With Jordie Benn injured and facing some time on injured reserve the Dallas Stars have recalled defenseman Esa Lindell from the Texas Stars. The 21 year old defenseman, rated the Stars number two prospect in the system by you before the season, has had a wonderful first AHL season. With 25 points in 42 games Lindell was recently selected to the AHL All Star game
Dallas call up Lindell has been one of the best players in the AHL this season and was named top defenseman at the Worlds last spring.— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) January 18, 2016
He has definitely come a long way. Lindell was the Stars' third round pick, #74 overall, in the 2012 draft. Hockey's Future had this to say about Lindell whenever it was that they updated their "Talent Analysis" section (presumably prior to the season):
Lindell is a big defenseman who likes to join the rush. He has an offensive-minded style that needs to be roped-in at times and refined. Despite his size he doesn't engage too much physically. Lindell's skating is still a bit awkward and he's not particularly agile. The strength of his game is jumping into the play well and making offensive reads. Lindelll sometimes appears lackadaisical in his own end and makes questionable decisions. He has significant skills but must continue to coordinate them into a productive two-way game.
I can't tell you that I've watched hours upon hours of Lindell play, but friends of the blog Stephen Meserve and Sean Shapiro have. Stephen describes him as a guy that does things quietly. He says "You might not remember a single Lindell goal at the end of the season, but I guarantee he'll have a bucket of them".
Both mention his defensive prowess. ""Teams just don't score with him on the ice" says Stephen, and that would definitely be a welcome change in Dallas. Sean points out that he plays on the Texas first penalty killing unit and takes the key defensive zone starts. According to Sean Lindell is a "big, physical defenseman. He plays about 26 minutes per night for Texas. Moves the puck very well for he AHL, while he's a shutdown guy".
The picture we're getting of Lindell sounds almost exactly like what the Stars need on the blueline right now. As Josh Bogorad points out, he will almost certainly get on the ice while he's up:
In June I asked Jim Nill which AHL players he could see being recalled & having the biggest in-season impact. His first name was Esa Lindell— Josh Bogorad (@JoshBogorad) January 18, 2016
The elephants in the room need to be addressed. What about Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth? Both players are or have been expected to fill a big defensive role. Both guys bring the size you want from the back. If the Stars simply wanted a 7th defenseman on the roster Oleksiak could have been recalled from his conditioning stint and the two could have jockeyed for bigger roles.
Instead, whether intentional or not, the Stars as an organization are showing their displeasure with the two young defenders. Neither player has forced the Stars to put them in the lineup. When they have been on the ice the results have mostly been poor. It's hard to establish yourself with limited playing time and inconsistent time actually being in the lineup. An injury is what these two needed to happen to give them a shot to establish themselves. Now that it's here the Stars are really putting the heat on both Nemeth and Oleksiak by giving Lindell a chance to make his case,
Odds are that this isn't a long term call up. The Stars do still have eight defensmen on the roster when everyone is healthy. When Oleksiak's conditioning assignment is over the Stars will be back to eight again. At that point we could see Lindell return to the AHL unless he is able to make a significant impact in the next four games.
This is also a look to the future. Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers are both free agents and the Stars undoubtedly would like to see if Lindell looks the part of an NHL defenseman in an NHL environment. As much as the Stars would probably like to retain both the NHL is still a business and the most precious commodity in this business is inexpensive good young talent. If Lindell can competently take one of their roster spots in 2017 the Stars can reallocate that money elsewhere.
For the time being though we have the chance to see what Lindell can do and what kind of impact he can make on a struggling Stars team. He fits the mold of what the Stars need right now, and now he has his chance to show that he belongs in the NHL.