With the 12th-overall pick of the 2020 NHL Draft, the Florida Panthers selected center Anton Lundell from HIFK of Liiga. With this pick, the Panthers have added an excellent center talent who projects to be a great second fiddle to Aleksander Barkov someday in the near future.
Who is Anton Lundell?
Lundell is currently playing in his third professional season for HIFK Helsinki of Finland’s Liiga. He broke into the league as a 17-year-old in 2018-19, playing 38 games and netting 19 points. That year he was a key component of Finland’s U18 team at the U18 World Junior Championship.
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Later that year he went on to be a part of the U20 World Junior team that captured a gold medal. He registered four points in the tournament, including an assist on the gold medal-winning goal. In his 17-year-old season, he accomplished everything that could help a player get drafted, but he was still a year too young.
The next season he would spend the entire season in Liiga as a team regular. He put away 28 points in 44 games and did not play in the U20 World Juniors because of an elbow injury. During his time in Liiga, he has not been one of those young players who see severely reduced minutes. He has gotten regular shifts and averages more than 10 minutes per game. That’s not particularly common among first-year draft-eligible players. He’s also off to a good start this season with two points in three games.
What Does He Bring to the Panthers
Lundell is that cerebral, two-way center that every team would love to have. He has the “NHL size” that teams want to see, checking in at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds. He’s a good faceoff guy and is incredibly responsible in his own zone. That part of his game is, kind of surprisingly, where he has gotten the most attention. Lundell has been labeled some as a “safe” or “low ceiling” pick because his best attribute is seen as his defensive zone play. He disrupts cycles well and simply does not look like an 18-year-old kid when he’s on the ice with seasoned veterans. But it’s highly unfair to ignore his offensive capabilities simply because his defensive zone play is so good.
To go along with his capable two-way play is a very underrated shot and stellar offensive zone instincts. I don’t know why more people haven’t focused on this aspect of his game because it’s phenomenal. The way he goes about shooting is deceptive and he’s able to get a lot of velocity and fool opposing goaltenders. There’s not a lot of wasted movements to it and it gets off quick. Sometimes it looks like he’s looking for a pass — he looks off the goaltender and then the puck is just in the back of the net.
Lundell was one of the best possession players in the entire Finnish league. Not one of the best possession prospects, one of the best possession players, among all the players in Liiga. This tracks back to his overall hockey IQ and cerebral approach to the game. He doesn’t get rattled or panic easily and he always seems to make the correct play with or without the puck. It’s almost like his brain is a hockey computer that takes in all the data around him, computes the outcome with the best statistical probabilities of success and then he implements it.
The Panthers needed to add the most talented player they could get from the first round of this draft. Lundell joins the next wave of young, talented forwards coming up in the next few years in the Panthers’ system. Considering his professional experience, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him make an NHL impact as soon as 2021-22. A few years down the road, Lundell could be centering a line that includes Grigori Denisenko and Owen Tippett. That projects to be very exciting to watch.