LAKE PLACID, NY. — Lukas Vejdemo studied the shaft of his broken stick as he glided back to the bench. More than anything, it was a look of annoyance. The morning practice had ended, the zamboni would be on the Herb Brooks arena ice soon, so precious seconds were ticking away. It was time better spent working on his shot.
Vejdemo (pronounced VAY-de-mo) was part of a 25-man Team Sweden squad participating in a World Junior evaluation camp in Lake Placid along with teams from the USA and Finland. Players spent last week auditioning for spots on their respective national teams that will compete at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, from December 26, 2015 to January 5, 2016.
The Canadiens surprised many by selecting Vejdemo with their third round pick, 87th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. As our All Habs cameras scanned the BB&T Center in June for a first shot of the Canadiens’ newest forward, Lukas was at home in Stockholm following the draft on NHL.com with a few friends. Rather than interrupt his off-season training regime, Vejdemo decided to forego the trip to Sunrise.
“When I saw my name came up on the computer and Montreal was the team I was drafted to, it was really cool. I was very happy.” — Lukas Vejdemo, speaking to All Habs Hockey Magazine
Trevor Timmins, the Canadiens’ Director of Amateur Scouting and Vice President of Player Personnel, seemed very pleased with his “secret pick” when he met with media on the draft floor saying, “Vejdemo! Anybody know anything about him? You guys tell me about him. Nobody knows much, do they? That’s good. That’s why we got him when we got him!”
Vejdemo was passed over in the 2014 draft after sitting out most of the 2013-14 season with a broken leg. He followed that by missing the first two months of last season with six broken ribs sustained in a traffic accident. Vejdemo returned to play one game in December 2014 but was out the remainder of the month with a bout of mononucleosis.
Timmins flew to Gothenburg, Sweden in February 2015 for the U19 5-Nations tournament to see Vejdemo. While Lukas was on the roster, he didn’t play due to a knee injury suffered in the first practice. The Canadiens’ chief scout would have to wait two more months to see his future pick in action.
“Exposure-wise, you had to work to see him play. He wasn’t in any of the (international) tournaments,” said Timmins. “But Christer Rockstrom, (Montreal’s Amateur Scout – Europe) deserves a lot of credit for really pushing him and dragging me over there the first of April to fly there for a weekend and come back home.”
The stage was the Swedish junior championship. The object of Timmins’ attention was named most valuable player.
Timmins said that he could tell that Vejdemo was a “hockey player” right from his first shift. When asked to describe him, Timmins said that Vejdemo is a player who “makes others better” suggesting that he shares some similarities with the Blue Jackets 2013 first round pick Alexander Wennberg.
“[Vejdemo] is smart, good vision, strong skater, puck possession, and he has strong character. He’s a good kid. We were very excited to get him,” said Timmins.
Despite missing the first half of the season, Vejdemo had a career best season with the Djurgarden junior team picking up 48 points (23 goals, 25 assists) in 34 games. In seven playoff games, he tallied four goals and two assists. Vejdemo served as alternate captain for the squad.
Here’s a pre-draft scouting report from Hockey Prospect:
LC – Djurgardens (SWE Jr.) – 6’2” 194 lbs.
HockeyProspect.com Ranking: 173
This Swedish center took a significant step forward in his development this past season. Passed over in last year’s draft after playing at the U18 level, this year he was probably the MVP of the U20 SuperElit. Vedejmo has been effective in pretty much every area of the game and it will be interesting to see what kind of player he will be able to become at the senior level after an adaption period. He has good puck control and has some power to his shot, but he is not overly skilled and his projection from an offensive standpoint is far from a safe one.
However, he has a few things going for him along with his size. He is no stranger to the net, works hard, doesn’t quit on the play and doesn’t mind going into the corners to dig the puck to create opportunities. His strong two-way all around game makes him a candidate to develop into a 3rd liner that can bring some secondary scoring. He is not a flawless skater, his stride seems to have room for improvement, yet he can generate surprising power and use his skating as an asset, for example when chasing the puck. He can stickhandle through traffic, but he can be at fault for trying to do too much, sometimes taking too long shifts. Should further develop his physical game, as it will probably be needed to become the kind of player he projects to be at the next level.
In a Canadiens conference call following the draft, Vejdemo described himself this way, “I’m a two-way centre and I’m a good skater. I want to work on my shot and I have to be more physical.”
