After six months of frustratingly slow development, Elias Lindholm is finally growing into the well-rounded playmaker that the Carolina Hurricanes envisioned when drafting him fifth overall last June.
The 19-year-old is looking less burdened by expectations, more comfortable on the ice and more like the natural offensive weapon he was touted as last spring.
For now, Lindholm's coming of age is mostly limited to visual perception only. His adaptations and improvements still aren't translating into tangible, box score results at a rapid pace.
But they're starting to, and the 'Canes are taking notice.
No. 16 recorded his first career multi-goal game in the NHL on Tuesday night, scoring the Hurricanes' second and third goals after two slick setups from Jeff Skinner in Carolina's 4-1 win over Pittsburgh.
Elias Lindholm might be figuring out this NHL thing. 3-1 #Canes on a rocket by the rookie.— Mike Maniscalco (@mikemaniscalco) April 2, 2014
The performance brought Lindholm's season total to eight goals, 11 assists and 19 points in 52 games. It's a stat line hardly equivalent to the rookie campaign of the team's last top-10 draft pick, Skinner, who ripped off 31 goals and 63 points back in his 2010-11 debut.
Nevertheless, since a six-game drought with zero points from March 15 to 27, Lindholm now has three points and 10 shots in his last three appearances. The latter is particularly impressive considering he averaged just 1.0 shots per game through his first 49 appearances (Skinner, meanwhile, averages 3.9 per game).
Lindholm's growth in confidence over recent months may indeed be best reflected in his shooting patterns. The youngster is finding himself not only more capable of finding shooting space in the offensive zone but also more poised to personally take advantage of such opportunities.
Consider a chart of his five-game moving average of shots on goal below:
Since bottoming out on March 8 in New Jersey—a time when both Lindholm and the Hurricanes found themselves in a difficult-to-swallow spiral out of the playoff race—his moving average has skyrocketed dramatically.
The Hurricanes' coaching staff also restricted Lindholm with playing time earlier in the season. As the postseason has transformed into a pipe dream, they've been giving their top rookie increasingly unconstrained ice time.
A chart of his five-game moving average of ice time by game is below:
No. 16 still has a long way to go. He's still sporting an average 1.75 shot attempt (Corsi) differential despite a highly favorable 62.5 offensive zone start differential, per Behind the Net statistics.
The scrappy, physical side of the NHL game is still a challenge for him, as it is for many 192-pound rookies from overseas.
However, Lindholm's body language—as well as in-game play—reveal the growth he's experienced as a player this spring.
It's only a matter of time before his maturation begins to translate into red flashing lamps and other tangible results.