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2020 NHL Draft Profile: Anton Lundell

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The neutral zone commander from Finland is an NHL-ready centre that thrives on pushing play forward

NHL: JAN 02 Panthers at Senators
The last top centre picked from Finland, Lundell has a lot of Barkov’s game in him
Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Mikael Granlund; Aleksander Barkov; Olli Jokinen; Artturi Lehkonen; Patrik Laine; Mikko Rantanen.

These are the Finnish players keeping Anton Lundell company over his last two seasons in the country’s top men’s league (Liiga). Coming into this profile, I’ve heard many comments from readers and fans questioning Lundell’s status as a top draft pick and someone for the Senators to consider, despite near unanimous agreement that the team needs a true high-end centre out of this year’s draft.

I’m here to say that Anton Lundell should certainly be an option. While the Senators have only drafted out of Finland once under Pierre Dorion’s watch — Markus Nurmi in 2016 — Lundell is worthy of a top-10 selection, and may be one of the players that analysts rate higher in future years just because of how quickly he’ll adapt his pro-ready game to the NHL. Let’s learn about his career-to-date, his strengths, and what the data says about the two-way dynamo.

Anton Lundell (C)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
HIFK Liiga 6'1" 187 lbs 6 - 13 #3 (Euro)

Coming up through Helsinki’s HIFK system, Lundell follows the trend of the many other top prospects we’ve profiled as a player who thrived against competition that was much older than him at a young age. Eventually, this gave way to him earning regular ice-time as a 17- and 18-year-old in a men’s pro league.

Case in point? As a 15-year-old, Lundell had 21 points in just seven games as the captain of HIFK’s U16 squad, and followed that up with 15 points in 29 games at the U18 level. The next year, Lundell once again moved up a level, and put up 20 points in 22 games against U20 opponents, led Finland in points against mainly 2019 draft picks at the world U17s, and had six points in seven games at the U18s!

His incredible growth and mature style of play gave his coaches confidence to thrust Lundell into a regular role against men in 2018-19. Lundell averaged 14:23 of ice-time over 38 games — the highest among HIFK’s four rookies — and an incredible 19 points and 2.79 shots-per-game. He was one of only two 2020 draft-eligible players to play any Liiga games at all that season — the other being Tappara’s Kasper Simontaival with five games — and one of only 70 players in Liiga history to suit up for any games at all in his draft-1 year. Among those 70, 31 played for 10 games or more, and Lundell’s 0.50 points-per-game mark is tied for third all-time — behind just Timo Jutila in 1980, Jesse Puljujarvi in 2014, and tied with Barkov in 2011. Internationally, Lundell stood out at the U18s with a strong performance, and won gold with Finland’s U20 team. We’ve talked a lot about Quinton Byfield and Alexis Lafrenière’s mediocre performance at this tournament as 17-year-olds. Well, in the same year Lafrenière had one point in five games, Lundell had four in seven en route to the tournament’s top prize.

This past year, Lundell missed the U20 tournament due to injury — part of the reason for the lack of excitement around him as a player, I think — but put up a rockstar season with HIFK. Take a breath as you read this next section:

  • Lundell averaged 15:49 a game — starting as HIFK’s third-line centre but ending the year as their second-line centre despite missing six weeks due to injury.
  • He improved his point totals to 0.64 points-per-game. That’s miles ahead of the eight other draft-eligible skaters in Liiga this year, and ranks 12th all-time, ahead of names like Puljujarvi, Rantanen, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Sebastian Aho, and Joel Armia. Remember: Puljujarvi and Kotkaniemi are top-five picks this decade, and we’re talking about Lundell being ranked between 6th and 14th for this year’s draft among players mentioned in Colin’s consensus rankings database.
  • He ranked.... SECOND league-wide (among men!!!) in CF%, with 61.9%.
  • He also managed to up his shots/60 totals to be ranked 22nd in the league in that metric.

