An interview with Lukas Vejdemo: Reflections on a breakout SHL season, and a look ahead to the future
Vejdemo was relatively unknown when he was selected in the third round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, but, after a surprising first full season of professional hockey, that is starting to change.
I have attempted to meet up with Lukas Vejdemo in my time in Stockholm, unfortunately our schedules haven't been able to match up. Now that the SHL's regular season has come to an end, Lukas was gracious enough to give me the chance to interview him over the phone. I learned how he has adapted to professional hockey after a full season in the SHL and the response and interaction from the Montreal Canadiens since he was drafted in June.
Hello Lukas, are you on the bus, [Djurgården was playing the next day against Brynäs] and should we do this interview in English?
No, I am actually out on town, but it is okay. Let's do it in Swedish, I haven't spoken English for a while so it might be for the best and you can have the hard work to translate after, haha!
Congrats on the game winner last night, it wasn't bad at all.
Thanks, yes that was really nice to get the game winner.
Did you get any sleep at all, or was it a hoard of interviews and thoughts?
Nope, I managed to get some hours of sleep. I was home around 1 AM and then we had practice at 11 AM, so I got quite a few hours in actually.
Did you manage to push the practice back a bit, or was it the normal start time?
We pushed it a bit, and it was optional whether you wanted to participate or not.
Can you describe the goal for us, for what I can only assume is the 15th time since yesterday?
We had a good cycle going there with [Emil] Lundberg and [Daniel] Brodin. Lundberg puts it behind the net to Brodin, who then puts it right in front of the net. I am only trying to beat my guy to the puck, I get the puck in position with the help of my skate. Then I saw that the goalie was sitting a bit too low, so all I did was to aim for the top of the goal with my backhand. It went in top corner so it was quite nice.
It really is incredible, first year as a professional and you conclude a playoff game deep down in the fifth period.
Yeah, it was an amazing feeling.
Is playoff hockey your thing? I mean you were the MVP in the U20 Playoffs last season, do you have another gear that you just shift to come the post-season?
I don't know, it is a tough thing to say. But I mean it is fun and much more intense to play bigger games. You get that extra edge before the game to get you going. I don't know if it is my thing, but it was damn nice last night anyway.
Last time we spoke together, you weren't even sure you would get to play in Djurgården; in the SHL. Now, 52 games later, you got to play every game of the season. How does that feel?
It feels great, the fact that I haven't missed a game so far this season and, as we discussed back then, I wasn't even sure I would get to play. Now, after having played all the games, and even gotten a clear role within the team ... it has gone beyond my expectations.
Can you describe your role within the team?
I have played with [Markus] Ljungh and [Robin] Alvarez the whole season, we have been a line that has performed at the same level the whole year round. We have produced and have been allowed to be on the ice at critical situations of the game, like when there are a few minutes left and we have to defend our lead. We have been given that responsibility and that is rewarding.
I haven't been given the chance to play on the power play or penalty kill, but even without that I have been given about 12:30 time on ice [Actual time is 12:27 — Vejdemo is clearly aware of his stats]. It is damn good for being your first season among the pros, or I am satisfied with it, anyway.
You were a bit of an unknown commodity when you were drafted last summer, especially in Canada, but also among many Swedes. You have had a bit of a breakthrough for everyone, and RDS had you listed as one of the top five prospects not currently with the Montreal Canadiens, others being Hudon, Lehkonen, Scherbak and I am sorry I have forgotten the last one [Zachary Fucale]. How much of a surprise is it for you that you are at that level right now, and the impact you have had in Canada already?
I never really though it would be like this, but you do notice that you are getting attention from that part of the world as well, usually via Twitter, and they really are following you and that is amazing. You do get inspired from it. It is incredible really. Even if you are playing in Sweden and the SHL, they really do know what you are doing. It is really cool.
How much do you hear from Montreal in regards to your development, training, and play during a season?
I speak a lot with Rockis [Christer Rockström]. We have contact and he is at quite a few games as well. We have had a few meetings, so I hear a lot from the Canadiens. Then Martin Lapointe was over in Gothenburg to check the games with Frölunda, that back-to-back meeting during the autumn, so I got a short meeting with him as well, so it was nice to hear and meet up with them. I was on target in one game and Lehkonen in the other, so it was good timing from him to be over.
So to turn the table a bit, how much do you follow Montreal?