And working on his shot after practice was exactly what Vejdemo was doing last week on the historic 1980 rink in Lake Placid. As noted by the folks at Hockey Prospect, the power is there, particularly with his slap slot, but the accuracy could be tightened up. Skating is another area where he has some room for improvement. Lukas’ speed is a big asset but he could work on his stride, exploding with power from his first step, and fully extending during each push.
What’s hard to miss about Vejdemo’s on-ice presence is his work ethic. He doggedly pursues the puck, is good with his stick and is unafraid to go into traffic. He’s particularly good along the boards when retrieving the puck or tying up an opponent.
While Vejdemo does bring an offensive threat, his strength is on the defensive side of the game. He is smart, is able to read the ice and is effective at supporting and covering for teammates. Despite having the size, Vejdemo currently lacks a physical aspect to his game.
On a strong, experienced Swedish team in Lake Placid, Vejdemo was relegated to the extra forward role in each of the games we watched, ending the tournament with just one assist. But the stat line simply doesn’t capture how well he played during the week.
Against the Americans, Vejdemo filled in on the third line and on the penalty-kill with eight shifts in the game. Sweden beat Team USA 5-2.
In the match against rival Finland, Vejdemo had 12 shifts playing all three forward positions primarily on the fourth line. Vejdemo played well enough in spot duty to earn himself two shifts centering Sweden’s top line with Adrian Kempe (Los Angeles Kings, 2014 first round, 29th overall) and Fredrik Olofsson (Chicago Blackhawks, 2014 fourth round, 98th overall.)
“I always try to do something good with the puck and not just throw it away.” — Lukas Vejdemo, speaking to All Habs Hockey Magazine
Half of Vejdemo’s shifts came in the third period with the Swedes protecting a 2-0 lead. The Canadiens’ prospect played some of his best hockey of the tournament displaying situational awareness and superior hockey sense. Known for his disciplined play, Vejdemo firmly restrained Sebastian Repo after the Finnish forward ran a Swedish defenseman from behind giving the team in yellow a power-play.
Head coach Rikard Gronborg showed great confidence in his young centre’s defensive prowess leaving Vejdemo on the ice for all but a handful of seconds of the final two and a half minutes of the game.
Following the game, Gronborg spoke exclusively to All Habs Hockey Magazine about Lukas Vejdemo saying, “(He’s) a big, strong player. He’s got a great stride. He comes in with quite a bit of power, with his size and his skating ability. I see him making nice plays — it’s the first time for me to coach him — so it’s kinda nice to see him actually playing hard, playing the way he’s playing and in a different environment than he’s used to. It was a nice surprise.”
On Vejdemo’s versatility, Gronborg said, “Oh, absolutely. I put him on the wing, I put him at centre, he can play both. Obviously, it gives him more of (an opportunity) at a position. He’s fighting for a spot on our team so it was nice to see him stepping up. Like I said, it’s the first time for me to coach him and get to know him. He’s not only a great guy to have on the ice but also off the ice he gives a lot of energy to the rest of the players. He’s a nice surprise.”
With less than five months to the World Junior Championships, Vejdemo finds himself on the bubble for the Swedish team. But it is clear that he has done everything within his power to impress the coaching staff proving he can be a valuable member of a world junior squad on and off the ice.
When asked his feelings about playing in Helsinki, Vejdemo said, “First of all, it would be a great experience. Then it would be a good way to show what I can (do.) I think, like everybody in world, it’s a big tournament, and back home in Sweden, everybody watches it, it would be cool, of course.”
It may take time for Habs fans to appreciate the talents of Vejdemo but they too look forward to being surprised by Trevor Timmins’ secret pick from 2015.
While in Lake Placid, Lukas Vejdemo took some time for an exclusive interview with Amy Johnson of All Habs Hockey Magazine. He spoke about the NHL Entry Draft, the Canadiens Development camp, the City of Montreal, his strengths as a player, his development goals for this season, Canadiens fans, the National Junior Evaluation camp and playing in the 2016 World Junior Championships. You can listen to Lukas’ full interview in the player below.
Here’s a video clip of a few of the highlights of the All Habs interview with Lukas Vejdemo.
Thank you to John Crouch from J. Alexander Imaging for providing photos for this article.