By and large, a NHL Entry Draft will largely consist of 18-year old prospects or 17-year old prospects who will turn 18 by September 15. Since teams are drafting the rights to players and there is an expectation of development, most of those who get drafted will do so in their first year of eligibility. However, there are a handful of players who get picked up past that. Some of those are players who didn't sign with their teams so they re-enter the draft. Others are those who got passed over in their first year, but are hoping to get picked up after a year of development. Falling into the latter category is the subject of today's prospect profile: Luleå forward Lucas Wallmark.
Who is Lucas Wallmark?
Lucas Wallmark is a relatively slight 18-year old Swedish forward. He's officially listed at Elite Prospects at 6'0" and 175 pounds. His birthday is September 5, 1995. That made him one of the younger eligible prospects in the 2013 NHL Draft. Now, he's at the older end since he'll turn 19 before 2014-15 begins. Wallmark originally came up with Björklöven before joining the Skellefteå system. After three seasons and cracking the Swedish Hockey League (no longer the Elitserien, apparently) in 2013-14, he transferred to Luleå. He largely stayed with the senior team, spending only a little time in the Allsvenskan. All the while, he's been featured on many Swedish youth international teams. His stat chart at EP is rather extensive.
Since the SHL league has a rather good stats section of their website, it's worth taking a look. Wallmark finished tied for tenth in points among junior-eligible players in the SHL. He took 40 shots, just shy of a shot per game average. He also played an average of 10:02 per game. That doesn't seem like much, but a quick scan of the other junior eligible players in the SHL shows that's common for the youth. His game-by-game stats at the SHL site shows stretches where he received additional ice time. Whether that's by necessity or a reward for good play, you'd have to ask a Luleå supporter. Lastly, he's listed at 74 kg at the SHL, which would actually make him about 163 pounds. That's not good from a size standpoint; hopefully, that's an older listing.
His international numbers stick out more. He made the move to the U-20 level last season and he was quite productive. His eight points with the silver-medal-winning team at the WJC ranked third behind Filip Forsberg and Elias Lindholm, two high quality players on Sweden. Eight points placed him for ninth overall in the tournament. While he was on a strong team, he definitely hung with drafted and to-be-drafted prospects. It appears to me that he developed as a player; but is it enough to be drafted now? That is the question.
What Others Have Said About Wallmark
Since he was a 2013-draft eligible there are bits and pieces about what others have said about him last year. It does reveal why he was passed over. Let's start with this little summary from his profile at Elite Prospects:
Wallmark has first-class hockey sense and vision. Very smart player and a highly skilled playmaker. Has good puck control and will also battle hard for the puck. Good defensive game and face-off skills. Major concern is his skating ability, as he lacks speed and acceleration. (EP, 2013)
The beginning makes one think he's desirable. It should. Offensive skill comes at a premium and someone showcasing that at a young age means it's likely they'll have it when they get older. The latter part is the killer. He's not just not big, but he's not quick or fast. That's a bad combination for a player with respect to their hopes making it to the next level.
It's because of the skills he's displayed, be it how he made into the SHL in 2012-13 and how he performed at the World U-18s, that some thought he'd be drafted anyhow. So he made several top 100 lists by various writers and magazines. Corey Pronman felt he was good enough to be ranked 61st on his list last year. Here's his summary at Hockey Prospectus. (Aside: FYI - Pronman's 2014 top 100 is available at ESPN Insider.)
Wallmark had an impressive season. He did well in the Swedish junior circuit, centered the Swedish U18 team's top line, and eventually earned some time in the Swedish tier-two pro league, producing well for a player of his age. He is a smart two-way player, who sees all of the options available to him well. He makes good decisions, and he is capable of slowing the play down. He is also effective as the point man on a power play. His above-average puck skills allow him to create space and evade checkers, but he is not a flashy dangler. He played a committed defensive game, but he will need to get stronger to have better value in that area. Still, it is safe to say that his defense is not a liability. His skating is his largest issue, as he is average if not below-average on his feet, with unimpressive speed. His size is also a concern, as he is just 5'10"-5'11".
Again - smart on the puck but the unimpressive skating plus his size held him back. This was a common refrain elsewhere. For example, here's Ben Kerr's short summary on the player on his top 90 list at Last Word in Sports. Wallmark was ranked 79th.
A playmaking centre with good vision and hockey sense. Wallmark has good stickhandling and controls the play, slowing things down so his teammates can get open. Is also a strong two-way player with good face-off skills, and can kill penalties. His skating is his weakness, as he has a short, awkward stride and poor acceleration. Has top notch skill, if he can fix the skating.
