Poised Lundell not pressured by draft expectations
It’s become a standing assumption that a Finnish-born player will be near the top of the NHL Draft.
Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi in 2016, Miro Heiskanen in 2017, Jesperi Kotkaniemi in 2018, and Kappo Kakko in 2019 are all recent examples.
Anton Lundell will hope to continue that trend.
That expectation as the top-ranked Finnish player for the 2020 NHL Draft has not weighed on Lundell.
“It doesn’t add pressure to me,” he said. “I think it’s more like I want to show everyone how good of a player I am and that I can play really well against men.”
Lundell also comes a year before Aatu Räty looks to potentially become the first Finnish-born player to go first overall. Along with Kakko and Räty, Lundell looks to lead the way for the next generation of Finnish players.
Lundell finds some similarities between the three budding prospects.
“We are all different players; we have different strengths,” said the center. “I think we all read the game well though and make great passes. All three of us skilled guys.”
The Espoo, Finland native showed off his skill this season with HIFK in the Liiga, the top Finnish league, posting 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in 44 games.
The mark led all under-19 players in the league.
It’s an impressive jump from the Jr. A SM-liiga loop Lundell dominated two seasons ago.
“It’s a different game,” said Lundell, who had 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 38 Liiga games and 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in Jr. A SM-liiga last year. “You can’t have that many mistakes because they are smarter and they score a lot from good chances. So, you have to play smart. I really enjoyed it though.
“Every day I want to get better and that has helped me a lot.”
His point totals would have been higher if it wasn’t for an injury that saw him miss a portion of the schedule early in the season.
“I think I had a good season,” said Lundell. “That injury in November was sad for me, but after that I think I came back stronger and played a really good season. I got some points, I had a big role on the team, and I could help the team win every game.”
That injury also held him out of the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he would have had a prominent role on the team.
Finland finished fourth after winning the gold medal in 2019.
“It wasn’t fun,” Lundell said. “But injuries come during the season, unfortunately I couldn’t play. It was a big disappointment for me.”
Lundell, No. 6 in Future Considerations Spring ranking for the 2020 draft, was a member of the gold medal-winning edition in 2019, posting four points (one goal, three assists) in seven games as a 17-year-old.
It stands as the highlight of his hockey career — so far.
“Last year, playing in the World Juniors, winning a gold medal in Vancouver, that was a tournament I really enjoyed playing in,” he said. “It’s a great memory.”
Lundell came up huge in the tournament, winning a huge faceoff and getting an assist on a Kakko goal in the gold medal game with 1:26 left in the match. That goal sealed the championship.
It hasn’t quickly been forgotten by the forward.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I didn’t know there was that little time left in the game. The whole gold medal game was unbelievable. I think that was my best game of the tournament. It was so much fun to win.”
Lundell will likely get a chance to play in the World Juniors again in 2021, but for now, his sights are set on the 2020 NHL Draft. While he doesn’t spend too much time looking at where he’s ranked, he has a feeling of where he’ll go.
If recent history is any indication, it’ll be high.
And it’ll serve to continue the trend of high-end Finnish players at the NHL Draft.
“I think I’m going to go top-10,” Lundell said.