ANAHEIM -- Ask Hampus Lindholm who he patterns his game after and he ticks off his list: Kenny Jonsson, his former Swedish club assistant coach and a longtime NHL player. Nicklas Lidstrom. Erik Karlsson. Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Forgive Lindholm if one of those names isn't Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Niedermayer, who coaches Lindholm with the Anaheim Ducks. Lindholm says he admires Niedermayer, but it's understandable that the 19-year-old isn't as familiar with the North American game, considering he's played it for less than a year.
But the adjustment so far has gone well for Lindholm and the Ducks.
Lindholm, the sixth player taken in the 2012 NHL Draft, is playing on Anaheim's top defensive pairing with Francois Beauchemin. He has two assists and a plus-9 rating through five games and averages 19:11 of ice time per game, including 3:24 on the power play.
Lindholm might not have made the team out of training camp, but he got his chance because of long-term injuries to Sheldon Souray and Luca Sbisa. Despite the teenager's lack of experience, Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau has shown he's comfortable giving Lindholm so much responsibility.
"We thought he would have still needed a little more time because of his injury last year that kept him out half the year," Boudreau said. "From the rookie camp to the main camp, he kept getting better and better and better. We thought rookie camp would be easier for him and he'd have a more difficult time in main camp and in preseason games and regular-season games, but it's actually been the opposite."
Lindholm's career was interrupted by a pair of concussions two months apart while playing with the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League and for Sweden in exhibition games prior to the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship at the end of 2012. He recovered and managed a plus-5 rating in 44 games in his first season in the AHL. His assets as a good skater and two-way defenseman have helped him adapt to the North American style.
Beauchemin, a Second-Team NHL All-Star last season, has been impressed with the Lindholm's ability and poise.
"I try to talk a lot with whoever I'm playing [with]," Beauchemin said. "But he's been great. He reads the play well so sometimes he doesn't need me to say something. He's just going to do it. His skating ability, his puckhandling and his patience is really good. He's going to get better as the season goes on."
Lindholm's rapid maturation partly is due to the fact that he played against older players while growing up in Sweden.
"I played on a small club that didn't have too many players," Lindholm said. "Other teams had 40 players but we barely had 15 guys. I wasn't the biggest guy. I had to use my skating. I couldn't push guys around."
Lindholm estimated he weighed around 115 pounds at the time; he's now listed at 6-foot-3, 197 pounds. It's telling that Boudreau chooses Lindholm rather than stay-at-home veteran Mark Fistric, who was acquired to add depth to Anaheim's blue line. But it's not surprising because Boudreau's offensive philosophy is meant for a skating game like Lindholm's.
Lindholm, whose plus-9 is the best among NHL rookies through Friday, said his start has helped his confidence, but so have his teammates.
"I play with such good players on this team that if I make the quick first pass, they're going to make me look good, and I can [contribute] on offense and get back," he said.
Lindholm said his expectation to make Anaheim's roster in training camp never wavered. The sample size is small, and it will be interesting to see if Lindholm can stay with Anaheim when Sbisa and Souray return from their injuries.
"My goal is always the highest," Lindholm said. "My goal is to make the team, for sure. Ever since I got drafted, you're going to work hard and try and make that dream come true. I'm lucky to be here now and I have to keep working my [rear end] off to stay here."
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