Hampus Lindholm will make his long-awaited season debut tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The decision was contingent upon how he felt following a rigorous practice yesterday and the pregame skate earlier this morning.
"It's going to be fun to get back out there and play some hockey," Lindholm said following the morning skate. "I've been doing extra skating because the season had already started. I was skating with a good team, and I'm thankful they let me practice with them."
The team he's referring to is Rogle BK of the Swedish Hockey League, the club he played for before turning pro. Lindholm is likely to replace Korbinian Holzer on the third pair alongside Kevin Bieksa.
Lindholm has collected 92 points (23g/69a) and a +61 rating in 236 career NHL games with the Ducks, and led Anaheim with a career-high 115 blocked shots last season. The 22-year-old also paced team defensemen in goals and appearances, and ranked second in scoring in 2015-16. Since his debut season in 2013-14, Lindholm's +61 rating ranks third amongst all NHL defensemen (he's also the youngest in the top 10).
But don't expect to see him play his usual minutes, at least not tonight. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle says the plan is to build Lindholm back up to his standard workload.
"It'll be our job to monitor how he's playing," said Carlyle. "I don't think you're going to see him play 20-something minutes, which he normally does. He responded well to this morning's practice and he said he was ready to play. We gave him the green light. He and I talked yesterday and we had two conversations this morning. We made a decision based on his practice yesterday and his practice this morning and how comfortable he felt going into the lineup."
Lindholm bolsters a blueline that already has talented 25-year-olds Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen, and 24-year-old Cam Fowler, who's off to the best start of his career in goals (4) and tied for the best start in points (8, also in 2014-15) through 13 games of a season.
When asked what he hopes to bring to the lineup tonight, Lindholm emphasized simplicity. "I'm going to move the puck as quickly as I can, have short shifts and let the game come to me," he said. "I have to play to my strengths and make simple plays. From there, the other stuff will come. It's going to be fun to be thrown into the fire."
John Gibson is expected to get the start for Anaheim. Gibson's last appearance came on November 4 in a 5-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes at Honda Center. Gibson made 21 saves in the win, which tied his career high in consecutive games played (10). The 23-year-old comes in with a 5-4-2 record, 2.43 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 11 appearances.
As for the Blue Jackets, they'll be without several key players in the lineup tonight. Center Brandon Dubinsky will not play because of an undisclosed injury or illness, as reported by Columbus Dispatch reporter Aaron Portzline.
Defenseman Seth Jones will not play because of a hairline fracture in his foot that is expected to keep him out three weeks. The 22-year-old had three goals and six points while averaging 24:14 time on ice in 10 games with the Blue Jackets this season. At the time of his injury, Jones led the Jackets in TOI and goals, and ranked second in assists and points.
It appears left wing Brandon Saad will in fact play, despite rumblings that head coach John Tortorella was on the verge of making him a healthy scratch due to lackadaisical play. Saad has three goals and eight points in 10 games this season.
Ducks Potential Line Combinations