Quite a bit. I mean I follow the NHL so the first thing I look at is the Montreal score. Lately they have hit a bit of a rough patch ... it was a bit more fun to follow them in the beginning to be honest. If Price comes back it could maybe change a bit, It does seem that they play for their pride now and that's fantastic. It must be tough for a team to experience a season like this.
I have also followed St. John's a bit as there are a few guys I met at camp last year. Some of them have gotten their chance in the NHL, and it is great to see that you get moved up when you do well in the AHL, like Carr and Andrighetto, who have delivered at a bigger stage as well.
Do you feel that your own chance is closer than it was a year ago?
Exactly! Especially as you remember seeing them in camp last summer, you played them in scrums and now they have made an impression in the NHL, so of course you feel that the next step is a big step, but it isn't that big.
Development camp this summer?
Of course, I won't miss that.
Has Montreal offered you any contract?
No, nothing like that has come up yet.
You finished fourth among the U20 players in scoring in the SHL, behind Oscar Lindblom (draft selection of Philadelphia Flyers), Axel Holmström (Detroit Red Wings) and Gustav Forsling (Chicago Blackhawks). What is the explanation for that? The security of playing in the same line the whole season?
That is probably one of the reasons. It is a difficult question to answer, but I also played more games compared to anyone else. It was pretty close behind me but it is of course better if you play with your linemates all of the time. So that can definitely be one of the reasons for the success, to be in a line and feel secure in the role and position you play in.
How much do you feel you have developed, and what are the things you have developed the most during the season?
It is so difficult to answer. you have gone from being a leading player in the U20 to SHL hockey, and in a way it would be fun to play a game with the U20s to see the difference that way. But the main things are that you have become stronger, faster, and especially the way you protect the puck.
You think a lot more now at a profesional level; you can't really go out there and just play, you have to have a thought behind every decision you make, how to tackle or how you want to get hit in order to win the puck or keep it. In the U20s you would probably be able to solve it anyway, but here everyone is so much better and the pace of the game is so much faster, so you better have a plan at all times. I feel that has been one thing that I have developed during the season to read situations much better, to win the fight along the boards.
I also think I have developed my shot. Even if I haven't scored as much, I have been practising after practice, so I feel that has become a bit better anyway. And, as I said, my physique. I mean in some ways I have developed everything. But especially the game around the boards has become a lot better during the season.
You point to the fact that you have become faster in mind, you are studying at University parallel to your ice hockey career, do you feel that that has benefited you in some ways to take the focus out of hockey sometimes?
In some ways yes, I did study during fall or until January/February, so I haven't studied after that. I think it has been to my benefit: you go home from practice and then you sit down to study for an hour. It gives you some other thoughts and takes the focus off, as you say, and to get your brain working. I have felt it has been good for me. You can't focus only on hockey, you need to have something else besides.
Will you travel with the team to Gävle tonight or tomorrow morning?
We will leave tomorrow, it is close, it's a two-hour drive, so no problems leaving on game day.
I call it a wild card game, I have never really understood the "play in"...
I think it should be called eighth-final.
Will you manage to finish the series off up in Gävle or will there be another game in Stockholm and Hovet?
I think we will be able to finish it. We have won the last two meetings up there, and we have a good feeling, especially after the overtime victory [Thursday] night we should win it tomorrow. [Vejdemo's Djurgården lost 5-2, and the deciding game is Monday, March 14].
And if you win this series you will face Frölunda in a possible quarter-final?
Exactly. If we were to win against Brynäs then we face a Frölunda team that are a bit tougher, but it would be fun.
You have played your first full season in the SHL. You were one of the last cuts before the WJC, but with the players you have played with and against, who would you see having the best chance of making the impact in the NHL?
Now this is a tough question, [Patrick] Thoresen has been over, but he has a great skill set from my point of view. You can understand why he has had such a good career. But Linus Hultström and Marcus Högström are two defenders in Djurgården I think could make it, especially if they got a year to prepare over there.
Overall there are so many good players in the SHL, Andreas Englund (Ottawa Senators) will definitely make it in a couple of years; a defensive stalwart, great player, he had the chance in the national team as well now.
Lehkonen has impressed me as well. He has had a great season in Frölunda.
Thanks Lukas, I wish you all the best tomorrow, and for the rest of the playoffs!