The Tape: Why Elias Lindholm is an excellent fit for the Canucks and for Elias Pettersson

Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Tyson Cole
4 months ago
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The acquisition of Elias Lindholm is crucial for the Vancouver Canucks team as a whole. But individually, it may not be more consequential to anyone as it is for Elias Pettersson. 
With the sophomore struggles of last year’s rookie standout, Andrei Kuzmenko, the right side of Pettersson’s line has been a revolving door of wingers this season. Ilya Mikheyev has been somewhat of a mainstay for the left side of Pettersson’s line, with Kuzmenko splitting time with Sam Lafferty and Pius Suter — not your typical household names. While Pettersson himself isn’t having struggles offensively, his line at 5-on-5 has. 
Using the lines as of the Canucks’ most recent game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, let’s look at if the analytics back the struggles of Pettersson’s line. 
Granted, the sample size of two of the three lines is much shorter than what the Pettersson line saw, but it’s clear the line needed some new life — welcome in Elias Lindholm.

Looking into Pettersson’s Linemates

According to Canucks practice lines, it looks as though Elias Lindholm will slide onto Elias Pettersson’s line — which Canucks fans are hoping is a line that will gel fluently. The most recent linemate Pettersson showed strong chemistry with (outside of the Lotto line) was last season’s Kuzmenko. 
Let’s take a look at where Kuzmenko scored most of his goals last season, with data provided by NHL Edge. 
As you can see, Kuzmenko excelled in front of the net, scoring 31 of his 39 goals in that area. Here’s a video of Kuzmenko sneaking behind the defence, showing Pettersson’s awareness to find him down low for an easy tap in goal. 
Further proving the chemistry these two built with one another, this next play illustrates just that. Kuzmenko and Pettersson do a give-and-go with each other, with Kuzmenko finding the open area in a high-danger area and Pettersson connecting with him on a tape-to-tape pass. 
These two were a highly effective, dynamic duo who took advantage of finding the open areas and finishing on their high-danger opportunities. 
Will Lindholm be able to find that same connection with Pettersson? 
It’s no surprise that Lindholm, to his standards, is having a down season. His linemates were not what they once were. Pairing up with two elite talents, Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, was when Lindholm flourished. Let’s take a look at where he scored most of his goals this season. 
While Lindholm found some success in the medium-danger scoring areas, the majority of his production came from in front of the net, like Kuzmenko. Here’s a video where Lindholm snuck past defenders, leaving him wide open at the side of the net and scored — similar to Kuzmenko’s from above. 
One part of Lindholm’s game that is important to highlight is his ability to find the open space — seemingly with ease. Gaudreau and Pettersson are comparable in the fact that they are patient players and make sure to pick their spots.
Watch as Lindholm wins the battles in the corner, and while Gaudreau controls the play behind the net, Lindholm moves to the open area in the slot to bury the feed from behind the net. 
And look, I’m not here trying to compare these two players. Just highlighting what helped Pettersson put up the highest point total of his career and that Lindholm has all, if not more, of these qualities to be a perfect fit for Pettersson.

What Else Does Lindholm Bring to the Team?

Watching Lindholm over these last two seasons, there’s a real emphasis on his net-front presence. With a 6’1, 202-pound frame, Lindholm isn’t your usual archetype for in front of the net, but he’s shown that he’s made it an apparent part of his game since last season.
The percentage of Lindholm’s goals scored in the net-front rose from 40% in the 2021-2022 season to 73% in the 2022-2023 season. Watch here as Lindholm parks himself right in front of the goalie, retreats, then as Tyler Toffoli lines up a shot, Lindholm slides right through the goaltender’s vision and gets rewarded with a tip in goal. 
The net-front presence is something that the Canucks have been missing for some time now. If Lindholm can fill this missing void in the Canucks powerplay, it could propel what already is the ninth-best unit in the league even higher in the rankings. 
Speaking of the powerplay.
Watching back the film of Lindholm’s goals, there is something alarmingly similar that he does exceptionally well, which reminded me of something a former Canuck also did exceptionally well. 
Now, teams have caught on and made it their mission to get in the lane of the bumper spot. So the Canucks have needed to make modifications to find the open man in the bumper spot. 
Brock Boeser was the beneficiary of the bumper spot since Horvat’s departure. As you can see, they’ve had success moving the play down lower along the half-wall and around the goal line. 
Oh, would you look at that. Lindholm wins the battle at the net front, retrieves the puck, then finds the sweet spot in the open ice and buries the goal from the lower bumper spot. 
With how elite J.T. Miller is at passing to that spot, as Canucks fans have seen him do with Horvat and Boeser already, I’m excited to see these two connect on the powerplay. 
As you can notice in that video, the puck is off his stick quicker than it was on it. Lindholm has such a quick release when getting the shot off, often catching opposing goaltenders off guard. 
Watch here as Lindholm wins the faceoff and gets right into his bumper spot position. Lindholm opens up his stance, facing the puck carrier and is ready as soon as the puck gets to him to fire it on net, as he knows the window is closing on him quickly. He makes no mistake and rifles a bullet passed the goalie. 
The defensive game and versatility that Lindholm is bringing over is of importance to the Canucks head coach, Rick Tocchet.
“I love 200-foot players, a hybrid centre or the wing, (he’s a) really good penalty kill guy, I think he’s over 55% on his (faceoff) draws, and he can play powerplay,” Tocchet replied when asked what excites him about the acquisition of Lindholm. “We’re getting a guy who can do a lot of different things.”
This may be my favourite clip of Lindholm that further proves Tocchet’s sentiments about Lindholm’s 200-foot play.
Watch as Lindholm is the first man pressuring the opposition on the backcheck. He then circles back while picking up speed as he receives the puck and excels through the neutral zone. Although it looks like a missed pass, for funs sake, I’ll choose to believe he passed it off the boards to himself, picking it up behind the defenders and beating the goaltender.
It’s not just Tocchet who values the importance of Lindholm’s faceoff abilities. During Pius Suter’s short stint on Pettersson’s line, Pettersson spoke about how helpful that was for him to be able to forecheck and have the reassurance that he’s covered defensively. This should not only allow Pettersson to play a more creative game but will also relieve his faceoff duties.
In the faceoff dot is where Lindholm may help Pettersson the most. With data provided by hockeyeloratings.com, here are the Canucks top three centreman’s faceoff numbers in each zone of the ice.
As you can see, Pettersson has struggled on defensive zone draws. Lindholm’s 57.83% ranks as the eighth-highest percentage in the defensive zone across players who have 100+ faceoff wins in the league. 
Lindholm has all the tools to fit in the Tocchet system perfectly. A player who can play all aspects of the game, whether you need a net-front presence on the powerplay, or you need to kill a crucial penalty or just as simple as a defensive zone faceoff win. 
Getting Pettersson a top-six forward was necessary for an all-in Stanley Cup run this season. Not only is Lindholm an exceptional team fit, he’s exactly the player to play with Pettersson. Having the assurance of knowing that if you’re going to play more aggressively in the offensive zone, there’s a reliable player like Lindholm who’s back to cover for you — that is something he has never had in his career. 
Who knows the level of Pettersson Canucks fans are about to witness. 
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