It was a 2017-18 season bookended by unideal circumstances, but in between Hampus Lindholm continued to prove he's one of the best young defenseman in the NHL.
The 23-year-old Swede got off a late start in his fourth NHL season thanks to a contract holdout that caused him to miss training camp plus the first 13 games of the campaign. The first eight had gone by when Lindholm and the Ducks agreed on a six-year contract, then he missed another five as he made his way to the States from his hometown in Helsingborg, Sweden.
Once back in the fold, Lindholm was again one of Anaheim's most reliable blueliners, scoring six goals and adding 14 assists in 66 games and adding four points and a plus-8 rating in 17 playoff games. But as is the case for most top-tier defenseman, the numbers don't tell the whole story for Lindholm, a smooth-skater and puck-mover with tremendous hockey intelligence who rarely makes a mistake. (And on the occasion he does turn the puck over, he seems to almost always get it right back.)
Lindholm did all this while battling a wrist injury he endured in November that ultimately hindered his offensive abilities. He also endured a torn labrum that caused him to miss three games near the end of the regular season, though he did gut his way through every postseason game.
It finally caught up with him after the disappointing end to Anaheim's playoff run, however. On May 25 - the day the Ducks cleaned out their lockers for the summer - Executive Vice President and General Manager Bob Murray announced Lindholm would have shoulder surgery that will keep him out of action for four or five months.
That will undoubtedly cause Lindholm to miss the beginning of next season as well, but it's certain that upon his return he will once again be one of the Ducks' most valuable defensemen.
He earned that distinction not long after Anaheim made him the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, making his NHL debut in the third game of the 2013-14 season and never looking back. In his first two seasons in the league, his plus/minus rating of a combined +54 was second in the entire NHL over that span and led all defensemen.
His +74 through four seasons has him 15th among all active NHL defensemen. Only one of the players in the top 15 (Ryan McDonagh of the Rangers) are under 30 while Lindholm won't be 24 until next January.
Maybe it's that relatively young age, or it's his genial personality that has made Lindholm a must-follow on social media. His Instagram posts are often funny and frequently engaging, as when he asked fans to help him pick out his gameday tie for Ducks Social Media Night back in March.
Lindholm has also earned a distinction as one of the more intelligent voices in the Ducks room, exuding well-earned confidence without arrogance. A few years ago, just short of his 21st birthday, he shared an elevator at Honda Center with local reporters when the topic turned to housing. He was asked if he planned to live by the beach, a reasonable question for a young, single professional athlete.
"I don't care about the beach," he said. "I'm here to work."
It was just after that 2014-15 season, his second in the NHL, when he was asked about his objectives going forward. "I want to be the best defenseman in the league," he said without hesitation. "If you don't have that as a goal, I don't know why you're playing.
"I want to be the best one every night, I want to be the best one on this team, and that's what I'm working for."
In a league where defenseman typically don't reach their primes until their late 20s, it would seem Lindholm is well on his way to reaching that goal.