The big center first came onto the scene with an important performance for the Finns in Vancouver. Now he’s back in Finland playing against men again and growing his game with an eye on a repeat at the world juniors.
Anton Lundell|Rich Lam/Getty Images
Like a growing number of elite prospects, center Anton Lundell comes from hockey lineage. His father, Jan Lundell, was a goaltender who mainly played for HIFK in Finland’s Liiga. And the old barn where HIFK plays holds a lot of memories for Anton.
“He retired in 2013, so I remember watching the games and growing up in rinks,” he said. “In Helsinki, IFK’s rink was like my second home. I have good memories from there. It was always my dream to play for IFK in the Liiga and last year I had the chance to play there, which was really fun.”
But here’s the big question: did his goalie dad let him score when they played together?
“If we had free ice we’d go on and he’d put the gear on and my brother and I would play a bit,” Lundell said. “I was so little. So if I wanted to score, he’d let me score.”
Lundell had a breakout season in 2018-19, putting up 19 points in 38 games and averaging 14:23 of ice time per game. This year, he’s back with the squad and is playing about the same amount of time while tallying four points through the first 11 contests. But he’s also doing better in the faceoff circle, winning 55 percent of his draws versus 49 percent last year.
The top Finnish prospect for the 2020 draft class, Lundell first came into the larger hockey consciousness at the 2019 world juniors, where he helped Finland win gold in Vancouver. Though he was the youngest player on the team, he was a vital part of the victory down the middle. Naturally, he’s looking forward to this year’s tournament in the Czech Republic.
“Last year was a good tournament and of course I want to be a big player on this team and be a leader,” he said. “We had good chemistry in the dressing room and on the ice. We all believed in each other and knew we had a good team that could win everything.”
This year’s squad will be interesting because it’s not very likely that we’ll see New York Rangers rookie Kappo Kaako excused from NHL duty for international play – his development in Manhattan is more important. Big drivers like Aleksi Heponiemi, Henri Jokiharju and Eeli Tolvanen will also be gone from the gold medallists, though we’ve learned by now never to count the Finns out in this tournament. As further motivation, Lundell got to take part in a big summer celebration that melded the world junior and men’s World Championship gold-medal team.
“I think there was 50,000 people in Helsinki,” he said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Lundell’s goal this season is to continue rounding out his 200-foot game and he already has a great foundation to work with. He’s got the hockey sense and the battle level to be an NHL star, so it’s just a matter of putting the work in. With no reason to doubt his efforts, Lundell will be a top-10 pick for sure this summer, perhaps even top-five.
Here’s a look at who else is hot in the 2020 draft class right now:
- Connor Zary, C, Kamloops Blazers (WHL): You can’t do much better than leading your league in scoring. Zary has been a playmaking ace for the Blazers with 15 assists and 20 points in 12 games.
- Cole Perfetti, C, Saginaw Spirit (OHL): One of the top scorers in the OHL, Perfetti is an electric playmaker with a great shot and vision. He’s got 24 points in 13 games.
- Jamie Drysdale, D, Erie Otters (OHL): An excellent skater and tentpole of the Otters rebuild, Drysdale ranks second in OHL defense scoring with 17 points in 12 games.
- Ryan Francis, RW, Cape Breton Eagles (QMJHL): Great start for Francis, who is playing on the Eagles’ top line. He’s got 22 points in 13 games.
- William Wallinder, D, Modo (Swe.): I loved Wallinder at the Junior Club World Cup and he’s doing well in the regular season now. The big, mobile D-man has 10 points in 14 games for Modo’s junior team.
- Garin Bjorklund, G, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL): Undefeated so far in four appearances, Bjorklund has decent size and is rocking a .946 save percentage and 1.59 goals-against average.
- Alex Laferriere, RW, Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL): Don’t get confused, this is a similarly-named scoring machine. Laferriere leads the USHL in scoring with 15 points in eight games. A Harvard commit, he’s an elusive player with a great shot.
- Jeremie Poirier, D, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL): The Sea Dogs are giving up a lot of goals, but Poirier is helping them get some back from the blueline; he’s got 15 points in 13 games.
- Rodion Amirov, LW, Tolpar Ufa (Rus.): The quick and skilled Amirov is back in junior after a stint in the KHL and he’s getting much more responsibility. Amirov is playing more than 20 minutes per contest (more than twice what he had with Salavat Yulaev) and has three points in three games.
- Yan Kuznetsov, D, UConn (Hockey East): An interesting one to watch, Kuznetsov is a big defensive D-man playing on the Huskies’ second pairing as a 17-year-old freshman. He has two points in four games.
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