Unlike other players in this draft class, we do not have in-depth tracking data on Lundell. However, Liiga’s CF% numbers, and this comparison of Lundell’s performance in terms of goals, shots, and point shares, leaves me comfortable saying that Lundell would likely track well given his play style.

Let’s move on to talking about Lundell’s strengths and weaknesses as a player to see if we can figure out why there seems to be a discrepancy between his peers and his perception among scouts.

Scouting Report

As we have been throughout this series, let’s start with what Lundell is known for, and that’s his defensive excellence. Whether it’s covering for his defencemen high in the zone or low in his defensive zone guarding the slot, Lundell has excellent positioning — let alone for an 18-year-old in a men’s league. This type of hockey sense is so hard to teach in young players, and the ‘drawback’ of many of the other top draft-eligible talent keeping Lundell company this year. Between Marian Hossa, Daniel Alfredsson, and Mark Stone, Sens fans can appreciate an active stick, and Lundell is able to deftly apply his in the offensive zone, and in the neutral zone. He’s incredibly strong on his feet, able to chase down defenders when forechecking in the offensive zone and engage in tough board battles against players much older than him.

A player with his advanced defensive toolkit seems destined for shutdown match-ups and protecting leads, and it’s almost like many have penciled him into that ‘role’ and forgot all about his well-rounded offensive game. You don’t put up the kinds of numbers Lundell has without being a positive play-driver, and Lundell is such an efficient distributor of the puck, a là Marco Rossi. While he might not have Raymond’s puck skills, Lafrenière’s vision, Stützle’s explosive stride, or Holtz’s shot, he’s in control and intentional every time he’s on the ice.

What surprises me about his game is not just his offensive recognition, but his tendency to generate chances engaging in positive habits that seem very translatable to the NHL game. He’s not scared to drive to the net when he sees an opening; he can cut into the middle despite traffic to score or make a pass; and he moves in a way that opens up soft areas of the ice for his teammates to easily find him to move the puck forward. I feel like sometimes, we get caught up in highlight culture that glorifies a (really good) player like Stützle because we can see his explosiveness, and sometimes that misses players like Lundell because of just how efficient he is all the time. He doesn’t need to be explosive because he’s done something a couple steps before that to maximize his chances of success.

All of that being said, he clearly possesses creativity with his passing that gives him top-line upside, and I think he’s got potential as an NHL goal-scorer given both the accuracy and power he can get behind his shot to beat Liiga goaltenders from distance. Remember: Holtz, Lundell, and Stützle (to a lesser extent) are scoring their goals against high-calibre goaltenders, as opposed to the juniors Byfield, Rossi, and Perfetti are scoring against.

Ultimately, Lundell has the highest floor among the players we’ve profiled so far. He’s NHL-ready after playing his last two seasons in Finland and he’s clearly capable of commanding the ice in all-three zones. If that doesn’t sound like a number one centre to you, I ask that you take up your complaints with the way Anze Kopitar, Sean Couturier, and Patrice Bergeron play the game of hockey.

For more on Lundell, you can check out these interviews and historical deep dive from DobberProspects’ Jokke Nevalainen, who — alongside Tony Ferrari — note that Lundell is also a thoughtful, mature kid off-the-ice. For a detailed look at Lundell’s game with video, check out Tony Ferrari’s breakdown on him at Dobber Prospects, or Kyle Pereira’s report on him at PuckProse.

Drawbacks

Some people who are much smarter than me have been trying to examine if there’s anything in Lundell’s game that limits his offensive ceiling. Tony Ferrari noted that Lundell doesn’t necessarily have the tight-area agility of Stützle and Raymond, meaning that he often has to use his strength and smarts to get himself out of tight situations or win battles along the boards while the others use their feet. It’s important to note that the aforementioned players have been playing wing, where that might be a more necessary tool to have, as opposed to Lundell’s primary responsibility being to be a force in the neutral zone and ensure play is moving up the ice.

Sam Happi wrote about Lundell’s skating in detail, and noted that while he lacks explosiveness and doesn’t the separation of a Quinton Byfield, for example, he’s still quick enough to make most plays, and will moreso be relying on his smarts to create deception. Efficiency, not explosiveness, is his calling.

