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Colorado Avalanche Top 25 Under 25, #18: Anton Lindholm: Swedish Surprise

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The 22-year-old Swedish defenseman came from nowhere to contribute to the Avalanche blue line last season. Now where can he go?

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Mile High Hockey writing staff. Our writers, plus a special vote from the readers, ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2017 in the Colorado Avalanche organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.

Most astute hockey fans know not to get too excited over a fifth-round draft pick. Few ever even receive entry-level contracts, and an even smaller percentage are ever expected to contribute in a significant way to the NHL. That’s why it was so surprising to see 2014 No. 144 overall pick Anton Lindholm suit up for the Colorado Avalanche last season. It wasn’t that the NHL blue line didn’t need help. (Um, it did.) His promotion was unlikely because of the players he appeared to leap over for the opportunity. Guys like Duncan Siemens and Chris Bigras—defensemen that had previously appeared to be higher on the totem pole.

So what was it, exactly, that bumped him ahead of a handful of more highly-touted prospects?

It wasn’t his skating, which is solid but definitely unspectacular. It’s not his size either. At 5’11” and 190 pounds he falls well below the modern NHL standard for physical stature at his position—especially for a player who isn’t considered a puck-mover. Maybe it was his statistical production? Nope, wasn’t that either. With just two goals and 11 assists in 62 games for the San Antonio Rampage leading up to his first shot in the NHL, he wasn’t exactly filling up the score sheet. His 12 games with the Avalanche were equally bereft of quantifiable scoring contributions, with zero goals and zero assists. So what is it exactly that makes him an intriguing defensive prospect and worthy of the 18th spot on our illustrious Top-25-Under-25 list?

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it’s a few things.

Lindholm punches way above his weight, imposing a physical presence upon his opponents equal to defenders closer to that conventional size we mention above. And it’s not just an open-ice hit every now and again; it’s a noticeable strength on the puck and along the boards. Lindholm may be a puck-mover’s size, but he certainly doesn’t play that style of game. He also shuts down big areas of the ice like we’ve come to expect from Swedish defenders—cutting off angles and closing gaps we haven’t seen much from a Colorado blue line in the past decade. Avalanche fans are not accustomed to seeing great positional defense. Well, there’s it is—or rather makings of it. Lindholm is far from a finished product in the NHL, and he likely doesn’t have more than 6D or 7D upside, but he will belong at this level sooner rather than later—and that’s more than you can say for most fifth-round picks.