The Hurricanes released some shocking news yesterday when they announced that the team is sending rookie Elias Lindholm to the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League. This decision might come across as controversial because Lindholm has already played 10 games and many thought Lindholm would be in the NHL to stay now that the first year of his entry-level contract has started. Scouts tagged him as an "NHL-ready" player, but the injuries he sustained over the summer and during the season have put him behind schedule a little bit and the coaching staff feels that he would be better off getting top line minutes in the AHL.
Lindholm could be back with the Canes very soon, as the team allowed him to play ten games instead of sending him back to Sweden to avoid burning a year on his entry level contract. How much does he need to work on before he makes his return, though? Lindholm is a great skater, has shown very good offensive instincts and has made an impact on the power play, but his performance at even strength leaves much to be desired. He has been on the ice for six five-on-five goals against in 10 games and only Kevin Westgarth posted a worse Corsi percentage than him. Personally, I thought Lindholm was improving with every game but his all-around game is still developing and some time in the AHL could help him with that.
Still, the Hurricanes letting him play 10 games and sending him to Charlotte indicates that they might have some short-term plans for him. When he was drafted, all indications were that he was going to get every chance to make the team out of camp and despite being hurt for most of August/September, Lindholm found himself in the opening night lineup. He started off on the fourth line and slowly worked his way up the depth chart before getting hurt in his fifth game of the year. Lindholm then found himself back at square one after that. The coaching staff was still giving him decent minutes and using him heavily on the power play, but the Hurricanes were still getting grossly outshot at even strength with him on the ice, which indicates that he either isn't at 100% or isn't completely ready for the NHL just yet.
Had it not been for the injury, Lindholm's season might be going a little better but having him in the AHL isn't the worst thing in the world right now. Yes, it still burns a year of his entry-level deal but Lindholm can still be called up later in the year if he dominates at that level. Given his talent, Lindholm should be able to make a big impact with the Checkers. It's rare that you'll see a player this young in the AHL, but Lindholm not having any current ties to another league gives the Canes some freedom to do what they want with him.
I'm not sure if this is the best way to handle Lindholm but I think the Hurricanes initial plan for him to play all of this year in the NHL. Unfortunately, his injury problems have derailed that plan and Lindholm will need to spend some time in the AHL to work on his all-around game. He will likely get big minutes down there and we could see him back in Raleigh if he plays well enough. The fact that hey kept him in the NHL for so long despite the injuries tells me that the Hurricanes view Lindholm as someone who can help the team this year, which makes sending him to the AHL not a terrible option right now. They might be patient with him and let him play out the season there, but it wouldn't surprise me if he is recalled sooner rather than later.