By Adam Brady
The tousled blonde locks. The boyish face. The pale whiskers around his upper lip and chin that serve as a sorry excuse for a playoff beard. They don’t come close to telling the tale of Hampus Lindholm.
Despite his athletic 6-foot-2 frame, if you saw him walking around, say, the Irvine Spectrum near the home he shares with a teammate, he’d fit right in with the rest of the 20-somethings. You’d hardly peg him as one of the best young hockey defensemen in the world and a vital part of the Anaheim Ducks in their run for another Stanley Cup.
The 21-year-old Swede has paired with 34-year-old veteran Francois Beauchemin to form a stingy and savvy No. 1 defensive duo that has been invaluable to Anaheim the past two seasons – notably in the playoffs when defense is at a premium.
“I think just getting a taste of playoffs last year was huge for me, to kind of know how different the game is and how it’s just a game of men battling,” Lindholm says. “You can’t come in and just skate. You have to battle hard and fight for every inch out there.”
Last year Lindholm had an outstanding debut NHL season, displaying a maturity on the ice and skills at both ends that ultimately earned him a spot on the league’s All-Rookie team. This year he has been even better, showing his worth even more at this time of year. Numbers don’t come close to evaluating a player like Lindholm, but if you want stats, here’s one: His plus-54 rating over the past two seasons is second in the entire NHL and leads all defensemen.
|“I think just getting a taste of playoffs last year was huge for me, to kind of know how different the game is and how it’s just a game of men battling,” Lindholm says. “You can’t come in and just skate. You have to battle hard and fight for every inch out there.” |
Much of what Lindholm has learned at this level – and continues to absorb – comes from Beauchemin, who has been his defensive partner and occasional safety net for the better part of Lindholm’s relatively short career.
“I’ve learned a lot from him,” Lindholm says. “He’s been in the league for awhile now, and he’s been successful too. My first year, he really helped me a lot. I felt I really had him behind me, in case the puck would maybe jump over my stick, he would come and rescue me a little bit.
“That was really good my first year, and I think in my second year, we’ve started to learn about each other a little more, where we are on the ice, and it makes things simpler out there.”
There may be a tendency to compare Beauchemin and Lindholm’s mentor-protégé relationship to the one Beauchemin himself had back in the mid-2000s. As a young defenseman, he was paired with eventual Hall-of-Famer Scott Niedermayer, and the wisdom and support Niedermayer passed on made Beauchemin even better. Yet Beauchemin jokes that his bond with Lindholm is slightly different.
“Hampus is a way better player than I was, and Scotty is a way better player than I am now,” he says with a laugh. “But I’m trying to pass on what I’ve learned and help him out. Talk is the most important thing on the ice. When you know what’s coming behind you, and you know what you’re doing with the puck once you get it, it makes your life a lot easier.”
Lindholm gives plenty of credit to influences like Beauchemin and Niedermayer (who is now a Ducks assistant coach), taking mental notes on “how professional they are, both on and off the ice, and how they are so humble after all their success. You just look at them and see how they are as a person and as a player. If you’re smart enough, you learn from that.”
But while Lindholm has gathered plenty from those two, the truth is he came to Anaheim already with an impressive level of maturity. It’s one of the reasons the Ducks surprised some experts when they took him sixth overall in the 2012 NHL Draft.
“I’ve just had a lot of good people around me, pushing me in the right direction,” Lindholm says. “I always had good coaches around me, and of course I have to give a lot of credit to my parents. They raised me well and to always be humble. As a Swede, you kind of have to be that way.”
Lindholm had to grow up quickly while playing professionally in Sweden as a teenager for a team called Rögle BK in the city of Ängelholm. “I was playing senior hockey pretty early in my life, when I was 17,” Lindholm says. “I kind of learned quickly that when most guys do something, you most likely have to do it twice because you’re younger.”
|"I’m trying to pass on what I’ve learned and help him out," Beauchemin says. "Talk is the most important thing on the ice. When you know what’s coming behind you, and you know what you’re doing with the puck once you get it, it makes your life a lot easier.” |
At 18, Lindholm played a season for Anaheim’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk, battling some injuries before earning a permanent spot on the Ducks roster coming out of camp in 2013. He spent his rookie season living with a family in Tustin, but this year he has moved into a house in the comparably family-friendly city of Irvine with teammate, close friend and fellow Swede Rickard Rakell.
A few months ago Lindholm was asked by a reporter why he hadn’t moved to a place like Newport Beach, where a lot of young Ducks have settled over the years.
"I don't care about the beach," Lindholm said. “I'm here to work."
That attitude has shown through on the ice and in the locker room, where the soft-spoken and bright Lindholm seems at ease talking with a gathering of reporters that gets larger the further the Ducks advance in these playoffs.
While surrounded by older teammates whose playoff beards have already grown to impressive thickness and consistency, Lindholm took it in stride Saturday afternoon when he was kidded about his barely-there whiskers. “That’s two weeks’ worth,” he said before humbly admitting, “It could be better.”
It’s easy to forget Lindholm is just 21, an age when many of his peers are still in school, figuring out what they want to do with their lives. But Lindholm, whom some have compared to fellow Swedish defenseman (and future Hall-of-Famer) Nicklas Lidstrom, has already established himself among the NHL’s young elite – with a seemingly limitless future.
"What I love about Hampus more than anything is that he studies the game and wants to get better," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said earlier this season. "He's not one of those guys who takes his play for granted. He's always wanting to do better, has internal goals and is real conscientious. He's going to be a real good one."