In the shadow of Rasmus Dahlin and Adam Boqvist, quiet and stalwart defender Nils Lundkvist has made a solid impression in his first year among the pros.
In his first game in the SHL, Lundkvist was trusted with over 13 minutes of play. The prospect built on that, earning the trust of his coaches and ending up being utilized for an average of 16:28 for the 28 games he played in his first year in Sweden’s top league.
Birthplace: Piteå, Sweden
Weight: 174 lbs.
Youth team: Piteå IF, Sweden
Pro team: Luleå HC , SHL
Lundkvist deserves the qualifier of puck-moving defenceman. He possesses a very good, if not great, skating technique that allows him to carry the puck. He has shown everywhere he has played that he can push the pace of the game by carrying the offence into the opposing zone, and Luleå, his SHL team, has also used him with the man advantage to create zone entries.
He uses quick crossovers to beat defenders on the outside lane, and will go as far as circling the net to find a good passing target for a scoring chance. He is not the most creative player, but he has good offensive instincts overall.
Lundqvist has been used to quarterback the power play in the SHL due to his passing ability. He moves around from the blue line to the half-wall with ease, and can feed his teammates in the slot if he sees an opportunity.
While he will never have the same kind of offensive potential as Adam Boqvist or other top defencemen in the draft, the fact that he has earned more playing time than the perceived number-two Swedish prospect at the same age in the SHL — Boqvist averaged only around 7:27 this season — speaks volumes to how solid Lundkvist's game has been in his draft year.
Despite being caught puck-watching a few times (something that is part of the learning process, especially in a pro league), Lundkvist is a great defender off the rush with a very active stick, capable of precise and timely pokechecks to take away the puck from approaching forwards.
His skating agility also transitions to an ability to constantly stay with his man.
That being said, as with all young defencemen, and especially one of Lundqvist’s smaller stature, the physical element of his game is a work in progress, as is his defensive play deep in his zone. He could stand to gain some weight, and, with a bit of added work in the gym, he could be a lot more effective when he tries to gain body positioning on opponents.
Still, Lundkvist is up there with the bests in this year's stacked Swedish defence class. Securing a place on an SHL team that qualified for the playoffs is evidence enough of his innate understanding of the game, even at a higher speed than he had previously experienced.
Most young puck-moving defencemen need to find the balance between attacking and staying defensive, but the fact that Luleå Hockey seems to trust his judgment on the ice and accept his mistakes says a lot about the player that he is. This leniency is also something that will benefit his development massively.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
McKeen’s Hockey: #27
NHL Central Scouting: #14 (EU Skaters)
Hockey Prospect: #19
Lundkvist was barely ranked by any outlet at the start of the season, but securing his first pro contract and a regular place in an SHL lineup at the tender age of 17 has made him shoot up the rankings.
He should be selected around the middle of the first round, but others have him pegged as a late first- or early second-round target, where the Montreal Canadiens could potentially land him.
Most clubs in the NHL will have watched Nils Lundkvist this past season, even if his name hasn’t been tossed around the draft guides to the same level as I think it deserves. He brings a lot to the table, with an ability to play all situations, possessing great vision, and being defensively secure.
A comparison to someone in today’s NHL would be Anton Strålman. Even if a comparison like that is dicey at such an early age, Lundkvist is a smaller player who is defensively inclined but has an offensive upside, and he would be an asset for any team in the NHL.