Welcome back to Shift Work! The series where I take a look at a draft-eligible player and breakdown a game tape. I’ll be bringing you some comprehensive breakdowns of a player’s game as we go over an entire game of tape from a player. We will be focusing in on that player’s shifts and getting a peek at what the average game of that player looks like. We won’t cover every shift, but we will go over most of the shifts that the player played an active role in. We will be highlighting a lot of things that scouts and evaluators look for when they are watching a player’s game.
I couldn’t do this nearly as easy if it weren’t for collaboration with Prospect Shifts. The subscription-based website ($5/$10 options available) that takes a draft-eligible player and produces a video with only that player’s shifts. It cuts out the rest of the game, the commercials and intermissions making it much less time consuming to get a quick view on a player for scouts, writers and analysts alike.
This week, we’re focusing in on consensus top-10 prospect Anton Lundell. The Finnish center has been playing in the Liiga, racking up 10 points in 17 games. He has been impressive in league play this year, fitting in amongst men in a professional league as an 18-year-old. Lundell is at the head of a Finnish draft class that seems to be a step back from previous years in terms of quality but Lundell is certainly at the level of recent Finnish stars to be drafted. His 200-foot game has been widely lauded about, possibly being the most complete player in the 2020 NHL Draft. While one knock on Lundell has been his lack of offensive upside or dynamism, he has produced at every level and this year he’s shown noticeable growth in both his physical and mental game. Let’s take a dive into Lundell’s game against KalPa on November 1, 2019, and look at what makes him a top-10 prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft.
Lundell’s (#15 in red) first shift of the game with the puck held behind his net by his defenseman. He does an excellent job of repeatedly circling low in the zone giving the stationary defender a passing option and drawing the attention of an opposing player. Small, subtle aspects of Lundell’s game such as this are a big reason why Lundell excels the way he does. He does the little things well, understanding that the sum of the little things generally results in a big advatage for him and his team.
To start his next shift, Lundell does an excellent job of attacking the puck carrier on the forecheck immediately. After forcing the puck back into the zone, his persistence and backpressure lead to a turnover in the offensive zone. The high-pressure forecheck is a staple in Lundell’s game. Once his team regains control of the puck, Lundell finds the soft spots in the middle of the ice while simultaneously reading the play and covering the backside of the play ensuring that KalPa wouldn’t be able to spread out and take advantage of an open side.
Below we see Lundell on the powerplay. In a play that is beautifully simple, Lundell receives the puck in transition at mid-ice. He then drives over the blue line towards the slot and effortlessly releases a wrist shot that finds the back of the net with unreal accuracy. The puck jumps off of Lundell’s stick, showing the improved shot that the young Finn has developed coming into the draft year.
On his next shift, Lundell continues to excel in the neutral zone. Despite not being able to hold the offensive blueline to start his shift, he provides support as the puck is worked back into the offensive zone and then drives the net once into the zone. Once there, he asserts his position. As the puck is turned over, he again disrupts the initial breakout with back pressure and a good stick. After recovering the puck in the neutral zone again, Lundell enters the offensive zone again, this time dropping it and driving wide to the net to look for a rebound that ultimately doesn’t materialize.
After a couple of uneventful shifts, Lundell has a short shift where he applies an aggressive forecheck. He chases the opposing player behind the net when he notices the puck is loose. This forces the opposing team to push the puck up ice, taking a low danger shot from distance that is easily handled. If Lundell has the support behind him, plays like this can help force opponents to rush and make a play that they didn’t necessarily want to make.
His next eventful shift comes with just under five minutes to play in the opening frame. As he covers for a defenseman, he back skates into his own end of the ice. Once the puck is dumped to the corner, he provides a subtle pick that provides his defender an extra second to retrieve and moves the puck. Once the puck is moved behind the net, Lundell turns up the ice and readies for an offensive rush. He receives a cross-ice pass that he has to reach ahead for but then easily corrals the puck and gains entry of the offensive zone with control, backing defenders off and dropping the puck to his winger. He continues towards the net, creating even more space and net-front traffic for the shooter.
