In the last four years, at least one Finnish prospect has been taken among the first five picks of the NHL Draft. Some, like Patrik Laine and Miro Heiskanen, have worked out well, while others, like Jesse Puljujarvi and Olli Juolevi, have not reached their projected potential. If the streak of Finns in the top five is to continue this year, it will be because one team has fallen in love with Anton Lundell’s playing style and skill set.
In an otherwise lacklustre Finnish draft class, Lundell is the consensus top player available. Yet there is almost no buzz around Lundell’s draft stock. Analysts seem fairly confident to slot him in slightly below the elite-level talents.
I found this peculiar during my research on the player. Here we have an 18-year-old who has put up good numbers in a top-five-rated professional league over two seasons, while playing heavy minutes as a centre. Considering the constant need for centres in the National Hockey League, why is he not being talked about more in the top range of the draft? After all, Montreal elected to draft Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall with half a season of experience at the position in the pro ranks. Surely Lundell should be worthy of more hype that he is getting at present? Let us dive into the analysis of Finland’s top-rated draft prospect for 2020.
Birthplace: Espoo, Finland
Date of birth: October 3, 2001
Weight: 185 lbs.
Having the same birthday as Zlatan Ibrahimovic comes with massive shoes to fill in Scandinavia. After holding a point-per-game pace in the U18s and continuing to put up just as impressive numbers in the U20s, Lundell was elevated to the senior squad as a lanky 17-year-old during the 2018-19 season. Normally, it takes a while to get used to the considerable change in tempo and physicality between the junior and the major leagues. Lundell, however, kept on being just as effective as ever, putting up nine goals and 19 points throughout the year.
His performances at the beginning of the season meant a chance to anchor the second line when his country won the World Junior Championship in 2019. With his four points — highlighted by an assist on Kaapo Kakko’s decisive goal against the United States in the Gold Medal Game — he was an instrumental contributor on Finland’s road to glory.
In his first pro playoff appearance, reality eventually hit after a long season with many firsts. He remained pointless through all 12 games as his HIFK was bumped by Kärpät in the semifinals.
One year stronger and one year more mature, he returned to Liiga with a vengeance. His shortened sophomore season ended with 28 points, ranking second to Arizona Coyotes prospect Matias Macelli among players under the age of 20.
So yes, Lundell can put up points. But how are his underlying metrics? Is he an offensive dynamo and nothing else? Here is where his real strength comes into the discussion. During the 2019-20 season, he put up a 62.8 Corsi-for percentage and won 53.5 % of his faceoffs, while averaging a time on ice of 15:49 per game. The shot-attempt statistics were positive in his first season as well, finishing at 54.9% with an average of two minutes of power-play time per game.
This last year saw him become a trusted 200-foot asset for head coach Jarno Pikkarainen, producing offensively as well as in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill. Does this perhaps remind you of another Finnish centreman, one who was drafted second overall by the Florida Panthers in 2013? Lundell told Dobber Prospects ahead of the season that he tries to emulate his game after Aleksander Barkov, but that he needed to work on his shot and his skating to reach those kinds of levels.
I would call Lundell’s skill set deceptive. When you watch him play, it is difficult to see any elite traits. He just happens to do most things very well. He does not have elite-level skating, though he is intelligent and knows how to find open ice. He is good at controlling the puck and uses his intelligence to slow the game down when it suits him and his team. A great decision-maker, he uses his positioning and vision to thread the puck through small areas. He works hard and possesses a threathening wrist shot.
He may not be the flashiest of prospects, but he is as consistent, mature, and well-rounded as they come at his age. Analysts are doubting whether he will ever be a franchise-defining first-line centre, but he is a safe pick to become an NHL regular, especially with having such a refined defensive game this early on in his career.
Future Considerations: #6
Hockey Prospect: #13
ISS Hockey: #8
McKeen’s Hockey: #11
NHL Central Scouting: #4 (EU skaters)
Our own Patrik Bexell had the chance to talk to Montreal Canadiens prospect Jesse Ylönen about how he perceived Lundell as a player and an opponent. “He plays like he’s much older,” Ylönen explained. “He’s smart and strong and reminds me of Jesperi [Kotkaniemi], even if their playing styles differ.”
You can listen to the whole interview here on the site or on your podcast player of choice.
Analysts have a tendency to focus on the upside and project a lot into what a player eventually could or could not do later down the road. It is easy to be dazzled by a 17-year-old who puts up 120 points in the QMJHL, but the only thing that proves is that the player is more skilled than his own peers, not what he will be like at a level where everyone is tougher, faster, smarter, and more motivated.
Lundell has (both as a junior and in Liiga) demonstrated that he already possesses a skill set that can hold up against professionals. Getting to play at centre in a top-level major league as a 17-year-old shows maturity and that he is a player who can be relied upon. There are many great centre prospects at the top of this year’s draft, but Lundell is the only one who has already proven his worth against adults.
That should be taken into account during his evaluation. You could argue that safe picks in the top 10 are boring and lack ambition, but in this situation we don't deal with a low ceiling so much as a player with a high floor.
At worst, Lundell is a consistent two-way centre who can play heavy minutes on any available unit and against any opposition. If he continues to improve his skating, he has the potential to become a consistent top-six point-producer while being a top-class defensive centre and a Selke Trophy contender. Will he end up being just as successful as fellow countryman Barkov has been in the league? Only time will tell. What is certain is that more people should be intrigued by what Anton Lundell brings to the table.