One of the biggest topics of discussions among Dallas Stars fans, dating back a few years now, has revolved around the team’s top defensive pairing.
John Klingberg, almost from the moment that he joined the team in the 2014-15 season, cemented himself on the right side of the Stars’ top pairing. At only 25 years of age and under contract until the end of 2021-22, there’s no cause for concern about that role on the team.
The left side of the top pair, however, is a much different story.
Alex Goligoski fit well there, although not without a lot of debate about whether he was good enough, before leaving the organization as a free agent in the summer of 2016. Dan Hamhuis was brought in that same summer to replace Goligoski, and despite some serviceable work, it soon became clear that he wasn’t an ideal fit for the role. Dallas added Marc Methot, the former defensive pair for Erik Karlsson, this past summer, and he’s seen some limited playing time next to Klingberg.
It’s starting to become more and more clear, though, that Dallas’ piece to that particular puzzle hole is Esa Lindell.
Lindell, the 23-year-old Finnish defender, has spent the brunt of his season so far on the top pairing next to Klingberg, and the results have been excellent. Lindell is sporting a stellar 58.25% Corsi For percentage, next to Klingberg’s 57.19%. Those are impressive numbers for the two considering they play in all situations, including going head-to-head against top opposing lines and taking defensive zone starts when the team is protecting a lead.
Lindell’s average time on ice per game is 22:16 on the year, second only to Klingberg’s 24:47.
It’s quite an impressive leap forward from just one year ago.
The two were paired together last season under former head coach Lindy Ruff, and the results weren’t encouraging. Despite some encouraging stretches, the duo overall struggled to keep their heads above water. Ruff never budged, and kept the two glued together even when they were playing poorly.
In hindsight, however, Ruff’s decision might have been worth it.
Lindell has played significantly better so far this season. His awareness, decision-making, puck control and composure are all much improved, helping him to effectively defend his zone and transition the puck up ice.
Additionally, his steadiness has allowed Klingberg to take more chances offensively. Klingberg has recorded nine points through nine games, five of which have come at even strength.
Head coach Ken Hitchcock will likely still give Methot time next to Klingberg, including last night against the Edmonton Oilers. but it won’t be long until Lindell gets solidified into the spot.
The long-term solution to the left side of the top pair is likely to be 2017 3rd overall selection Miro Heiskanen, but for the immediate future, Lindell seems capable of taking over the role, continually growing and improving.