“This is a huge opportunity for me. I’ve been waiting for this for the past few years. Just going through all these growing pains early in my career, it built up to this, this opportunity.”
This is what Kole Lind said when asked about getting the chance to be a part of the Vancouver Canucks’ Taxi Squad. He was so close to the NHL and is feeling pretty good about how his game has looked in the AHL this season.
Due to the Canucks’ COVID-19 outbreak, Lind’s goal of playing in the NHL will be on hold. When I spoke to Lind, he said that he has been healthy throughout the outbreak and was cleared to play from his face injury on the day the COVID situation began with the first positive test coming back.
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From talking to teammates and the head coach, it’s clear Lind has been one of the leaders in the Comets’ dressing room. There are a handful of first-year pros in Utica and at 22-years-old, Lind has matured enough to be looked upon as one of the most recent young players who has made the adjustment to being comfortable as a full-time pro.
Another thing that Lind did this year was switch positions. He switched from the right-wing to centre and has been holding his own at the new spot.
“There’s a lot more responsibility in the D zone with being a centre,” said Lind. “It’s a little bit more complicated but versatility is a key for me and having that stuff to play any position coming up is huge for me. It’s a little different for sure, you’re the man back in the play, and obviously, you’re not the first on the forecheck all the time because you’re the low guy in the D-zone. You kind of read the game a little bit more. It took a little adjusting for me but I think I’ve gained overall speed in the game. Getting caught up to it hasn’t been the hardest thing for me this year and I’m just trying to continue to be responsible in my own end and make the right reads.”
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That’s one part of Lind’s game that has been very impressive for me this season. He is doing a good job making himself available for the first pass coming out of the defensive zone. He reads the forecheckers and can find open ice and create passing lanes for his defencemen to exit the zone.
At the beginning of this video, watch how Lind picks up the puck and makes the good first pass out to his wingers before coming down on the left side of a three-on-two and ripping a shot past the goaltender.
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Lind has now been a part of the Utica Comets for parts of four AHL seasons. He’s learned a lot and improved a lot. The first-year players are coming in and seeing how to create a path to the NHL from Lind. If we were in a non-COVID season, there is no doubt in my mind that we would have seen Lind for at least a dozen games this season. Trent Cull has been the head coach for all four of Lind’s AHL seasons. I asked Cull about Lind’s development in Utica.
“I’ve loved Kole’s progression. He deserves a ton of credit,” said Cull. “He worked extremely hard this year, he’s accepted some different roles from a year ago and I said ‘we can always go back to the wing.’ He was so accepting of it, he wanted to try the new role. He ran with it and did a good job.”
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There’s still room to grow with Lind. He hasn’t killed a ton of penalties and Cull mentioned that Lind getting more time killing penalties was in the plans for the next few weeks of the AHL season.
Last season, one of the things that stuck out in Lind’s game was his playmaking ability. He had 30 assists last season and made some beautiful passes throughout the year. Almost as many nice ones as Nikolay Goldobin. Speaking of NHL players, Lind has learned a lot from Sven Baertschi. Lind spoke about asking Sven Baertschi questions about the NHL on a daily basis. “Baertschi has been huge for growing my game,” said Lind. “This is kind of a crappy situation for him but he’s been amazing for me. Since getting sent down, he’d just try to help the young guys every day. From a leadership standpoint, he’s been absolutely amazing. Not just to me but all the young guys down there, he’s done a great job of it. I’d bounce questions off him every day.”
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One of the questions I have is if the Canucks will choose to play Lind at centre or on the wing. Going with the wing feels like the right decision for me unless the team is very lacking in centres. Lind talked about learning a lot from film studies with Cull about playing more effective defence at even strength.
Through the past three AHL seasons, we have seen him evolve into a player who is committed to a 200-foot game and the move to centre has helped open his eyes to be even more committed to things in the defensive zone. After the move to centre, Lind is more focused on keeping his head up and reading the breakout before it happens in front of him. He made his positioning and awareness a focus in his offseason training.
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“I think the biggest thing for me was decision making,” said Lind. “Having my head up more just helps me be a lot more efficient on the ice and I push myself to be a lot quicker every summer. That was something I wanted to get better at and I think everyone knows that but the biggest thing for me I think was having my head up and being prepared before I get the puck.”
The extra work in the offseason was paying off in Lind’s ability to facilitate breakouts from the backend. “Whether it was stickhandling with my head up after a skate or just going through scrimmages and focusing on having my head up the whole time. Keeping my head up and reading plays was something I really focused on this offseason.”
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Working on keeping his head up and being more aware of his positioning were two things that I noted in the negatives in his game when I wrote the Kole Lind Files article back in July of 2020.
I noted a few occasions where Lind was caught with his head down in the 2019-20 season, including this clip where he takes a massive hit.
Lind wanted to get away from these types of hits this season and for the most part, has done a good job of doing so. He has looked to pass first out of the zone when in the past he took three or four strides before looking up and assessing which play to make. It’s one of the negatives in his game that he has paid attention to on the ice and off the ice in the video room. This type of awareness in development brings a smile to my face as he continues to build on his strengths but also be aware of the negatives and attempt to address them.
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It’s Lind’s time to make his Canucks debut, and he should get some time in the Canucks middle-six if they get back to playing. Lind already knows what type of player he wants to be at the NHL level. “I want to bring that bite to my game,” said Lind. “Whether it’s tripping guys up by getting under their skin or something else, I try to get the opposition off their game as fast as I can and I think that’s when I’m at my best. I want to use this to get comfortable for the beginning of next year and hopefully jump into the NHL lineup right off the rip.”
He’s confident that he can make an impact right off the rip, even if it is by being an aggravator. Lind is “taking the muzzle off” and will get vocal in game one. “Oh yeah, muzzle off definitely,” said Lind as he laughed. “I assume that I’m going to be escorted back to the bench a lot by the linesmen.”
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For now, with the Canucks’ season in jeopardy, Lind is just waiting in Vancouver patiently with the hopes of everyone having a full recovery from the COVID outbreak without any more speedbumps. “I’m super excited, this is a dream come true,” said Lind. “That dream hasn’t fully come true yet but I’m really excited to be here. My lifelong dream is coming true and it will lead me into next year where I can crack the lineup right away.”