Carolina Hurricanes: Where Will Elias Lindholm Fit in 2013-14 Depth Chart?
With his stellar performance in the Swedish Elite League over the past two seasons, the 6'1", 181-pound center had impressed team scouts enough to be penciled initially into a 2013-14 NHL roster spot.
Sixteen days later, when Lindholm inked a three-year entry-level contract, Rutherford's mantra remained the same.
"The opportunity is there for him to start with the Hurricanes," he declared at a press conference. "I will be shocked if he doesn't, based on...what I've seen."
The 18-year-old has done and said all the right things to support that optimism. A minor shoulder injury cut his Hurricanes' Development Camp appearance short last month, but he nonetheless impressed in limited ice time earlier in the week.
Lindholm should, if all goes well, be a lock for the Hurricanes' opening day roster.
But where will he actually play?
Projected Pre-Training Camp Offensive Lines
|Jiri Tlusty||Eric Staal||Alexander Semin|
|Jeff Skinner||Jordan Staal||Tuomu Ruutu|
|Zac Dalpe||Elias Lindholm||Patrick Dwyer|
It's expected that Lindholm will enter September's training camp as the No. 3 center.
However, he'll have an excellent chance to vie for a second-line winger slot in head coach Kirk Muller's first full training camp in charge.
Muller and team vice president Ron Francis insinuated at the Hurricanes' late-July fan Summerfest that, contrary to previous popular opinion, Jeff Skinner's top-six position was more in jeopardy than Tuomo Ruutu's.
A Lindholm-Skinner battle could more competitive than it might seem at first glance.
Lindholm's two years of professional experience fall only just short than Skinner's three. Moreover, Skinner is coming off an inconsistent, injury-plagued, minus-21 campaign; clearly, his chemistry with Jordan Staal didn't develop as anticipated.
An entirely different plan could unfold as September rolls on, though.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have established the three-line system, in which the second and third lines receive roughly equal playing time, as a legitimate strategy in the modern NHL. It's possible the 'Canes could experiment which such an arrangement this autumn.
If so, the 'Canes would field two pseudo-second lines; one consisting of Ruutu, Jordan Staal and Patrick Dwyer (who played admirably on the second line at times last season) and the other a youthful trio of Lindholm, Skinner and another undetermined prospect.
How many goals will Lindholm score in the 2013-14 season?
Trying this alternate depth chart would not completely avoid another Lindholm-Skinner training camp battle, as the two natural centers would still compete for the middleman role on the same line.
However, a three-line system may deploy the Hurricanes' elite offensive skill and depth more effectively.
With a wild-card prospect like Zac Dalpe, Victor Rask, Brock McGinn or even Erik Karlsson alongside Lindholm and Skinner, the 'Canes could field perhaps the most intimidating "youth line" in the league.
Switching offensive systems so drastically would be a exigent task in just one training camp and would likely also place even more pressure on the club's unstable defense in the season's opening months. Nonetheless, it's an approach that certainly deserves consideration from the coaching staff.
As the dog days of summer progress towards the biggest challenge of Lindholm's hockey career, a massive puzzle looms in the Hurricanes' depth chart.
Yet, through all that uncertainty, few doubt that he'll eventually find his perfect niche in Raleigh.
"He doesn't have to light it up from Day 1; he can just...go along at his own pace," Rutherford noted at Lindholm's contract signing.
"But based on the experience he has, I don't think it's going to take him very long to fit into our team."
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