Ducks' Hampus Lindholm, at 20, matures into a top NHL rookie

 Ducks' Hampus Lindholm, at 20, matures into a top NHL rookie
Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm, right, fends off Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kessler while chasing down a loose puck during a game in January. Lindholm, a rookie who was the Ducks' top draft pick in 2012, has responded well to the workload the Ducks have given him on and off the ice. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Earlier this month, as the Ducks unpacked in a Calgary dressing room, some players began chiding rookie defenseman Hampus Lindholm about shirking his "duties" as equipment bag unloader.

The good-natured Swede smiled and tried in vain to explain he'd done his best to assist equipment manager Doug "Sluggo" Shearer, but had to get skating.


The instant defined Lindholm, who two months after turning 20 has made himself one of the NHL's top rookies by simply knowing his place.

"He's fortunate to have that mental makeup, because bad things happen out there on the ice," said Scott Niedermayer, the Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman and Ducks assistant coach who counsels Lindholm. "You just need to get back out there on the next shift and do your job again."

The Ducks want someone to carry the load?

Here's what Lindholm has contributed: a plus-26 in goal differential on the ice to rank just outside the NHL top 10; five goals and 21 assists, including four in the past four games since top defender Cam Fowler suffered a knee injury.

"I know if I made mistake after mistake, I'd be told to step it up, but that hasn't happened, partially because I'm harder on myself than others [are]," Lindholm said. "My goals are higher than others have for me. No matter what they say, I've already put that pressure on me. I know what I can do out there. I'm like that."

The Ducks made the now 6-foot-3, 200-pound Lindholm their first-round pick (sixth overall) in 2012, and Coach Bruce Boudreau said the pimply kid told team officials last year he aspired to crack the roster. Instead he played 48 games at minor league Norfolk.

Thanks to a productive camp and exhibition season this time, he made it, and was paired with 33-year-old Francois Beauchemin until recently.

"Sometimes you play with a guy, it clicks," said Beauchemin, whose mentoring of Lindholm has consisted mostly of just on-ice communication.

"There's still the matter of going against the very top players, learning their tendencies. But in practice, he works hard. In games, he competes every night. Has a lot of patience, keeps his head up, doesn't give pucks away for nothing. It's working — far more goals scored when he's out there than allowed."

One of those goals was Lindholm's own — his season highlight thus far — when he slapped in the game-winner Dec. 23 at Washington to give Boudreau a cherished victory over the Capitals, the team that fired him.

"You'd never know he was a teenager when the season started," Niedermayer said. "Younger players sometimes try to do too much and get in trouble. I know I did that, too much jumping up [into the offense], putting the team at a disadvantage.

"He has great timing, isn't thinking about his goal or points total. He's content to do the little things in a game that for most defensemen it takes many years to do."

That's a result, Lindholm said, of being raised by coaches — Boudreau included — who applaud smart aggression.

"When I see an opening, I will go," Lindholm said. "You think of the score. Are we down? Tied? Up some goals? I've seen others get disturbed by coaches telling them, 'You go there [to the defensive zone] only.' Mine let me be who I am."


Lindholm has denied that he's experienced the rookie wall as a player who hadn't been in more than 50 games in a year and now is dealing with 82 plus playoffs in the world's premier league.

"We threw him right into the fire. He was in all situations and kept excelling at it, so we kept him there," Boudreau said. "Tough to keep up that pace when you're not used to it, but he doesn't want to miss optionals or take time off. He's just cut a little tighter."

Defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who's been paired with Lindholm on the Ducks' No. 1 defensive unit since Fowler got hurt, said there's been no coddling of Lindholm throughout the season.

"If he wasn't a super-effective NHL talent, he wouldn't be here," Lovejoy said. "He a top defenseman on one of the best NHL teams all year. Super-skilled, amazing skater.

"This league has become all about speed and Hampus has elite speed, is able to push the offense and defend top lines because of it. Everything comes down to his skating."

That, and his nature.

Lovejoy said the Ducks view Lindholm affectionately as a kid brother whose "ignorance is bliss."

For instance, Lindholm said he hasn't considered acquiring a fake ID or drinking with the guys.

"I don't want to go into a U.S. prison," he said. "I heard it's rough in there."

Said Lovejoy: "Sometimes he doesn't know what's going on.

"I have to remind myself with him of when I was 20 years old, sophomore in college, hanging out in frat basements, making stupid mistakes where no one knew.

"Hampus is playing in the best league in the world, with men, on a successful team, and has fit in."



When: 5 p.m.

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 830.

Etc.: The Panthers are a possible cure for the Ducks' struggling power play as they rank last in the NHL with a 75% penalty-kill unit. They added goalie Roberto Luongo at the trade deadline; he played in the Panthers' 4-0 loss to the Kings on Saturday.

Twitter: @latimespugmire