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BEST YET TO COME

Flames expect Lindholm's game to round out during new six-year pact

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

Those back-to-front 185 feet, the toughest slog of any ascent to authentic, any-way-you-want-to-play/all-around stardom, are already in the mists behind him.

Have already been scaled.

Only 15 more to go to plant his flag at the summit.

And Elias Lindholm is preparing for a final assault.

"If you really study his game, he's been just excellent over 185 feet of the 200 feet of the ice surface,'' said Flames' GM Brad Treliving Monday, shortly after announcing that RFA Lindholm had been signed on for the next six seasons.

"It's from the hashmarks in where he hasn't produced to a level that a lot of people predicted when he was drafted.

"He's established himself as a solid complement defensively. He can clean up a lot of messes for people. 

"Where there's room for growth is in the finishing.

"We feel the role and the situations he's going to be put in with us are going to help him get to that level offensively."

Cleary, the Flames foresee Lindholm - the fifth-overall pick in the 2013 draft - improving on the points-to-games ratio of 188-to-374 over his five years in Raleigh, N.C.

"Oh, yeah, I think I have more in me to contribute in that area,'' agreed Lindholm, from his parents' home in Sweden. "Two years ago after Christmas I really started playing well, scoring points.

"That's the way I want to play.

"That's the way I know I can play.

"It's not like I got drafted fifth overall and all of a sudden I was a bad pick. I know what I can do. 

"In Carolina for five years, I felt a few times that I was about to take that step but couldn't really do it. I had some decent years there but I want to get back to where I know I can be.

"You always want to score first but the team always comes first. You want to be as good as possible in all three zones because if you can't get out of the D-zone, you can't score goals anyway.

"Coming to a new opportunity, changing everything - organization, conference, country - is going to be good for me. A re-start.

"With the players we have in Calgary … I think there's a lot of goals. I hope to be a part of that."

Whether it be alongside Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan or Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk remains to be determined, naturally, but Lindholm undoubtedly has a top-six future in store for him here.

"We had a good squad before,'' he says. "Then the signing of (James) Neal made it even better. He's a proven scorer, a winner. So I'm super-excited.

"If they put me with Backlund … well, it's always nice to play with another Swede. If it's Johnny and Mohahan, well, that's one of the best tandems in the league. So, either way, really nice.

"As a team, if you look at our lineup, we're right there, in my mind.

"So wherever I do play, I'll be ready."

With Lindholm accounted for, the other major RFA component of the big June 23 swap with the Hurricanes, defenceman Noah Hanifin, becomes a signing priority.

"He's a-comin','' joked Treliving, with a tip of the Smithbilt to the just-completed Stampede. "As they say at the chuckwagons: He's a-comin.'

"We're continuing to work away at it. Obviously we have a few guys to deal with and Noah is one of them, an important one.

"We'll keep slugging away."

The Lindholm commitment is $4.85-million U.S. per season and the term of the contract - vital for both sides - will take Lindholm to age 29.

"We think Elias has had a good career to date,'' said Treliving. "But we believe there's even more there. So it was a question of finding that balance of the potential we believe he has and from their side wanting to manage the risk if and when he does pop here.

"We eventually came to a term and a number that worked for both sides.

"He's been in the league a while but never forget that he's a young player. At his age, a lot of guys are just getting started at this level. We think he's just getting into the prime of his career. He's a unique player in the sense he can play multiple positions. A natural centre who's played the bulk of his pro career on the wing. So there's a premium there.

"He's been a top face-off guy without being a centreman. And we're excited, as of today, to have the bulk of his prime years locked up.

"Two years away from UFA status we think if he hits what we project he can, it's going to be a real good deal. For everybody."

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