Dallas Stars Have Found Reliable, Multipurpose Defender In Esa Lindell

VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 16: Esa Lindell
VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 16: Esa Lindell /

The Dallas Stars defense looks as though they may finally be turning a corner. A big part of their success has to do with the growing confidence in Esa Lindell’s play. The top-pairing defender is showing strong signs of improvement in his second year in the NHL.

Two weeks ago, I flew to Pennsylvania with some friends to see the Dallas Stars take on the Philadelphia Flyers.

As I was sitting on the plane preparing for takeoff, I caught a glimpse of the control tower and it got me thinking. When you fly, you probably think about the workers in that tower very rarely. They may not even cross your mind. Yet, without them, you literally wouldn’t be able to leave the ground.

But while they aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of air travel, they probably should be. After all, these are the people who make sure planes take off and land without interference and don’t collide in midair during flight. In other words, they are quiet heroes that aren’t in the spotlight very often.

Esa Lindell is a lot like an air traffic controller. While the talk of the Dallas Stars defense centers mainly around John Klingberg, Julius Honka, and Greg Pateryn at the moment, Lindell stands idly by, chugging along with his role. And so far this season, he’s doing a pretty good job at it.

Dallas Stars
Dallas Stars /

Dallas Stars

This is Lindell’s second full season with the Dallas Stars. After a rookie campaign that started shaky but ended with impressive results, he’s found a way to advance his game even further this season.

“I think because we had a long summer, there was a lot of time to practice and get my strength and other stuff better,” Lindell said. “I think I’ve seen that this year, especially in December when we had a ton of games, it wasn’t that tough on my body and it helped a lot to play at the same level every game. I think the most important thing to me is being able to play a steady game every night.”

Lindell was drafted in the third round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, coming in at 74th overall. He was drafted after Radek Faksa, Ludwig Bystrom, and Devin Shore and just before Gemel Smith. After the 2012 draft, he played two and a half more seasons in Finland before moving up to the Texas Stars of the AHL.

After an impressive 2015-16 campaign, Lindell made his NHL debut on January 19, 2016. He played for four consecutive games before returning to the AHL.

His first full season at the NHL level came during the tumultuous 2016-17 season. And though Lindell had some early struggles like the entire team, he learned to adapt as the season went along. By the end of the year, he was one of the Stars’ most consistent defenders. In turn, he has helped the team grow into the stronger 2017-18 version that they are now.

“Obviously, it’s a big change from last year,” said Lindell at Friday’s morning skate. “I think we’re doing a lot better than last year. We’re in the playoff race, it’s tough in our division, and it’s already like every game matters. I think we’ve been growing through the season and it’s getting better and better. I think we’re going in the right direction but there is some stuff that we can still improve. But when we get better, we’re going to be tough in the end to play against.”

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Dallas Stars’ top four defense remains among NHL elite
Dallas Stars’ top four defense remains among NHL elite /

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  • The biggest pro of Esa Lindell’s presence is that he is known as a two-way defender. While so many of today’s NHL defenders fall into the “offensive” or “stay-at-home” category, Lindell has a decent balance of both strengths, and they show in game.

    “He’s an all-around defenseman with a good shot and good puck skills,” said Stars defenseman John Klingberg. “He doesn’t lose too many battles, so he’s a good all-around defenseman that is really good with the puck.”

    This season, Lindell has four goals and 16 points in 39 games as well as a +11 on-ice rating. He has the second highest +/- rating on the team, trailing only Radek Faksa. His career high in points is 18 in 73 games, so Lindell’s offensive game is already well ahead of that in his rookie season.

    Lindell has a decisive shot, can move the puck around well on offense, and knows how to stay composed in the defensive zone and give up minimal chances on his way to getting the puck out of the zone.

    In his rookie season, former head coach Lindy Ruff partnered Lindell with John Klingberg, who was entering his third season at the NHL level. While the duo had some issues with building chemistry in the beginning, they have built themselves up as one of the Stars’ most reliable pairs in the span of just one year.

    “I think we’ve been going forward, too, from the end of last year,” Lindell said. “It’s simple to play and I like it. We think the same about the game and I think it’s easy to read what both of us are going to do next. It makes it easier to play with him. It’s fun and that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

    As a duo, Lindell and Klingberg make up the Dallas Stars’ top pairing on defense. They have excellent chemistry and contribute heavily on the offensive side of the puck. Both Lindell and Klingberg have excellent possession numbers and can keep an offensive push alive using their sticks and vision.

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    It’s not often, either, that a second-year player from the third round of the draft is a consistent member of the first defensive pairing alongside the team’s best defenseman. Yet, Lindell has served on the top pairing for a majority of this season and done well in the role.

    “I think it feels better when I play more and the shifts are more consistent and you’re in the game more,” said Lindell. “That helps a lot. You can feel it when there’s a little break and you’re not on. It helps to play as much as you can and it grows your confidence and then you can see it in your game.”

    But Lindell’s skills and influence are not confined to even strength alone. This season, he has spent considerable time playing on the power play and penalty kill as well. In last night’s game, for example, Lindell skated the second most of any Stars player, skating 23:43 during the game. 2:56 of that was spent on the power play while 3:09 was spent shorthanded. He’s a multipurpose defender that is being confidently used in a variety of situations.

    “It’s nice, of course,” Lindell said about playing on special teams. “I think I got some tools that I can use on the power play like shooting and seeing the ice. It also shows some trust from the coaches to put you on special teams. Everyone loves to be out there on the PP and potentially make the big play when the game is on the line.”

    And trust from the coaches is important for a second-year guy like Lindell, especially when he’s playing under a new coaching staff. In his rookie season, no. 23 played under an offensive-heavy coaching staff in Lindy Ruff.

    With Ken Hitchcock (and defensive coach Rick Wilson), Lindell is learning how to improve his defensive game and play confidently and consistently in multiple situations.

    “I like it,” said Lindell about the new coaching styles. “They demand a lot of you, but that’s good. It pushes you forward every game and every practice when they demand a lot. It’s tough sometimes, but it’s for the best for you. Sometimes when it’s tough, it’s just meant for you battle through it and be better.”

    There’s a large gap that is visible in Lindell’s game from the 2016-17 season to the 2017-18 season. Not only is he playing more minutes (over 22 per game) and skating consistently on the top pairing, but he is showing signs of being a more complete and trustable defender.

    “Just his confidence about playing every day here,” said Klingberg. “I know he was good before coming into the league, but when you step into the best league in the world and obviously he had a shaky start. But now you can see his confidence is there and he’s playing good out there and is doing a lot of good reads and playing good defensive minutes. I’m happy to play with him.”

    There’s a lot to like about Esa Lindell’s defensive game this season. In a year where every point seems to matter and the division standings are tight, having a confident two-way defender on the top pairing that provides excellent balance with John Klingberg is an excellent strength to have. His offensive pressure is strong, his transition game is great, and his defensive play is impressive. And it doesn’t matter who notices or not. Lindell continues providing a good balance for the Dallas blue line.

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    All in all, Esa Lindell is a lot like an air traffic controller. He’s a skilled and powerful player with a big job that he does well, regardless of who is paying attention or giving him credit. He’s just an indispensable part of the team.

    And for the Dallas Stars, there’s not much more you could ask for out of a second-year defenseman.