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Laval Rocket season review: Lukas Vejdemo’s ability to adapt earned him an NHL shot

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The centre brought everything to the table, and will look to stick in the NHL.

Shanna Martin

There was a time when the top centre of the Laval Rocket was not Jake Evans, or Michael McCarron. It wasn’t Ryan Poehling, or Phil Varone. It was Lukas Vejdemo.

Vejdemo is one of the most versatile players in the entire Montreal Canadiens organization in terms of his skill set. This year in the American Hockey League, he played on every line. He played on the power play and on the penalty kill. And he excelled in every role. So much, in fact, that it earned him his first call-up to the NHL.

The first thing that you noticed this year with Vejdemo was that each line that he played on had a kind of tenacity and made life hard for the opposition. Last season it was a line with Alexandre Alain and Nikita Jevpalovs. This year, the line of Alain, Vejdemo, and Joe Cox played so well that Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard couldn’t afford to not play them.

Vejdemo’s production started off well for the season. He had eight goals and eight assists in his first 30 games, which earned him his first stint in the National Hockey League in mid-December. His points come from effort, where his line’s aggressiveness and ability to be first on pucks pays off.

That isn’t to say that Vejdemo doesn’t have skill of his own. When the puck is on his stick, he can make plays. It’s not a major part of his game, but he doesn’t look out of place in a supporting offensive role, which makes him fit up and down the lineup in the AHL, and a sneaky bottom-six option in the NHL.

He can also create for himself and has deceptive speed that can catch defenders off-guard.

Vejdemo’s first NHL stint started off with six games as a healthy scratch before being called into action for three games, averaging under 10 minutes. That was followed by another scratch, then one more game before being sent back to Laval.

When Vejdemo returned to Laval, his production tailed off. While that may seem like a red flag, there were circumstances that led to that. Through January into March, the Rocket were extremely banged up, meaning that some players were called upon to play in the top six, and that left Vejdemo’s linemates in the bottom six a revolving door.

The Swede was also asked to play a more defensive role and absorb tough minutes, all while dealing with some injuries, missing three weeks in January and February. It has to be said that in his final 17 AHL games, he only had one goal and two assists.

Despite the drop off in production, Vejdemo continued to contribute in other ways, including the penalty kill and defensively. He provided leadership on a team lacking professional experience. Perhaps there was no better testament to his play than the fact he was recalled just prior to the NHL season being put on pause on an emergency basis when Tomas Tatar went down with an injury.

The second recall was much more successful. Playing with Evans and Dale Weise, he found his game. In the third game of his second recall — the last game before the season ended — he scored his first NHL goal. It was his only point in seven NHL games.

It’s fitting that he ended the season playing on Evans’s wing, because those two are often talked about as being in the fight for the same spot — fourth-line centre — in the Canadiens lineup.

The 24-year-old will be an option on the Canadiens 28-player roster for the play-in series, likely depending on the health of players like Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Poehling, among others. One thing is for sure: Vejdemo has played himself into being a reliable option in the team’s bottom six and has a skill set that any coach will be able to trust.

It is likely that Vejdemo’s main role in the short term will be in Laval, and that’s okay, too. In Laval he can take on a bigger role. In addition to taking on tough even-strength minutes he’s able to be a contributor on the penalty kill, and if injuries occur he can fill in in the top-six or on a second power-play unit.

His production in his first two AHL seasons was very similar on a per-game basis (the shorter season, injuries, and his NHL time meant that he played fewer games). While you would hope for an increase, Vejdemo’s role was pretty well the same.

The outlook for Vejdemo is as a potential bottom line option who can fill in on the penalty kill in the NHL. The fact he may be shuffled farther down the depth chart is more because of the improved depth of the organization as a whole than any indictment of his game.