Before the 2015-16 campaign began, Lukas Vejdemo listed his season goals as making the roster for Djurgården of the SHL and participating in the World Junior Hockey Championship as a member of Team Sweden.
Not only did he crack the SHL lineup, he played every single game for Djurgården last season, in one of the best leagues in the world. His line played well and he earned his spot the hard way, with lots of work on the forecheck, being defensively secure and with good positioning.
Unfortunately for both Vejdemo and fans of the Montreal Canadiens, he was the last cut of a very talented Swedish squad for the WJC.
In his first season as a professional, he finished with 17 points over a 52-game regular season, mostly playing third-line minutes. Vejdemo played the full season and participated in the playoff series against Brynäs, where he scored an OT goal deep into the fifth period to win the first game.
In the quarter-final series against Frölunda, both Djurgården and Vejdemo came up short, against the team that would go on to claim the championship.
After exiting the SHL playoffs, Vejdemo returned to play in the final of the U20 Championship in Sweden, where he centred the top line. He recorded one assist in the 4-2 win in the final.
He stood out as one of the positives for a Djurgården team that is trying to rebuild to their former glory. As a result the team dubbed his performance the breakthrough of the year.
The fact that he played bottom-six minutes didn’t impact his production as he still managed to perform quite well compared to some of his highly touted peers.
Despite playing the most games of all skaters, he had the lowest average time on ice, and very little power-play time (2:08 per game), compared to Lindblom (10:12), Holmström (7:15), and Forsling (6:49).
Vejdemo exceeded expectations of those in the Djurgården organizations, as well as experts in the Swedish media during last season, and he will be the player to watch in Europe this season for fans of the Habs.
We certainly got to know Vejdemo last season, and after debuting at number 21 last year he has moved up to number 18.
Among the voters, it was clear he was to be in the top 25, with only one panelist slotting him outside the Top 25 and two having him as high as 16.
Top 25 Under 25 History
During his two years on the list Vejdemo has been ranked #21 in 2015 and this year as number 18. It's a small but significant increase with a good draft class being inserted into the organization.
Vejdemo's strengths are his skating and his vision for the game. He tries to drive the play forward with his powerful stride and he sets up plays and zone entries once on the attacking half of the rink. Over the season he also got better at both battling for and protecting pucks along the boards. It was a combination of learning while on the job as well as practising harder with a senior team this past year, and his results show his willingness to work to adapt to new surroundings and greater responsibility.
A few have compared him to Jacob de la Rose, something that is inevitable. The are both big, they skate well, and play a good two-way game. We also have to remember de la Rose made the NHL at 19. But I think it is important to give Vejdemo the time to develop properly in the SHL before taking the next step over to North America. He'd likely see a better development via taking the steps of Artturi Lehkonen rather than follow the path of rushing over to North America.
The obvious weakness is his shot. It is something he has been working on since before the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He confessed in an interview that it is something he works on after practice, and it will be interesting to see if it has been developed enough for him to improve when the season starts.
Another thing in need of progression is his strength. At 188 cm, he is ‘only’ at 88kg (according to the Djurgården website) and he needs to add a few kilos to be able to keep control of the puck a bit more, especially if he wants to be a player in the NHL.
Vejdemo's development will get a boost this season as Djurgården hired Frölunda's former assistant coach as their new head coach. Roger Ohlsson will bring a new training regimen and structure to a team in need of a strategy in order to reclaim its historical position as one of the top clubs in the SHL.
That the young Swede is willing to do whatever it takes to make that step is obvious. He will be one of the players to follow this season, and the question will be if he can manage his own expectations along with the expectations of others.
On a Djurgården team that looks to take things further than last season Vejdemo will be relied upon to take a bigger role. He will probably still anchor a third line, but with a new coach with a history of helping young players progress, he should be able to get a bit more playing time in all situations.