Former Stars coach Lindy Ruff summed up defenseman Esa Lindell pretty concisely during his rookie season last year.
“I’ll tell you this,” Ruff said. “Not a lot of bad things happen when he’s on the ice.”
That might be even more true this season.
Lindell (pronounced lin-DELL) is the team’s quiet anchor in a lot of ways. He is a consistent force of defense and also is expanding his offensive role in a way that has been in line with what the new coaching staff wants. In short, he has done everything asked of him.
“He’s been great,” Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We didn’t expect to use him on the top pair, we thought [Marc] Methot would be there. But when Methot was hurt, Lindell really stepped up, and now we don’t see any reason to change that.”
Methot returned last week after missing 41 games with a knee injury but is playing on a pair with Stephen Johns. That means John Klingberg and Lindell are leading the team in time on ice on the top pair.
And that’s not easy for the soft-spoken 23-year-old from Vantaa, Finland. While Lindell can carry himself physically at 6-3, 213, he still is maturing mentally.
“I think more comfortable, more confident. It just seems better,” Lindell said when asked what improvements he’s made. “It’s more fun this year, and I think I can just relax more.”
That seems to be working, as he’s second on the team in time on ice at 21:57, second in plus-minus at plus-18 and third in SAT (shot attempt differential at even strength) at plus-114. Basically, not a lot of bad happens when he’s on the ice. He also has upped his offensive numbers, already surpassing the 18 points he had in 73 games last season with 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) in 60 games heading into Thursday’s game at Los Angeles.
He seems the perfect fit next to Klingberg.
“One guy is getting better in making smart decisions from the red line back in Klingberg, and Lindell is starting to accept more responsibility as a guy who helps on the rush and knows when to join in,” Hitchcock said. “So it makes for a really good pair.”
A pair Klingberg, 25, said could have long-range success.
“We’ve got good communication with each other, and I think we’re really building on that. The best thing is we talk after every shift what can we do better, and that really does help,” Klingberg said.
“I would love it if we could stay together and play together for a long time. We’re both in the same age group, and I just think that would be good for both of us if we could do that.”