Name: Isac Lundestrom
Team: Lulea HF (SHL)
Stats: 42 GP, 6 goals, 9 assists, 15 points, 14 PIMs, +7 plus-minus rating
NHL Central Scouting Ranking: 8th (European skaters)
NHL Comparable Player: Andrew Cogliano
When it comes to scouting and the annual NHL entry draft, a common descriptor that is used to describe many players is “safe pick.” What this generally means is a prospect that seems incredibly likely to go on to a long and successful NHL career, but won’t necessarily ever be a superstar or a team’s best player.
For some, this term comes with an inherently negative connotation. Every draft produces prospects with tall ceilings — high-scoring forwards, first-pairing defensemen, starting goalies, etc. So why would teams bother drafting players that they themselves believe will likely only develop into, say, reliable checking line forwards?
The simple truth is that drafting and development are complicated disciplines, and in many cases it’s hard to accurately determine if a young player with oodles of talent will have what it takes to handle the challenges of professional hockey.
That big, strong defenseman who dominates against teenagers in the QMJHL? He might not have the instincts or quick decision-making needed to succeed in the much faster NHL, keeping him stuck down in the AHL. That flashy OHL forward who can dangle for days and looks like Patrick Kane on some shifts? He might have attitude and work ethic issues, and end up being a guy that doesn’t make it far in the pros because he doesn’t take the training and lifestyle of professional hockey seriously.
And that hypothetical “safe” player who got chosen immediately after these aforementioned two? If he goes on to play 1,000 NHL games, even just as a support player, he’ll easily end up being the best player out of the three.
All of this brings us, in a very roundabout way, to Swedish center Isac Lundestrom.
Lundestrom is a player that scouts are very familiar with by now because of two reasons: he’s a late 1999 birthday, so he’s played more games than most others in his draft class, and because he’s been a staple for Sweden at all the big international junior tournaments, from the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge through the Ivan Hlinka and the IIHF U18s all the way to this past winter’s World Juniors.
The Swedish Ice Hockey Association absolutely loves Lundestrom because he’s incredibly reliable and trustworthy. A smart, hard-working pivot who has clearly been coached well at every level he’s come up through, Lundestrom is the type of player that can do everything, from logging power play minutes to being tasked with shutting down the top forwards on opposing teams.
His advanced maturity and professionalism are why he’s spent the majority of the past two seasons in the SHL, including making his debut in the pro league at just 16 years of age. In 2017-2018 he picked up 15 points in 42 games for Lulea while playing primarily as the team’s third line center.
In terms of individual skills, the 6’0”, 185-pound Lundestrom doesn’t really bring anything flashy to the table. His best physical asset is his skating, possessing quick acceleration and a nice top gear that can create separation from defenders. He does shoot the puck well, with a snappy wrist shot that has a lot of accuracy, and he is an effective tape-to-tape passer, but there’s not really anything here that suggests Lundestrom will be a major point-producer at the NHL level.
Even though he lacks the ability to draw “oohs” and “aahs” from fans, that does not mean that Lundestrom can’t be a big difference-maker in the NHL.
He uses the tools that he does have, along with his smarts and work ethic, to be a 200-foot player who drives possession and keeps opponents in check. It may sound cliché, but Lundestrom really is the type of player that teams win with. This is also suggested through some of the available analytics about him.
There’s no doubt that Lundestrom is a very good prospect who looks entirely capable of going on to a long NHL career, but does he make sense as an option for the Dallas Stars with their 13th overall pick?
The Stars need to add more centers to their prospect pool, and this year’s draft is weaker than most for players at that position, so that’s a factor. Another perk about Lundestrom is that, because of his late birthday, professionalism and pro experience, he’s closer to being ready for the NHL than many of his cohorts. Lundestrom might already be NHL-ready by 2019-2020, whereas other prospects might need as much as two or three years more than that before they will be ready. For a Stars team that is in win-now mode, this could come into play.
The big question, really, will come down to what the Stars think about other prospects who might also still be on the board at 13th. If they see someone else that they think has a higher upside without very much risk, Lundestrom could be bumped down their list. On the other hand, if Dallas sees too much risk in other players and wants to elect for the sure thing, Lundestrom could certainly be their man.