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Flames considering moving Lindholm to center

Derek Leung / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Elias Lindholm's career has taken off since arriving in Calgary in the 2018 offseason. He's totaled 56 goals and 132 points in 151 games over the last two campaigns while mostly playing right wing on the team's top line with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau.

However, Flames head coach Geoff Ward is thinking about moving Lindholm back to his natural center position on a full-time basis next season.

"I think we really want to explore whether or not we have a better lineup with Elias Lindholm at center than right wing,” Ward told Sportsnet's Eric Francis. “It certainly is an option. I think with the depth we’ve acquired in free agency we can take a look at that. We know how the other lineup fits together and are comfortable with that."

The Flames haven't added any marquee names up front, but the acquisitions of Josh Leivo, Joakim Nordstrom, and Dominik Simon give the club added depth on the wings.

While it's a small part of playing center, Lindholm has won 52.4% of faceoffs in his career. The Swede also received down-ballot Selke Trophy votes in each of the last two seasons for his defensive play. Lindholm played center at times during the 2019-20 season, and Ward liked what he saw.

"(Lindholm) was a really effective player for us in the middle," he said. "You saw how much life he had. I think he really does see himself as a centerman - always has. I think he got some energy playing the position he grew up playing. We’ve got to take a look at that for sure. It’s a natural position for him - he’s certainly shown that.”

With Lindholm at right wing, Calgary's forward lines project to look something like this:

Johnny Gaudreau Sean Monahan Elias Lindholm
Andrew Mangiapane Mikael Backlund Matthew Tkachuk
Milan Lucic Sam Bennett Dillon Dube
Dominik Simon Derek Ryan Josh Leivo
Joakim Nordstrom

This is one of the many options Ward could explore with Lindholm at center:

Andrew Mangiapane Elias Lindholm Matthew Tkachuk
Johnny Gaudreau Sean Monahan Josh Leivo
Sam Bennett Mikael Backlund Dillon Dube
Milan Lucic Derek Ryan Dominik Simon
Joakim Nordstrom

The trio of Lindholm, Tkachuk, and Mangiapane produced an expected goals for percentage of 56.4% in 249 five-on-five minutes last season, according to Natural Stat Trick. That's 2% better than what Tkachuk and Mangiapane generated with Backlund as their center, and 6% better than what Lindholm posted on the wing with Gaudreau and Monahan.

Leivo is coming off a fractured kneecap, but he's flashed finishing ability in the past - a necessary trait when playing with Gaudreau and Monahan.

The line of Lucic, Bennett, and Dube was excellent for Calgary in the postseason, but the latter two likely wouldn't skip a beat flanking a superior player in Backlund.

One thing is clear: Ward will have plenty of flexibility at his disposal next season.

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