June 14, 2018

Nils Lundkvist – a Swedish surprise a head of the draft

RISING. Nils Lundkvist came out of nowhere and could be a first-rounder in Dallas next week. Photo: Bildbyrån/Magnus Lejhall

When the 2017/18 season started, he was pretty much an unknown commodity in Swedish hockey. As we approach the 2018 NHL Entry draft in Dallas, Nils Lundkvist could be a first-rounder. Here’s a look at how the mobile defenseman from Luleå got his big break.

Piteå in the north of Sweden could be considered a hockey hotbed. After all, the city with a population of about 40,000 people, has produced Stanley Cup winners such as Stefan Persson and Tomas Holmström as well as former NHL:ers Lars LindgrenMikael Renberg and Mattias Öhlund.

In a few years, we could probably add another name to that list of NHL players. Piteå also happens to be where draft eligible defenseman Nils Lundkvist grew up and played hockey before making the logical move to Luleå, 45 minutes north, at the age of 14. Logical in the sense that he had family ties to Luleå’s SHL team. That’s where his uncle Jan Sandström played for 17 straight seasons and became a cult player before hanging up the skates at the age of 40 this past spring.

Before entering this season, Sandström and Lundkvist joked that it would be cool to at least get the chance to practice together at the SHL level before their careers went their separate ways. In the end, they got to do much more than that.

Nils Lundkvist came into the season as an unknown commodity. At 17, he had never played for any of the younger Swedish national teams nor been on the radar for a shot at the SHL. But when Florida Panthers’ draft pick Linus Nässén left Luleå to play for Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL and his own uncle got hurt,  the team called upon his services. After making his SHL debut against Malmö on October 26th, he only needed a month to convince the coaches that he belonged in the SHL.
“Everything went really fast, a lot faster than I expected”, he told Elite Prospects in April. “I’ve grown a lot these past two years, got some muscle and have become both faster and stronger. After that, everything just kind of rolled on and I’ve had some luck on the way.”

THIRD MOST ICE-TIME PER GAME AMONG JUNIOR D

He finished the regular season with two goals and five points in 28 regular season games while averaging 16 minutes a game. Rasmus Dahlin, Frölunda, and Erik Brännström, HV71, were the only other defensemen under the age of 20 to receive more ice-time than Lundkvist.

His maturity on the ice not only gave him a chance to represent Sweden internationally for the first time. He also came to play a big role in the U18 World Championships, where Sweden won a bronze medal.

At 5’11 and 175 pounds, Lundkvist is a small but smart and efficient defenseman, known for making good decisions with the puck. This has made him interesting to a lot of NHL teams who are looking for puck moving defensemen at the draft in Dallas next week.
“After Christmas, I started to notice that a lot of teams started to pay attention and wanted to talk to me”, Nils Lundkvist said. “It kind of exploded, which is really cool. If you had asked me a year ago, I would never have dreamed this would happen.”

The progress he has made in the last year could even make Lundkvist a first-rounder. A few scouting services have him among the top 31 players.  Hockeyprospect.com have him as number 16 on their final rankings.
“He popped on our radar late in the fall and was impressive”, Mark Edwards of Hockeyprospect.com writes in their 2018 NHL Draft Black Book. “He’s one of my personal favourites in this draft class. He’s smart and has skill. He can really skate and he creates offence. He defends better than a lot of defenseman in this class. I thought he was fantastic at the Five Nations in Plymouth and I really liked him in league play back home.”


Jan Sandström. Photo: Bildbyrån/Simon Eliasson

CREDITS HIS UNCLE FOR SUCCESS

To Lundkvist, the draft will be an adventure. But it still might not be the highlight of his year. Playing alongside his uncle Jan Sandström in Luleå during parts of his last season is an experience that’s going to be hard to beat.
“Before one of the games, we got to sit next to each other in the dressing room. That was incredibly cool, almost like a dream come true”, Lundkvist said. “And to be a part of his last game and see how the fans paid tribute to him, that was out of this world. I was incredibly proud that he was my uncle.”

Growing up with an uncle in pro hockey opened Lundkvist’s eyes early on. It gave him a great role model to mimic and learn from.
“He’s been a source of inspiration ever since I was a kid”, he said. “When I broke into the SHL it was a big relief to have him around. I’m not going to say that he protected me, but he was there to show me the ropes and anser questions when I had one. It made me feel comfortable on the team and I think that also helped me on the ice.”

