He wasn't the biggest name on the draft board, but early evaluation favors the Ducks' top pick.
By JON ROSENFS West
As he rose through in the opinions of scouts and general managers, Hampus Lindholm's Rogle BK had an opportunity to rise in the hierarchy of Swedish hockey.
A team founded in 1932 that had spent only four total seasons in the top flight Elitserien, Rogle was a fifth place regular season team in the 14-team HockeyAllsvenskan before winning a round robin postseason tournament to qualify for the 2012 Kvalseries. Facing two Elitserien teams and three top-tier HockeyAllsvenskan teams in a tournament that would grant two teams the right to either remain in or be promoted to the Elitserien, Rogle finished second and became the first ever team to successfully gain Elitserien promotion out of the HockeyAllsvenskan playoffs.
"All throughout the season he kept improving,"
Anaheim scout Jan-Ake Danielson said of Lindholm, "and towards the end when they were trying to qualify for the elite league he was – the way I see it and the way we see it – I think pretty much every game I saw he was the best defenseman on the ice, even playing with the older guys and against more experienced players that have played many years in the NHL and in the top league in Sweden."
A steady rise defined the year for Lindholm, who in September, 2011 ranked seventh on the European pre-season watch list, followed by an NHL Central Scouting midterm ranking of sixth amongst Europeans. He was the fourth-ranked European skater at the draft last June when Anaheim selected him sixth overall.
It was a jump foreseen by Pierre McGuire, who took note of the player's development in TSN mock draft.
"Reminds of the way Erik Karlsson moved up in the 2008 draft,"
McGuire wrote. "I think he moves all the way up to 12."
He moved up much farther than 12th and leapfrogged elite Western Hockey League defensemen Matt Dumba and Derek Pouliot, who were immediately selected by Minnesota and Pittsburgh with the seventh and eighth picks.
"They picked me because they think I am a good player, and I'll just keep playing," Lindholm said. "I don't think so much of pressure. Of course I have some pressure on me, but my pressure on myself is much bigger than the pressure on the outside."
The faith placed in him by Danielson, general manager Bob Murray and the
Ducks scouting staff appeared justified at a quick first glance at the team's prospect development camp last month. He showed a good stride, an ability to close on attackers quickly while defending and an all around defensive poise that was rewarded with an entry level contract.
"You have to be quick when you're thinking and playing," Lindholm said of facing older and advanced prospects during camp. "You have to be right in their meat, and you have to stand with them. You can't give them some ice, then they'll shoot, score. You have to always be on track."
It was an attitude similar to the one he brought Rogle BK's senior team, with whom he compiled five points and a plus-five rating in 10 Kvalseries games in their successful quest for promotion.
"I just came up and played my game. I didn't change much," Lindholm said of playing against professionals. "I had good coaches that believed in me and gave me more ice time because I played good. I played my game and it worked."
The continued challenging surroundings will place Lindholm in the Elitserien as an 18-year old, where he'll receive key minutes in a wide array of opportunities for a team that enters the year looking to maintain its standing amongst the traditional Swedish powers. Should he show the same development as a year ago, both Murray and Danielson are optimistic about his ability to fight for a spot on the 2013-14 Anaheim blueline as a 19-year old.
"He plays like a much older guy than the 18 year old that he is," Danielson said. "He's 6'3, he's almost 200 pounds already, and I think what he needs to do to be able to play – and play 80 games – is get stronger. Otherwise, he just needs to play games and mature and he'll come along."
"Next year at this time, I think he's pretty close."