The Ducks have been without Hampus Lindholm, arguably the best defenseman in the organization, for the first 13 games of the season, but his return could come as early as Wednesday.
Hampus Lindholm’s contract signing may feel like a distant memory, but the 22-year-old has still yet to play his first game of the campaign for the Anaheim Ducks. He could be inching closer to making his season debut, however.
Lindholm, who inked a six-year, $31.5-million contract extension on Oct. 27, was awaiting a work visa in order to get back into the Ducks’ lineup, and the OC Register’s Eric Stephens reported Monday that Lindholm has secured the visa and is making his way to Columbus where Anaheim is set to take on the Blue Jackets Wednesday night. According to Stephens, part of the hold up was that Lindholm couldn’t get the visa process under way until he signed a new deal, so the contract standoff between the Ducks and the then-restricted free agent defenseman didn’t do his visa status any good.
Now with the visa in hand, the question now becomes how coach Randy Carlyle feels about instantly inserting Lindholm back into the lineup.
Lindholm’s return could no doubt be a massive boon to the Ducks, who have been missing the presence of the young rearguard through the early part of the season. In 80 games in 2015-16, Lindholm emerged as a legitimate top-pairing defender and scored 10 goals and 28 points, chipping in another three assists in seven post-season games. That said, he hasn’t faced game action against top competition since the end of the last season.
Though he was part of Sweden’s World Cup roster, he didn’t see a single second of meaningful action, and jumping into play one month into the campaign is going to require some getting up to speed.
It might be better for Lindholm to get up to speed sooner rather than later, though, and Carlyle doesn’t have to throw Lindholm into the deep end straight away. He could start him on the third pairing, move him up through the lineup as the game or upcoming three-game road trip progresses and have him ready for top-pairing duty again in one week.
And even if Carlyle just uses Lindholm sparingly the first night out, he could be the perfect remedy for a penalty kill that has been only mediocre — ranking 11th in the league at 83.7 percent — through the early part of the season. In 2015-16, the Ducks boasted the best penalty kill in the league and no defender skated more time with Anaheim down a man than Lindholm.
There’s one other reason why Carlyle might be more receptive to the idea of putting Lindholm right back into the lineup, and that’s the play of Rickard Rakell.
Rakell found himself in a similar situation, needing a visa before being able to return to action, and sat out eight games after signing his contract. But that was also due in part to the remnants of an off-season injury, and Rakell’s performance since returning to action has been inspiring. In four games, he’s already back to skating top-six minutes and has chipped in three goals and six points.
Even a small semblance of that type of play from Lindholm could be enough to see the Ducks — already winners of back-to-back games — piece together a win streak and climb closer to the top of the Pacific Division.
But no matter when Lindholm is back, the Ducks will be happy to be icing their optimal lineup for the first time this season.
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