With the Montreal Canadiens’ big off-season focused on adding to the centre depth last summer, the arrival of Lukas Vejdemo into the North American ranks flew under the radar for many. Nick Suzuki had just been acquired from Vegas, Jesperi Kotkaniemi was looking like a steal at third overall, and Max Domi was beginning to take over for Jonathan Drouin down the middle.
Even at the AHL level, the attention was shifted to NCAA graduate Jake Evans, while Vejdemo stayed in the background. It didn’t take long for the young Swede to grab the attention of Joël Bouchard, however, and Vejdemo rewarded that confidence with a great performance until an injury cut his season short.
Birthplace: Stockholm, Sweden
Date of birth: January 25, 1996
Drafted: 2015 (87th overall)
Team: Laval Rocket (AHL)
While he is far from the flashiest of prospects, there are a few parts of his game where he stands above his peers at the AHL level right now, namely his skating and speed. He is able to use that speed to create separation, or to clamp down on opponents quickly. It’s a big reason why Bouchard had him leading the penalty kill most nights in Laval.
Vejdemo has been known as a safe defensive player, but as the season progressed the young Swede grew into a more talented scorer, something Laval was in desperate need of most nights. He is not likely to challenge for any scoring titles, but is more than capable of developing into a solid source of secondary scoring for whatever team he is on.
The majority of the votes for Vejdemo were clustered around the mid teens to early twenties. His place just inside the top 20 can be marked up to the influx of talent in the past two years, as well as the type of player Vejdemo is. He isn’t highly skilled like Suzuki, and doesn’t possess the standout skill of Caufield, but is still a talented piece in the pool.
I ranked him 20th, noting that even with his jack-of-all-trades usefulness he could still be one of the most NHL-ready players in the AHL right now. He has experience playing in the SHL against men, and his defensive playing style might make him a more appealing call-up option right now.
David: I’m keeping to the same reasoning — I’d rather lose what I perceive to be a probable replacement-level NHL forward at his ceiling than a prospect with more potential due to being younger or having one very appealing trait. Vejdemo is close to a finished product and likely won’t have the offence necessary to make a lasting positive impact at the top level.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Vejdemo has never been outside the Top 25 since the day he donned his Habs toque back home in Sweden in 2015. Even an eight-point season in 2016-17 was only enough to knock him down to 23rd. He rose a few spots after his first season in the AHL, and that’s not always the case for a player in this project.
History of #17
|2013||Jacob de la Rose|
Speed and timing make up a big part of his game. He is able to accelerate quickly to blow by opponents and create breakaways seamlessly as he swipes the puck from them. He uses solid positioning to force opponents to the outside, and an active stick to break up their attempts to bring the puck into the zone, which makes him one of the Rocket’s top penalty-killers.
Lukas Vejdemo steals the puck from Mason Marchment and snipes his second goal of the game pic.twitter.com/wUE3saLOB4— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 14, 2018
In just a short window, Vejdemo is able to strip his opponent of the puck and almost immediately pull away from the other defender to create a chance the other way. It is something that made him a threat while short-handed all season long. He manages to generate speed quickly, and almost seems to glide once he is by defenders on the break, where he can show his hands off a bit more.
He may not be the most exciting player in the Canadiens’ prospect pool, but that does not mean he is without skill with the puck. Once he has cleared the opposing defences, either on a clear breakaway or by crashing toward the crease, he has an uncanny knack for contorting himself to get around netminders to avoid drawing interference penalties. He’s still attacking at high speed, but is using his edges to avoid the crease while creating his own chances.
When he’s in the offensive zone, you’ll usually find him around the opposing net, battling through defenders to put home rebounds or loose pucks. This willingness to get to the front of the net gives him versatility in how he attacks. He can fly in with speed and try to beat the defender wide, and then cut to the net, or he can drop the puck off to a teammate and beeline for the front of the net to get himself into a good position.
He found some scoring talent in the second half of the year, but Vejdemo went long stretches without producing points. Whether that is the result of Laval’s dreadful offence overall or a reflection of his ability is up for debate. The Rocket could very much use his name on the scoresheet more often this year.
While his feet can move at high speeds, his processing of the play is not as quick, and this is one of the bigger flaws in his game right now. There are times when he has the puck on his stick, and he skates past the defence, but his hands aren’t keeping up, resulting in low-percentage chances as he finds himself too depp, or forcing a pass that has a low completion percentage.
Some of this may be part of an adjustment period, given that the SHL is played on larger ice and an emphasis on skill play over the physicality of North American hockey. With a year of experience this could be something that changes drastically in Vejdemo’s game, but it could hold him back from reaching his ceiling as a prospect if ti doesn’t.
He’s relied upon by Bouchard in defensive aspects, but could still do with some fine tuning. When he is away from the play he tends to float a bit, resulting in some missed assignments or being caught out of position. This is coachable, and should be an easy fix, but something that will need to be addressed if he wants to keep himself in the spotlight in Laval this year.
Lukas Vejdemo is in a tough spot right now in the Canadiens’ prospect pool. He has the talent to be an NHL regular, but so do a lot of other players within the bursting centre depth. As he works to establish himself, he is suddenly in a very crowded pool of players including Michael McCarron, Evans, Suzuki, and Ryan Poehling — and those are just the prospects.
If we include veterans as well, Phil Varone, Nate Thompson, Jordan Weal and Matthew Peca are also all candidates for the same role Vejdemo is competing for, and it’s an uphill battle for the 23-year-old. He has a good skill set to be a regular bottom-six forward right now, but this second season in Laval will be crucial for the young Swede to stand out from the pack.
If he can find some regular offence to go along with his defensive play then he may be able to grab the inside track to a job in the top league. It won’t be a cake walk to make the NHL, even if it’s no fault of his own.