesn’t measure particularly highly against his peers throughout the league in shot metrics. This could present a case that the Ducks defence isn't as good as its perceived to be overall - this requires further analysis and is presented as a discussion point only at this stage.
For many players giveaways and takeaways typically remain even year-to-year, and for Lindholm this is true as well. One point of interest in that over the past 4 seasons, his best defensive season according to the metrics above was also the season he had the least takeaways, and the least number of giveaways (in the past 4 seasons). It may be that Lindholm is handling the puck more in the past 2 seasons, thus more prone to turnovers. Should that be the case, that would provide a further rationale towards the dips seen in defensive metrics above.
Lindholm was also on the receiving end of more hits in the 2015-2016 season. It may have been that he was tasked to play a more defensive role that season, and played more as a stay-at-home defenseman. This may have made him more susceptible to forecheckers. However, given the dip over the past two seasons, one wonders if that had a detrimental impact on his overall health. We know he went under the knife last offseason, and the further decrease seen in this statistic may be a result of a conscious decision to avoid getting hit.
What should come as no surprise however, is that Lindholm’s hitting has increased under Coach Randy Carlyle. it doesn't appear to have had an impact on his game with respect to offensive or defensive measurements, nor penalties (charted below), thus it probably doesn't bear mentioning further.
Compared to Others
So all of that said, where does this place Lindholm compared to some others in the league? By many Ducks fans he’s considered a top talent, and while it seems unfair to compare him with these players now, given his league rankings done appear to shed him in the same light, I’ll still attempt to showcase him against a few different players. In particular, a cause for complaint appears to be that he doesn't score enough compared to others to ever be considered a Norris Trophy threat. While I’m also not sure his defensive game warrants that kind of praise, I’ll look entirely at offence, so to look for a path of development going forward.
Lindholm currently appears to generate a great deal of his scoring from takeaways (r = .80) and subsequent rush attempts (r = .73), and not from shots (r = .19) and shot generated rebounds (r = .21). Given that it has been mentioned that scoring is a potential reason holding Lindholm back from elite status in the NHL, or at least a Norris trophy consideration, it may be worthwhile to compare Lindholm to a selection of peers and determine what he may be able to improve to reach that elite plateau.
As suspected, the chart above shows that Lindholm is lagging behind some of the elite defensemen in this league for scoring. However, it does show that he isn't too far behind Doughty, which may provide a target for him to chase going forward. This may in fact be plausible given that Lindholm’s goal scoring has trended upwards since he entered the league - as shown above. Should the Ducks as a team improve their scoring output, it may also increase Lindholm’s assist rates by default. Although that is perhaps more reliant on others than on himself.
Despite Lindholm’s generally increasing goal scoring rates, this hasn't appeared to come on the back of an increase in shoots on net. Given that the relationship between points and shots for defensemen is r = .70, and that the lindholms has a r = .19 relationship between these variables, it is presents the most likely avenue for Lindholm to improve his scoring rates overall. Given that Lindholm suffered a injury to his labrum last season, it is plausible that shots per 60 are more likely to hover around 5 per 60 as opposed to the 3.81 per 60 we saw last season. While still nearly one and half shots less than the peers included in the charts above and below, it does present a slight improvements. Nonetheless, it present a clear opportunity for improvement.
As with points, Doughty presents the lowest hanging fruit for Lindholm to catch here. An extra shot per 60 minutes, or an additional shot every 2nd game could provide dividends. It does present the issue that Lindholm’s shot isn't as effective as it could be, given the low relationship with points, although that can be remedied with the right offensive systems. Goal scoring is one thing, but the Ducks will want to ensure that that the shots that don't score, are turned into rebounds or other scoring opportunities.
A critical factor that as we see in the charts above and below, is not happening for Lindholm with the regularity that is seen in the elite defensemen of the league. Surprisingly - as with a few of these stats - Hedman and Doughty are seemingly below par also. Although not necessarily to the same extent that Lindholm is. Given the nature of Lindholms surgery last offseason, it seem prudent to mention that he may never develop the peak strength/force in that joint as he would have if it were never injured. However, increasing the force behind his shots, and finding a way to create more rebound attempts could be a prudent move for Lindholm in this instance. The perception of a threatening shot could create more opportunities for others, even if Lindholm doesn't get on the board himself.
Overall, it appears that Lindholm sits somewhere in the 30-60th in league range for his offensive contributions. Given his raw points (13 goals, 18 assists, 31 points) sat him in 56th position this season, that seems like its a fair assessment of him on that end of the ice. Defensively, his bread and butter, Lindholm appears to live a slightly better life. Although how much of this is due to excellent goaltending is hard to determine. For the most part, if one were to coach a young player on defensive hockey, one could do worse than model a player around Lindholm’s skill set, at least so far as the eye test goes. The scoring chances he gives up are pretty underwhelming given his reputation, however overall negative corsi and goals against appears to be relatively strong despite not being a top 30 player in any but 1 season for these metrics. This makes it appear that Lindholm is a typically solid defenseman, but when players do get by him they do so in a good position to score. One wonders, given the dip over the past two seasons, if this is due to a increase in responsibility. For instance, if the Lindholm-Manson pairing is going up against players like Artemi Panarin more often over the past two seasons, and players like that quality are beating him more than lesser quality players. With Gibson in net, this hasn't been reflected overly much in goal scoring, but its something that should be considered over the next couple seasons.
For the most part, Lindholm appears to be a number 3 defenseman, that can pinch hit as a #2 if needed - a position of great need on the Ducks. Given his relatively cheap contract, and his relatively even play over the past 5 seasons, this has a great deal of value for the Ducks. Perhaps more value to the Ducks than he would have to other teams. He appears to be a steady player that they can structure a pairing around, and while he doesn't appear to stand out in any category, but seems to be good across this board. When given a player like Manson, it appears that he can provide safe, although perhaps beige to watch, defensive minutes. It’s in this pairing that he shines and appears to do his best work. Given the bulk of his minutes have come with Manson and great goal tending, it may be a reason he’s become slightly over rated by the fan base. Nonetheless, he’s a solid if unspectacular player and we’re lucky to move forward with him.