For the first time in what feels like an eternity, the Montreal Canadiens prospect pool is filled with young players at the centre position. Names like Ryan Poehling and Nick Suzuki automatically grab the headlines due to their impressive pedigrees, but there is quiet quality behind them in the Montreal system. One of those players is Swedish centre Lukas Vejdemo, who just wrapped up his first season in North America. Despite ending the year on the injured list, he showed a lot of talent for the Laval Rocket.
Vejdemo began to bloom into an offensive player under Joël Bouchard’s watch in Laval. His 13 goals and 16 assists are not mind-blowing, but he put together a very strong run of play to get those points when the Rocket were down many of their star players and veterans.
Not the flashiest of players (he doesn’t have that same wow factor of Suzuki) Vejdemo created chances by doing all the little things right when he needed to. Whether that was crashing the net for chances, or driving in from the circles, he had no issues getting into the dirty areas to make plays happen.
While sometimes simple in his play, this does not mean that Vejdemo is without skill. He came into his own in terms of playmaking this year, and every now and then showed great hands on his breakaway chances. All in all, as his confidence grew so did his talents in every game.
Lukas Vejdemo finishes the breakaway for his 9th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/iQ7gMUhFOX— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 1, 2019
With a fully healthy season, and hopefully some AHL depth that actually stays in the AHL next year, Vejdemo is one of the prospects who could take another step forward, even if it is only by a handful of points. Despite getting less ice time at even strength, Vejdemo ended up being a leader in primary points per 60 minutes (P1/60) for Laval this past year, outshining every other player on the team in that category.
However, points are not everything for the Swede. Vejdemo’s best asset is not one that shows up on the scoresheet, but it becomes very apparent when you watch how he is utilized by his coach every game. Like every other young player, Vejdemo had to earn his way up the lineup for Bouchard in Laval, originally starting in the Rocket’s bottom six. There, Vejdemo quickly became the go-to for defensive-zone draws and for a Rocket penalty kill that was very strong for much of the season.
A smart stick and great positioning helped him keep opposing attackers at bay. With him thriving in that role, it wasn’t long before he became a staple in Laval’s top six.
He formed a nice partnership with Nikita Jevpalovs by year’s end, and the duo worked well with Vejdemo being the finisher on the Latvian’s playmaking. Even when the point totals were not always there, the two created dangerous chances and ate up the hardest minutes available in every game, before Vejdemo was forced to miss the end of the year with an injury.
Nate Thompson and Jordan Weal will be back in Montreal next year, but this strong showing from Vejdemo could help him earn some NHL looks as well, even if just for a game or two. Patience is key, however. In the past, players like Michael McCarron and Jacob de la Rose were rushed up into NHL roles and it stagnated their development for much of their early pro careers. Luckily for Montreal, they now have the depth and better coaching staffs in place to understand how to handle these young players, and for Vejdemo that is great news.
Poehling and Suzuki, along with a returning Jake Evans, will dominate the limelight with their game, but fans would do well to not forget the quiet but steady play of Lukas Vejdemo. He won’t likely become a star, but a budding defensive centre is something every team should want, and something that Montreal now has going into the next few years.