There is a buzz coming from Finland and fans of Ässät, a team in the SM-Liiga, that Esa Lindell has been looking really good in the pre season and could dominate if he keeps it up. In six of their pre season games he's had three goals.
He is one of the lesser known prospects that the Dallas Stars have and has been plying his trade in the Finnish SM-Liiga. He was drafted in the third round in 2012 and was seen as a big defenseman with offensive potential. His biggest weakness was his skating which has been improving. He had spent the previous few years with Jokerit but with their move to the KHL he signed as a free agent with Ässät.
Lindell has been playing on Ässät's top defensive pairing during the pre season with their new high value acquisition: Garrett Stafford. For those who followed the Texas Stars closely in their inaugural season at Cedar Park the name might strike a familiar chord. He played there in the Texas Stars first season in the AHL. He also played three games with Dallas back in the mid noughties.
Finding information out of Finland, or even video of their games, is very hard if you aren't Finnish or live outside of Finland. Back in November community member Henri Muroke managed to interview Lindell, you can find that here. Nevertheless there is some stuff around the internet that Lindell is doing very well with his new team. So much so that he was listed as one of those in the SM-Liiga who could have a breakout year.
In the article this is the justification (Google Translate warning):
Defender showed promise last season, the development of characters. A young people's best defender during the period 2011-2012 selected Lindell took a somewhat surprisingly high degree of responsibility Jokerit defense last fall. Large and kiekollisesti skilled in the defender of the Dallas Stars' third-round pick in 2012 also playing a great under-20s World Cup at the turn of Malmö.
Moved to a larger role behind the Ässiin, which gives the 20-year-old talent with the tools to develop into the best defenders in the league ranks.
Lindell had spent his career up until now with Jokerit; he got his first callup to the big club at the age of 18. Admittedly this was due to a long list of injuries. Lindell was a regular last season and played 44 games in the SM-Liiga. On occasions he played in big moments for Jokerit. He finished with five points (2-3-5) and it seems likely that he will eclipse that total this year.
With the chemistry that he seems to have formed with Stafford at Ässät there's a real chance that he could become a permanent presence, getting regular minutes on the top pairing, or at least top four, in the SM-Liiga. With this increase in ice time his point total should also increase.
This could be a real boost in his development, getting big minutes against the best competition in one of the top four leagues in the world. Fellow Finn, Jyrki Jokipakka, got a similar opportunity with Ilves and spent two years logging a huge number of minutes. Now he's in Cedar Park and he's considered a prospect to watch and potentially could be a call up to the NHL if injuries strike.
Here is what Les Jackson had to say on Lindell back at development camp:
He had a good season, he was a dominant player for Finland at the World Junior and carried a lot of key minutes. He's on track. We're going to play him in the Finnish League this year and I suspect we'll bring him over at the end of next year to see how he does and then the following season he'll be in the American League. He has the right stuff.
The earliest that Texas Stars fans will see Lindell at Cedar Park will be near the end of the season. Lindell signed a two year contract with Ässät but the plan appears to be for him to only play one of those.
The signs are pointing towards a potential breakout year for Lindell and while his production in the pre season could be misleading it is a positive sign. If he gets those minutes in the regular season playing against tough opponents then Lindell could be one to watch in a few years time.
Will he have a breakout year this season? Only time will tell.