Adding to that general point, my copies of both McKeen's and Future Considerations draft guides ranked him lower in their top 100 (#87 in McKeen's, #93 in FC) but came to similar conclusions on the player. Praise for his awareness, passing, faceoff skills, defensive work, and two-play; but concerned about his lack of strength and skating. Those concerns were enough to keep him off the draft board in Newark. Particularly the skating. When Wallmark was highlighted in this January article by Mike Morreale at NHL.com, there was this quote from Goran Stubb, the NHL Director of European Scouting:
"Wallmark's skating and lack of a first-step quickness is probably the reason why he was not drafted in 2013," Stubb said. "He's a smart, skilled player. His playmaking ability and passing skills make him a prospect."
Wallmark was ranked 16th in CSS' final rankings in 2013. In this season, he was ranked 24th among European skaters at the midterm and 20th in their final rankings this year. That he played largely in the SHL along with his WJC performance, he remains on their radar. That WJC performance may be important. Kyle Woodlief of Red Line Report touched on it in this USA Today article back in January after Sweden came in second:
Others who elevated their draft stock included Wallmark, who was Sweden's best and most dangerous player in both the semis and finals. The slick center appears to have upgraded his skating (which prevented him from being drafted last year), and his 3-5-8 scoring totals nearly led Sweden to their second championship in three years.
Upgrading his skating is a big plus for him and his cause of getting drafted. It'll be up to whether other teams feel the same way. However, the main question teams should still be asking when considering Wallmark: Did he improve enough to think he can be in the NHL one day? He may be a better skater, but did the rest of his game improve to a point where it can be translated to a higher level? In April, Jacob Nystrom wrote this summary of all of the 1995-born Swedish prospects at Hockey Sverige. (You'll have to translate the linked article as it's in Swedish) He ranked Wellmark eighth, behind several drafted prospects. What he wrote about him is curious; here's the Swedish-to-English Google translation:
Was one of the players who stepped up when it most needed in the JVM and showed his hockey sense and his snappy footwork. Has performed well the times he has been on loan to Premier League but have had difficulty getting it to tune properly in SHL. Has all the prerequisites for a long career in SHL but have trouble seeing him fit in the NHL.
That is a sobering conclusion, especially since it's from someone who follows Swedish players closely. It's possible that he still has to adjust to the SHL as he's still rather young. Yet as someone who's already got an extra season over newly eligible draftees, it's reads like another point of concern to me.
A Little Video
There's a few clips of Wallmark doing things of value from the 2013-14 season. Here's a fan-cam of his first goal with Luleå. A lovely shot just above the left circle:
Speaking of good looking shots from the above the left circle, here's Wallmark quickly converting a Swedish power play against Finland in the 2014 WJC finals:
An Opinion of Sorts
There are plenty of signs that Wallmark has developed further as a player. That he is still regarded as a player with offensive skill helps his cause. That he stuck in a Sweden's top professional league - even with limited minutes - helps his cause. That he jumped up to the U-20 level and produced on a level with Sweden's top young players helps his cause. That this year's draft is supposedly weaker in talent could help considering he's a little closer to being a "known quantity."
However, he remains a small forward who's skating is suspect. That's what apparently put teams off from him last year. That there is some indication that his skating has gotten better is encouraging. Yet, he's a year older and while a scout may note his improvements, a scout may realize that his upside may truly be limited. He may develop into a fine SHL player. But would his skill set translate in a more physical North American game? Would his skating issues present a problem on a smaller rink? Now that he's handled playing against men in Sweden, can he excel against them elsewhere? Would he want to battle through the AHL before getting a shot at the NHL? These are valid questions and how they're answered will answer the main one: Did he improve enough to think he can be in the NHL one day? So while what he's done in 2013-14 could be enough for a team take a chance on him late in the draft, I understand it's possible that he doesn't get drafted and any path to the NHL may have to come from free agency in the future.
Would I want the Devils to take a chance on him? His skilled game would partially fill a dearth among prospects in the system, but even if he does make it, how good could he really be? Being small and not fast is a bad combination. Even being productive at a lower level won't overcome that; similar to Joe Whitney. That all said, I think it depends on how far he falls. While he is ranked 20th among European skaters, which is about the third or fourth round; he got passed over in all seven rounds last year with a higher ranking. So despite all the encouraging signs, I think if he gets drafted, it'll be rather late in 2014. Past the third round, I actually wouldn't mind the Devils taking a flyer on him. Who knows, maybe he continues to grow and becomes somebody. For Wallmark, though, it'll be interesting whether any team thinks that way about him.
What's your own opinion of Wallmark? Have you been able to see him perform (such as at the 2014 WJCs) and if so, what did you think? Would you want the Devils to draft him if he's available? Do you think any team will draft him this year? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Lucas Wallmark in the comments. Thank you for reading.