I read somewhere that he used to change your diapers when you were a baby…
“(Laughter) Well, I guess so… There’s a few years difference in age.”

@UffeBodin

July 22, 2018

In the footsteps of the Sedins – Dahlén and Pettersson dream big

Elias Pettersson was awarded the 2018 Elite Prospects Award as the most prominent junior player in the SHL earlier this week. As we handed out the award to the...
July 19, 2018

And the winner is… Elias Pettersson

Since 2013, eliteprospects.com has handed out Elite Prospects Award to the best junior player in the Swedish league. This year, the jury had an easy task at han...
June 21, 2018

Grigori Denisenko – The Little Ball of Russian Hate

Picking the best player available is a common strategy during the draft. But what makes a player “the best available”? Is it talent? Attitude? A combination of...
June 19, 2018

EP Premium – a new beginning

When Johan Nilsson registered www.eliteprospects.com in his dorm room in Kalmar, Sweden back in 1999, he probably didn’t envision himself serving millions of ho...
June 19, 2018

Vitali Kravtsov – in the footsteps of Yevgeni Kuznetsov

Vitali Kravtsov was born in Vladivostok, in the far east of Russia. Today, the city has it’s own KHL team, but when he grew up, the hockey boom was yet to...
May 23, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: Detroit’s run of success finally caught up to them

After an unprecedented two-decade-long period of success that saw four Stanley Cup championships and the Hall of Fame careers of players like Steve Yzerman, Nic...
May 10, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: After disappointing season – can the Canadiens reload quickly?

If you were to sum up the 2017-18 season for the Montreal Canadiens you could probably do it in a thousand words. Or, you could do it with just one: disappointm...
May 07, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: Svechnikov or Zadina – tough choice awaits the Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes faithful may soon see the fortunes of their beleaguered franchise shift after the Canes exited the April 28th NHL draft lottery with the...
May 04, 2018

From July to May – Lias Andersson’s long journey continues

How much hockey can you play without getting burned out? If you are to believe Lias Andersson, there’s no upper limit.  And he should know. The 19 year-ol...
April 30, 2018

Swedish Olympian to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs

At 26 years of age, he’s not by any means a prospect anymore. But Pär Lindholm is a late-bloomer who has had two seasons of great progress with Skellefteå...
April 29, 2018

Clock is ticking for Valeri Nichushkin – can he make a triumphant return to the NHL?

When Valeri Nichushkin was drafted by the Dallas Stars with the 10th overall pick in 2013, it was a bit of a surprise. After all, the Russian was picked ahead o...
April 26, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: Senators strong at center, in need of game-changer

The Ottawa Senators made a lot of noise this season. Just not the right kind of noise. Coming off a 2016-17 campaign in which the  franchise reached its third e...
April 26, 2018

Erik Brännström cherishes the opportunity to compete with NHL stars

One by one, the established NHL players have taken over the Swedish World Championship squad. Stars like Oliver Ekman Larsson, John Klingberg and Mika Zibanejad...
April 24, 2018

Adam Boqvist looking forward to his second NHL draft

Unlike most of his peers, Adam Boqvist went to the NHL Entry Draft one summer before it was his draft year. Not because he wanted to learn about the event, take...
April 23, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: The Coyotes are better than they seem

It was another difficult season in the desert as the Coyotes finished with the worst record in the Western Conference. But, under the radar, Arizona had a solid...
April 23, 2018

Elias Pettersson – Swedish hockey’s new golden boy

The expectations were certainly high when Växjö Lakers signed Elias Pettersson to a three-year deal in early April last year. The young forward had just finishe...
April 18, 2018

The Playoff Report – which prospects are excelling in the postseason?

The old trusted adage that you need grit and experience to succeed in the playoffs is proving less and less true every day. Every day reports filter in from var...
April 13, 2018

Swedish prospect Filip Hållander to miss the World Juniors

Team Sweden will already be without first overall pick to be, Rasmus Dahlin, when the U18 World Championships starts in Russia next week. Unfortunately for the...
April 11, 2018

“The Black Ace” – a badge of honor for an NHL prospect

As legend has it, the origins of the term Black Ace can be traced back centuries. 1876, to be specific. That is the year in which famous Old West lawman “Wild B...
April 10, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: The Sabres need to win the draft lottery

The Buffalo Sabres became the first team ever to finish 31st in the NHL this year.  For their struggles, the Sabres will have the highest odds at the draft lott...