Perhaps the search is over. The Flames have been looking for a true number one centre since trading Joe Nieuwendyk to Dallas more than 25 years ago. Well, two months into this season, Elias Lindholm has been one of the NHL’s best centres driving one of the NHL’s best lines. It’s early, but Lindholm’s play is worthy of Selke Trophy consideration. I see no reason why that’ll change between now and the end of the season.
On the surface, Lindholm’s credentials are strong. He’s second on the team with 27 points in 28 games. He leads Calgary with a +20 rating. He plays significant minutes at even strength and on the team’s top powerplay and penalty kill units. He’s winning 52.5% of his faceoffs. The Flames have outscored the opposition 24-6 with him on the ice at even strength. But a deeper dive into Lindholm’s season makes an even stronger case.
The Selke Trophy is awarded to the NHL forward who “demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game”, which is somewhat ambiguous. In recent years, the Selke has turned into an award for the league’s best “two-way” or “200-foot” forward. The adoption of analytics has helped further evolve how we look at the award.
Almost all of Lindholm’s measurables make the case for one of the NHL’s best two-way centres. The counting numbers we laid out above are strong. Lindholm’s underlying metrics are even better and paint a clear picture of how much he affects the game in a positive way. Metrics below courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
At five-on-five, Lindholm ranks in the top 30 in possession (CF%), expected goals, and high danger chances. But it’s that 51.8% offensive zone start number that really stands out. Of the players with better on-ice outputs than Lindholm, only one has a lower zone start ratio: his line-mate Johnny Gaudreau.
Lindholm is impacting the game offensively at a high level despite seeing plenty of defensive responsibility, which is right in line with Selke criteria. It’s the same thing that has Lindholm ranked highly in both Goals Against Replacement and Wins Against Replacement over at Evolving Hockey. He’s in good company.
|Mikko Rantanen||12.5||Mikko Rantanen||2.2|
|Nazem Kadri||10.7||Nazem Kadri||1.9|
|Auston Matthews||9.9||Auston Matthews||1.7|
|Pavel Buchnevich||9.9||Pavel Buchnevich||1.7|
|Troy Terry||9.3||Elias Lindholm||1.6|
|Elias Lindholm||9.2||Connor McDavid||1.6|
So far, the case seems strong for Lindholm. But what might prove to be the biggest hurdle is how much the Selke has turned into a reputation award. Positively, that seems to be changing, as we’ve seen a first time winner in each of the last three seasons. But more than other major NHL awards, rightly or wrongly, it feels like winning a Selke keeps a player in the mix for years to come.
Knowing that, let’s see how Lindholm stacks up against the usual suspects this year. Just five players have won the Selke over the last eight seasons, and we’ll use that group to compare.
The only recent winner driving play at a similar rate to Lindholm is Barkov in Florida. Knowing Barkov is the reigning Selke winner, that’s good company to keep. Otherwise, relative to usage, Lindholm has made a larger impact than everyone on the above list.
The fact Lindholm sees significant minutes on Calgary’s penalty kill helps his case, too. At an average of 2:15 per game, Lindholm leads all Flames forwards in shorthanded time on ice. In fact, the only “top” forwards in the league averaging more than Lindholm are Barkov and Vancouver’s JT Miller, both at 2:18.
Fans in this city have been aware of Lindholm for a while, so seeing him play the way he has isn’t a massive surprise. I’m not sure the same can be said across the league, though, as players like Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and even Andrew Mangiapane seem to get more attention. But it’s hard to argue Lindholm isn’t Calgary’s best all-around forward.
It might take some work to get Lindholm on the radar for voters across the league, which is fine. Consider the campaign started.
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