Finally, while I’ve shown clips of his ability to pull off high-end passes occasionally, Lundell doesn’t necessarily have the high-end vision of some of the other players in the class, and moreso makes his living off of effective, small-area passes like this. He’s a different type of centre than Sens fans are used to with Alexei Yashin and Jason Spezza.

Finally, as an October 2001 birthday, it’s important to note that Lundell is one of the oldest players in the draft class.

The Fit with Ottawa

At his ceiling, Lundell is a mature centre that’s strong in all three zones and the offensive upside to have his “defence” valued enough to capture the attention of Selke voters. In my viewing, he has an underrated shot and offensive tools that will translate to the NHL; I’d bet that alongside Lafrenière, Rossi, and maybe Stützle, Lundell could be in an NHL uniform next season.

Previous top forwards from Finland like Kaapo Kakko and Jesperi Kotkaniemi have jumped straight to Liiga from the NHL, and while they’ve had different results, Lundell’s the only one to have played two seasons in Liiga and features strong defensive play as a strength.

That type of centre might work well as a compliment to the more offensively-minded Josh Norris and Logan Brown, as neither are known for their defensive ability, and with the loss of Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the Sens lack a shutdown, matchup centre in their system. The fact that Lundell comes with the ability to play centre in a D.J. Smith way is bonus, and I can easily see him growing in a role as he figures out his offence at the NHL level.

Ultimately, Lundell is a player that exemplifies how hard this draft is to navigate. The lack of international play this year might have hurt his stock relative to a Stützle and Drysdale, and the fact that the top talent for 2020 is spread out over multiple leagues makes it hard to compare between players. What’s clear, though, is that Lundell possesses a clean two-way game that’s needed among NHL clubs, and his production is in elite company when you look at historical comparisons. After all of this, I’m not sure there’s a lot of evidence to question Lundell’s offensive upside — the team drafting him is getting a Dubois/Turcotte-type prospect with plenty of room to flourish into a Sasha Barkov.

Quotes

“The most complete forward in the class over all three zones, Lundell has been a superstar playing in what I see as the fourth-best league in the world. The 200-foot game is just so sound, it’s hard to find flaws. Offensively he is a very patient playmaker who rarely makes the wrong pass nor is out of position. Has a decent shot that is improving. Defensively, he has a fantastic active-stick and his elite senses see him be a total puck shark, he’s a bloodhound out there that gives 110% every shift. He’s strong both on his skates and through his legs, making for someone who can be very hard to dislodge the puck from. Given his pro-league experience and hockey mind, he should see an easier transition into the NHL, sooner than later.” — Ashley Glover

“It’s interesting that how so many draft-eligible snipers catch major flak for their defensive play, but when a legitimately elite two-way centre comes into the draft, so many of the same people dissing those offensive players for their one-dimensionality are seemingly unable to process the all-around impact of a player like Anton Lundell. [...] A defensive stalwart with 70-80 point offensive upside, Lundell is a tremendous two-way talent. He leads the entire Liiga — a professional league (!!) — in shot attempt share (Corsi-For%), controlling well over 60% of shots. If he’s capable of that kind of impact in the fourth or fifth best league in the world at just 18-years-old, I think it’s fair to assume that he’ll be a distinctively positive possession player once he reaches the NHL. His raw offensive numbers are terrific as well — I have no idea how anybody can argue that an 18-year-old with that output in a high-level league lacks offensive upside. I think Lundell could be a potential year-to-year Selke contender through his prime, and it seems likely that he’ll be a player that people look back on thinking “how the hell wasn’t he a top-5 pick?” if NHL GMs let him fall too far in June” — Sam Happi

Highlights

You can view Lundell’s video and stats breakdown in his Scouching profile.


MORE DRAFT COVERAGE

Alexis Lafrenière
Quinton Byfield
Lucas Raymond
Tim Stützle
Jamie Drysdale
Marco Rossi
Cole Perfetti
Jake Sanderson