Early in the second frame, HIFK finds themselves on the penalty kill and Lundell yet again made his presence felt. Defending the neutral zone well, he gets his stick into the passing lane and deflects a pass back towards the offensive zone. He is able to transition up the ice, entering the zone on a short-handed two-on-one. He elects to shoot the puck, attempting to go five-hole on the goaltender but is stopped. He seemed to have a bit of space to drive the net but it would have also been a riskier play, possibly leading to a turnover with Lundell left deep in the offensive zone. So while he could have been more aggressive on this rush, he elected for the safer play while shorthanded.
On his next shift, Lundell is again applying an aggressive forecheck and backcheck. As the puck is worked back up the ice, Lundell begins to become a nuisance on the backcheck. He then gets a bit over-aggressive attempting to poke the puck away at the blue line, leaving him on the wrong side of the puck. KalPa generates a good scoring chance off of the mistake but thankfully, it doesn’t cost Lundell or his team. With his aggressive defensive game, he will make a mistake like this at times but his overall defensive impact outweighs the odd mistake.
The following clip is another example of why Lundell’s habit of coming back deep into the defensive zone to provide support pays off. As the puck is knocked loose because of an aggressive forecheck, Lundell is able to pick the puck up behind the net and find a release valve. A simple play that often makes a big difference. The puck is moved up the ice and Lundell’s defensive awareness may have saved a dangerous chance from being generated.
Lundell’s skating was about average last season but the center seems to have gained strength and developed more power in his stride. As you can see in the video below, he generates speed through the neutral zone as he goes in on the forecheck. While he had the opportunity to lay a big hit behind the net, he swings around the net and gets into a position to defend the rush. He disrupts the rush, forcing an uncontrolled entry that is easily turned around by the HIFK defense.
Lundell is a strong player along the boards and uses skill and smarts rather than brute strength to win battles in scrums and board battles. As you can see at the beginning of his final shift of the second period, Lundell is able to slide into a scrum, effortlessly pulling the puck free before dishing it off and driving across the middle of the ice.
As the same shift progresses the puck is worked back towards the HIFK zone. Lundell does a good job of staying tight on his man, tracking back and preventing any dangerous play from forming late in the frame.
Lundell can be seen covering for his defensemen again in the clip below to start his shift. After skating up the ice following the play Lundell winds up with the puck in the neutral zone as he tracks back into the middle of the ice. He notices that his linemate has an open lane to the net and puts a pass behind a defender to the open ice at the top of the slot. This leads to a high-danger chance that ultimately doesn’t result in much.
The first half of the final frame was fairly uneventful. Just over halfway through the period, Lundell has a shift that has some good and bad. It starts well with Lundell coming low into the defensive zone, recovering a loose puck behind the net. He takes it behind the net and attempts to clear the puck but fails to do so. This leads to a turnover and a bit of a frantic situation defensively for HIFK. Lundell does a good job of applying pressure and then is able to force the puck to center ice and clears it down the ice.
The defensive aspect of Lundell’s game is one of the most quietly impressive parts of the young Finn’s game. His forecheck pressure is good, yet again disrupting an easy breakout. As he tracks back into the defensive zone, he reads where the puck is going to go. He does an excellent job of cutting the puck off behind the net and sending it around to a defenseman in the opposite corner. Despite his team being unable to break out cleanly, Lundell shows his strong defensive play again.
With the game tied at two, Lundell came onto the ice for his final shift of regulation. He immediately begins to apply forechecking pressure, pushing the opposition back into their zone. After the puck is worked around, he does a good job of backchecking as he applies pressure with some fairly standard stick taps on the player’s hip. With the puck coming loose, the puck is recovered by a HIFK blueliner as Lundell turns up the ice.
In the second half of the shift, Lundell receives the puck and generates speed through the neutral zone before passing the puck off as they entered the offensive zone. Lundell and the puck carrier twist in the offensive zone and Lundell attempts to get to the backside of the net. Once he sees that the puck was turned over, Lundell follows the play and is the third defender as the first forward back, well in position to prevent any offensive chance to close out his final shift.
Three-on-three overtime is a bit of a crapshoot, especially when it comes to defending. Lundell does a good job of balancing attacking offensively and covering defensively. In Lundell’s first shift of overtime, he picks up the drop pass and transitions the puck up the ice. After easily gaining entry of the zone with control of the puck, Lundell circles the offensive zone before handing the puck off to the pinching defender. He then replaces the defensemen as the high man in the zone and monitors the area between the circles waiting for a pass before retreating back to stay defensively responsible.