2020 NHL draft: Anton Lundell is defensively dominant

Anton Lundell #29 (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images)
Anton Lundell #29 (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images) /

Anton Lundell’s commitment to defensive excellence makes him a fascinating prospect in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Anton Lundell is a fantastic prospect in the 2020 NHL Draft. I broke down his game in an earlier scouting report, but this is different. I’m going to attempt to break down what makes Lundell such an incredible defensive forward. I looked back at what makes incredible two-way forwards like Patrice Bergeron, Sean Couturier and Alexander Barkov so great.

But first, this is what makes the aforementioned forwards incredible in the defensive zone. For Bergeron, it’s his awareness, his ability to know where the opposition is, his stick positioning, and how he gets to the dirty areas to chip in.

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For Sean Couturier, it’s his work ethic, dogged backchecking, and stick positioning. He plays a decent bit like Bergeron, though his anticipation isn’t as good as Bergeron’s. Lastly, for Barkov, it’s his stick checking. He times his poke checks extremely well and is so good at pickpocketing opposing players with a quick stick lift.

What do all three of these guys have in common? An uncanny ability to win faceoffs. Barkov checks in with a 54.3% faceoff success rate, Bergeron lands at 57.89% and Couturier leads the league with a 59.62% rate this season. Lundell won 53.5% of his faceoffs in the top Finnish hockey league against men in a limited capacity.

To begin, I looked at body positioning. What this means is I’m looking at where he lines up relative to the aforementioned two-way forwards in the NHL based on where the puck is located. For example, if his team has the puck and is looking to break out, is he the first one up ice, or down low in support? If the opposition has the puck down low, does he attack or does he protect the slot? You get the gist, so let’s break down the film.

When the puck is down low in the defensive zone, generally Lundell doesn’t have a specific tendency. If one of his teammates is attacking, he’ll sit back and read the play, in tight support. If the opposing player isn’t getting pressured, he’ll be the one to attack. But the big thing is how he reads plays when he doesn’t attack. For example, here’s a frame-by-frame of Lundell reading a play that comes down the boards.

Now here’s Bergeron in a similar situation a few years ago.

How about when he does attack and get to the dirty areas? Here’s a clip in that same game that I showed above. Lundell races towards the boards toward a loose puck. He loses the race, but he continues to battle for it.

He doesn’t win the battle and clear the zone, but the idea is clear – he is more than willing and capable to get into these physical altercations and battle for possession in the defensive zone.

Here’s an example of Sean Couturier battling along the boards in a similar situation.

Lundell is also fantastic at utilizing stick checks. He times them well and does a good job of disrupting the play and forcing turnovers. Stick checks aren’t just poke checks from close range or a nifty stick lift to pickpocket an opposing player, whether on the backcheck or face to face. It’s using your stick to make the opposition rush or feel pressure, which makes them lose control or pass the puck into traffic.

Here’s a clip of Lundell on the forecheck. He races in, knocks the puck off the stick of the opposition and chases behind the net. When another defenseman for the opposing team gets their first, he continues by chasing and stick checking from behind. His stickwork indirectly leads to the puck being bobbled and lost:

Now here are a couple of examples of Aleksander Barkov doing the same thing.

Anticipation is another strong asset that Lundell possesses. Aside from the initial video of his breakup in the defensive zone that I compared to Bergeron, he also displays that anticipation when defending the rush.

In this clip, Lundell is caught jumping onto the ice while the opposition breaks out. He immediately recognized that they were pushing up ice and opened up his hips to begin skating backwards and facing the play.

He is caught outnumbered in the neutral zone and recognizes the need to take away the pass to the outside, as his two teammates behind him are bunched up in the middle. He times his step well, knifing the puck away from its intended target and then rushing up ice.

Here’s a clip of Bergeron doing the same, albeit in the defensive zone.

These minor details in his game reflect positively. While it is a small moment generally, and it happens all over the ice, Lundell is the type of player you can build around. His IQ, positional awareness, and anticipation is a rare combination for forwards both in the defensive zone and while defending against the rush in the neutral zones.

However, he isn’t perfect either. One thing that separates the great two-way forwards from the good is their all-around work ethic. While Lundell has the tools to succeed and the willingness to get to the dirty areas despite his smaller stature, he is missing the work ethic in some areas. One big area is his backchecking. It’s a consistent issue, and here are several clips of Lundell being a bit lazy or slow on the backcheck:

If you’re still not convinced, how about we look at what experts and various scouts were saying about other high-end two-way forwards. To start, Barkov was extremely talented offensively and the scouts reflected that, making the comparisons not very comparable. Bergeron was drafted back in 2003 and I couldn’t find many reliable sources online, unfortunately. However, players like Couturier and Anthony Cirelli were viewed almost exactly like Lundell.

I have seen various others pin Lundell as a safe pick for his reliable defensive game. Ultimately, however, the knock on Lundell is upside and lack of flashy offensive plays. Praising his defensive game while doubting, or at least not seeing enough, of his offensive abilities.

How about Sean Couturier, who was an 8th overall pick, right around where Lundell could go, back in 2011? Here’s what Scott Campbell of The Scouting Report had to say back then.

"“After struggling to take his offensive production to the ‘next level,’ there are some concerns about his potential as a first-line center. While he isn’t going to be a dominant offensive player, Couturier is a very capable offensive forward who has the size to create space for himself at the next level as well… but Couturier is a pretty safe pick..”"

Concerns about potential. Not a dominant offensive player. Yet, nine years later, he has two 75+ point seasons and two 30+ goal seasons. If the season wasn’t shortened, he could’ve had three straight 25+ goal seasons and three straight 70+ point seasons. Took him a bit to get to this point, but he’s here.

Anton Lundell is a sound defensive player. While he does have holes to fill, he has established himself in a tough men’s league in Finland. Once he makes the jump to North America, he could start slow, adjusting to the smaller rinks.

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It might take him time to grow accustomed to the speed and the level of goaltending that the NHL boasts. But once he gets a hold of a top-line spot, watch out. Lundell is coming and whoever passes on the opportunity to take Lundell outside the top-5 may regret their decision in a few years’ time.