Lukas Vejdemo, last year’s number 18 on the Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25 list, has fallen to number 23, no doubt because his point production went down with a move to centre as well as the situation with a struggling Djurgården team in the SHL.
The positional shift facilitated by head coach Robert Ohlsson played its part in an underwhelming season for Vejdemo. While it is a lot tougher to play centre, Vejdemo also lost two good linemates from the previous season: Markus Ljungh and Robin Alvarez. Ljungh stayed in Djurgården and his production went from 36 points (13 G, 23 A) to 23 points (8 G, 15 A) while Alvarez moved to Malmö and his production stayed more or less the same (14-10—24 last season compared to 11-15—26 this season).
In 2016-17, Vejdemo centred the brothers Marcus and Jonathan Davidsson, selected in the 2017 draft by the Buffalo Sabres (second round) and Columbus Blue Jackets (sixth round), respectively. Vejdemo’s season was affected in many ways, with a change from being surrounded by players that had a high offensive output to rookies making a world of difference.
If you compare Vejdemo’s season to his previous one, the statistical drop looks horrendous, going from a 59.1 goals-for percentage to 46.7. But he only fell from +5.9% to +1.0% when compared to the team’s overall mark, maintaining a net positive impact for his club.
Vejdemo got votes ranging from 11 at the highest to 32 at the lowest. The majority had him ranked between 15-25.
Top 25 Under 25 History
In his first two years in the organization, Vejdemo has been ranked #21 in 2015 and #18 in 2016. He falls a few spots this season, somewhat due to a good 2017 draft class being inserted into the prospect pool.
When asked about the strengths of his player, coach Ohlsson first mentioned his mobility. “He is also a very loyal player, but that guy can skate. Other things he is good at are his tactical acumen and the smartness he displays on the ice. Because of the skating, he rarely falls out of position, and therefore he can be used all over the ice.”
It is Vejdemo’s vision that stood out this past season. Breakout passes and zone exits were of a high quality and benefited the team as a whole. He used his speed and awareness to create entries and give the team a chance to go on offence.
The vision is something that will benefit him in the long run, no matter what route he chooses to further his development. Whether he stays in the SHL or crosses over the Atlantic to play in the AHL after this upcoming season, he has the tools to be an effective player.
Most people say that Vejdemo’s weakness is his shot, and that’s something he himself is quick to point out. While he is working on the shot at all times, it seems it doesn’t come naturally to him. Coach Ohlsson was frank in his assessment as well. “It wasn’t like Montreal came back and told him to work on his skating, that’s for sure! They said the same thing: ‘work on your goal-scoring.’ That’s what we all say.”
The times I watched Vejdemo during the 2017 season he played with poise, and his great vision usually meant that breakout passes and zone exits were done with the puck still in his team’s possession.
His physique has improved a lot in order to cope with a dynamic Djurgården more aligned with the style of the top teams within the SHL. He has spent the summer in the gym, and while he looked bigger already in the playoffs, he tells us that he now weighs in at 89 kg (196.5 lbs). In order for him to take the next step forward he has to utilize this newly added mass to his advantage.
Vejdemo’s game has improved — in the details if not on the scoresheet — and the upcoming season will be a bit of a make-or-break year for the big centreman.
Comparisons with the Laval Rocket’s Swedish forward, Jacob de la Rose, are unavoidable. While Vejdemo has stayed in the SHL and progressed at a slow rate it will be de la Rose’s place in the organization that he will fight for sooner or later. Both players are defensively aware, read the game well, and have some great skating ability.
It is easy to overlook that he centred two junior, draft-eligible players last season and that he was the player responsible for the defence on his line. The question is: can he take the step forward this year from a promising, young, stable SHL player to one who can lead and carry his team?
That will be the question that Lukas Vejdemo will have to answer in order to climb on the list next season.