Lukas Vejdemo was a revelation last year, and not only for the fans of Djurgården, as his progress in the SHL made waves all the way across the ocean to Montreal.
Even if missing the World Junior Championship was a big hit to him personally, he just worked harder in the SHL as result, and was rewarded with the confidence of his coach, Hans Särkejärvi. Points came in a steady stream, and in the end he finished among the best junior scorers over the season.
In order to progress from a quarter-final appearance and take the next step towards the SHL championship and the Le Mat trophy, Djurgården hired Frölunda’s assistant coach, Roger Ohlsson, to take the helm for 2016-17, and this has meant a few big changes to the training regimen for the team.
”We’ve practised at least twice a day so far, and that is something new,” Vejdemo explained. “The practice is very different; it is very up-tempo, more speed, and the intensity is high. From a personal standpoint, it is good with the energy it brings. Särkejärvi had his way of playing, and Ohlsson has another. It means another adjustment for the team.”
With the season just about to start, Vejdemo states that “our focus at the moment is to get our positions right. Therefore it has been a lot of five-on-five, how to forecheck, and how to put pressure and how to defend, with a little bit of 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 thrown in. It gives a nice bit of variation, too.”
In order to adjust to the new style of play, Djurgården’s players have had to increase the load in the weight room, as well.
“We have a bit higher standards now physically, as we want to play a more intensive game of hockey (much like Frölunda and Skellefteå). We have had to change the training in the weight room, too. We have goals we have to achieve to be in the ‘green zone’ physically like the coaches wants us to be. I have gained a kilo at least since last season and that’s good, especially considering the type of hockey I like to play.”
This has been a summer of activity with the new training regimen, while Vejdemo also went over to development camp in Montreal. He was happy to return to La Belle Province.
“Development camp was fun. I had a year of experience, and it’s always fun to go over to Montreal. They were very happy in regards to my progress and development during last season, and they want me to take the next step forward; to become a bit stronger and to take a bigger responsibility in Djurgården this season. To get a bigger role, which is something I hope to do, as well.“
In order to get with the program, Vejdemo certainly knows what to do, and has a plan mapped out.
“You have to prove yourself to earn those responsibilities. I haven’t gotten a chance on the power-play unit, but I have gotten the confidence on the penalty kill. But it is up to me to put the hard work in and to show the coaches that I should be in on the power play, too. Because it is at those situations you want to be in the game. I have to work and play good, and when the opportunity knocks on your door you have to just grab it with both hands. There is nothing more to do. The coaches like when you push, so it’s just to push harder.”
Vejdemo had a nice assist against Rouen in Champions Hockey League play, and he laughs when he describes it.
”Maybe I need to do that a bit more: me in the Gretzky position behind the net.”
In the team’s last Champions League game, against last year’s semi-finalist, Davos, Djurgården really laid down a marker, winning at home 6-0, and Vejdemo believes that tough training routine helped them.
“It was a strange game, many sin bins, the referee almost took off anything that happened. I think we scored four on the power play, we were 2-0 up after the first period and then they became a bit agitated and lost their cool. We have them this week away and we have to prove that it wasn’t a one-time thing that we beat them like that. I have the feeling we are strong. It’s a sign that summer training has paid off. I felt that they couldn’t keep up with us during the game. I look forward to playing in their arena. It [Vaillant Arena] is one of the most beautiful in Europe”.
”It was great! Henrikson started to play in Stocksund like me! He is a great guy and we hung out together. It will be interesting to follow him during the upcoming season. Rockström has had his picks before [Lundqvist and Lidström as notable stars] and Arvid looked good on the ice. I think he can become really good.”
He describes his new friend as “a big, strong, stable defender who feels calm and safe with the puck. You get this feeling that he always has time [to create a play]. He also plays hard and honest. He is a physical defender, but he is still a play-making defender. This is my impression from the camp, and that’s the only time I have seen him play, so it might change when I see him more.”
What about Artturi Lehkonen making the Canadiens?
”It is difficult to place Lehkonen. If he plays like he did in the playoffs, he will get a spot so easily. He was superior in the playoffs — a giant. But he has to reach that level of play because it will be tougher over there.”
When rookie camp comes up in our discussion, Vejdemo made sure to clarify why he will not be in attendance this summer.
“It is not really in anyone’s interest that I come over right when our season starts here in the SHL. Djurgården didn’t want me to go, and when I spoke with Montreal they agreed it was better for me to stay in Sweden. I should focus here, that’s what Montreal wants, so for them it is makes sense to let me stay here and play in the SHL and not disrupt my season.
“They have also seen how Artturi benefited despite missing rookie camps, and Roger has been Artturi’s coach, so they know what I am getting in Djurgården. Its all cleared, and we all agreed.”
Vejdemo’s next action is in that rematch with HC Davos on Friday, September 2, and will be looking to improve on last year’s impressive SHL season when Djurgården’s 2016-17 campaign gets underway on September 22.