Since being selected as an over-ager by the Montreal Canadiens in 2015, Lukas Vejdemo had always been seen as a long-term project. He needed more time in the Swedish Hockey League to gain his bearings and develop his game before he could be deemed ready for the North American professional game.
When he eventually joined the Laval Rocket in 2018, he saw some success with 13 goals and 29 points as head coach Joël Bouchard tried to push him as far as he could in the hopes of turning him into a NHL player for years to come.
As we approach the 2020-21 season, Vejdemo has never been this close to semi-regular NHL minutes.
He is not the most flashy prospect in the Canadiens’ stable. But unlike players like Alexander Romanov, who draw a lot of attention to themselves for unrealized potential, Vejdemo is much closer to his: a bottom-six, defensive forward with some offensive upside. He continues to progress, proving to be an underrated prospect in the team’s system.
Even if he isn’t to be counted on as a primary scorer, the Swede has carved out a niche for himself as a responsible centre on the Rocket roster. Vejdemo even played a handful of games at the National Hockey League level — and even scored his first NHL goal — before COVID-19 brought the sporting world to a halt.
In addition to his seven NHL games, Vejdemo added 47 more with Laval last season. Had it not be for the league being shut down, he would have been leaned on for more minutes and games as the Rocket sought to make the playoffs.
While Jake Evans might have the inside track on earning the Canadiens’ fourth-line centre spot out of training camp, Vejdemo will be among the team’s first choices for reinforcements if Evans, or any other Hab, goes down. But he’ll need to seize and excel in that opportunity if he wants a future with the organization beyond the 2020-21 season.
Using my own ranking guidelines, Vejdemo is near the top 10 for me as he’s shown he can play at the professional level while being close to realizing his own potential. Even in a limited sample size, he can say he played NHL games, while continuing to be a consistent presence at the AHL level.
As for everyone else, no other voter had him lower than 25th place on their ballot — our first unanimous Top 25 inclusion — feeling he’s at least somewhere between a top-15 and top-20 player under 25 in the system.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Vejdemo is at #17 for the second consecutive year, and he’s maintained a spot in the Top 25 every year since being drafted. He won’t be able to improve on his ranking, as he’ll turn 25 in the new year, but he’s likely more concerned with his standing in the organization.
History of #17
|2013||Jacob de la Rose|
The 24-year-old has been praised in the past for his defensive efforts as he uses an active stick to create turnovers and can be counted on for penalty-killing minutes at the professional level. If he won’t get the puck right away, you can count on him to at least chip away at loose pucks while pressuring opposing players with his quickness in the hopes of retrieving it.
Our colleague David St-Louis wrote an excellent breakdown of Vejdemo while he was with the Canadiens in January 2020 if you want to see more video evidence of his play against the future Stanley Cup-champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Say what you want about his goal and assist totals, but a future can be found for a hockey player if he is capable of gaining possession more than he loses it.
If you need Vejdemo to provide some scoring, he has shown that ability at the AHL level (the forward had a six-game point streak (3G, 5A) from November 8-16, 2019, and will do his best to keep the puck in the offensive zone with smart passes to his teammates.
Really liked this effort from Lukas Vejdemo on Saturday afternoon. A well deserved secondary assist. pic.twitter.com/JMpWw7jml5— Jared Book (@jaredbook) November 5, 2019
He’s shown he can play with more defensive-minded teammates, but can also play alongside more offensively gifted players at even strength and on the power play if need be.
Charles Hudon feeds Lukas Vejdemo who gives it right back for Hudon's 19th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/WzrvlB85w7— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 18, 2020
Of course, the offensive upside he does have cannot be counted upon to put him in a role higher than the bottom six in the NHL. Unless he suddenly becomes a sharpshooter with the Rocket next season, his limitations on offence will narrow his opportunities in the big leagues.
He will also need to ensure his decision-making is at the NHL standard while keeping up with the league’s speed.
Vejdemo is at a crucial point in his progression, as he’s currently on a one-year, two-way deal with a number of young centre prospects waiting in the wings, including Ryan Poehling.
The Swede’s best hope to land on an NHL roster full time — whether in Montreal or elsewhere — is to continue fine-tuning his defensive game and using his quickness to his advantage.
The Canadiens spent their off-season improving their top-six forwards and not adding to their lower-tier depth, a sign that the team is willing to trust their younger players in those positions as opposed to adding older, more expensive veterans.
That means he doesn’t have to worry about a player like Nate Thompson keeping him from playing in the NHL when it comes time to challenge for a spot. If it means Poehling might be his biggest competition, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Vejdemo is looked at first if the team feels the former still hasn’t made enough strides to play regularly with the big club just yet.
Of course, COVID-19 will play a role in how much time Vejdemo might play in the upcoming season. At least he’ll be able to keep himself in game shape through his games with Sodertalje SK while on loan until the NHL and AHL sort themselves out. Considering that the Canadiens have added significant prospects to the centre position, Vejdemo will need as many reps as he can get to show that he’s worth keeping around beyond this coming season.