It wasn’t that long ago that Lukas Vejdemo was viewed as a prospect with some intrigue. However, he heads into next season in a situation where he could tumble down the depth chart quickly if he doesn’t start strong.
After a tough 2016-17 season, the 23-year-old got himself back on the prospect map a year later as he posted his best year offensively in the SHL, collecting 22 points in 47 games while holding down a spot in the top six for most of the year. Accordingly, he was viewed as someone that could potentially move up the lineup quickly as he grew accustomed to Laval.
That didn’t exactly happen. Instead, the learning curve proved to be fairly steep at the beginning and there were quite a few nights where he was on the fourth line. Vejdemo did move up the lineup as the season progressed but that was largely due to the fact that they lost most of their impact players to recalls and injuries.
To his credit, he did take advantage of the extra ice time and started to show some offensive progression as he had 11 points in his final 14 games. Unfortunately, like many others, his season ended prematurely due to injury. While the games were largely meaningless in the standings at that point, it would have been an opportunity to showcase himself even more for next season.
All in all, Vejdemo finished fifth on the team in scoring (fourth when you consider that Byron Froese, who had one more point than him, wasn’t actually on the team at the end of the year). That doesn’t seem too shabby for a rookie year but with Montreal’s depth and some newcomers to the Rocket, playing time is going to be hard to come by.
While centre was a position of weakness in the past, it isn’t now. Youngsters Ryan Poehling and Nick Suzuki could very well be in Laval to start next season. While Suzuki could ultimately be a winger down the road, it’s reasonable to think that they’ll want him developing down the middle first and foremost. Both of them project to be ahead of Vejdemo on the depth chart.
Jake Evans is coming back after a solid rookie campaign. He was ahead of Vejdemo on the depth chart last season and there’s little reason to think he won’t be now. Michael McCarron should be back as well unless he surprisingly sticks with the Canadiens. When healthy, he was also ahead of Vejdemo.
Then there’s Phil Varone. If he’s in Laval, he can safely be pencilled on the top line. He’s also a natural centre and will undoubtedly be ahead of Vejdemo (and just about everyone else) as well.
All of a sudden, the question surrounding the Swedish forward isn’t where he slots in between one and four at centre. In terms of depth at that position, he doesn’t crack that top four. Instead, it seems likely that he’ll be asked to shift to the wing where he’ll have a shot at a middle-six role. However, he doesn’t have a ton of experience in that spot which is going to add another degree of difficulty for him.
What a difference a year makes. He was one of the more promising rookies with the Rocket last season and while he didn’t dominate, he didn’t play particularly poorly either. However, he has dropped a fair bit down the depth chart over the summer and could find himself in a lesser role than he had for a big chunk of 2018-19.
That’s far from an ideal scenario heading into a contract year. At its conclusion, he’ll be 24, an age where a player isn’t perceived to have a whole lot of upside remaining if he’s still at the minor league level. Vejdemo is going to have a lot of work to do in a short period of time as a result as he looks to improve his standing in the organization and help his odds of getting a qualifying offer in June. That’s a lot of pressure on his shoulders heading into next season. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles it.