2. Esa Lindell
For most of the past decade, the Dallas Stars have been known for offensive prowess and defensive inconsistency. But for the past two years, those labels have flip-flopped. One of the reasons behind that turnaround has been the play of Esa Lindell.
It all began in 2016-17 when Lindell entered the league as a rookie. In a way, he was thrown into the fire in his debut season. The Stars were in shambles just months after winning the Central division and advancing to the second round of the playoffs. Their lineup was littered with injuries, they couldn’t find any sort of consistency to cling to, and their hopes quickly plummeted as the second half of the season began.
They ended the year with the second-highest goals against average and missed the playoffs by 15 points. And for much of that ugly season, Lindell played on the top pairing alongside Klingberg, who was struggling to take on the role of being a no. 1 defenseman. So, there were struggles all around.
But Lindell continued battling. The two-way defender took a sizable step forward in 2017-18, posting seven goals and 27 points as well as a +19 rating in 80 games. And while the Dallas defense finished the year with the seventh-lowest goals against average in the NHL, it still wasn’t enough to push the Stars back into the playoffs.
And so, Lindell took his own performance another step further in 2018-19. Behind a new coaching staff, Lindell took on bigger and more extensive roles as he fully solidified himself as a top-pairing defender alongside Klingberg.
The 24-year-old put up career numbers this past season, scoring 11 goals and tallying 32 points as well as a +14 rating in a full 82-game slate. That included seven power play points and a team-high two shorthanded goals.
Lindell was all over the Dallas game plan this past year. He played a big role on the power play, led all Stars skaters in shorthanded average time on ice at 3:14 per game, and ate up valuable minutes with an average of 24:20 skated per game.
He was just as effective in the playoffs, tallying one goal and four points as well as a +4 rating in an average of 26:58 on the ice. And who could forget Game 2 against the St. Louis Blues where Lindell skated 30:13 (including 7:59 shorthanded) while tallying three hits and six blocked shots? Good times.
The defenseman finished first on the team in blocked shots with 161 and third in hits with 143. He was everything that a team could ever want out of a defenseman and proved himself to be a valuable piece of the Stars’ future.
And with Lindell’s becoming a pending RFA this summer, it’s safe to say that the “Silent Assassin” is due for a handsome pay raise. It’s clear that he has earned it after three consecutive years of significant strides forward.