By Adam Brady | AnaheimDucks.com
In the wake of a hugely disappointing defeat at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, as the Ducks were asked to reflect on the disappointment of their premature playoff exit, there emerged a rare hint of bravado from young Hampus Lindholm.
The 21-year-old Swede, coming off an oustanding sophomore NHL season – not to mention an equally impressive postseason – was asked about his ambitions as he looks ahead to next year and beyond.
"I want to be the best defenseman in the league," the normally soft-spoken Lindholm 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. I’m going to work this summer to be in the best shape I can be in, then come into camp and be as good as I can be."
|"I want to be the best defenseman in the league," Lindholm says. "If you don’t have that as a goal, I don’t know why you’re playing." |
Just how good Lindholm can be is seemingly limitless, and already the young man has drawn comparisons to fellow Swede and future Hall-of-Fame blueliner Nicklas Lidstrom. Lindholm had an outstanding debut NHL season in 2013-14, 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 season, he was even better.
"I think I got a little bigger and stronger this year," he said. "I think overall over those 82 games, I think my lowest was much higher this year. I wasn’t going up and down as much. As a good D, you have to play like that."
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.
Lindholm has been the beneficiary of guidance from a couple of veteran defensemen: Francois Beauchemin (with whom he was paired much of the season) and Hall-of-Fame d-man Scott Niedermayer (a Ducks assistant coach). He's taken 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.”
|"It’s going to be bugging everyone this summer, but that’s going to be the fuel for us to get even better and stronger next year." |
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.”
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 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."
Lindholm will stay in Orange County the next couple weeks before heading back to his home in Sweden, where he'll spend time with family and friends while ultimately setting his sights on next season. He says the defeats to the Blackhawks in Games 6 and 7 of the conference final will leave a bitter taste for some time.
"We just have to look ourselves in the mirror on how we prepared and what we can do better," Lindholm said. "It’s going to be bugging everyone this summer, but that’s going to be the fuel for us to get even better and stronger next year."