With the ninth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the Vancouver Canucks could have some decent two-way options available to them. Maybe they could get a gritty two-way centre in Mason McTavish, a rangy defensive defenceman in Simon Edvinsson, or a shutdown centre in Fyodor Svechkov.
But what if the Canucks are hoping to get a future first-line forward?
Maybe Kent Johnson has that upside, though he’s more likely a second-line winger, or the Canucks could pray that Dylan Guenther or William Eklund falls to them, but there are a few other players that might have first-line potential.
The Canucks could take a chance on a one-dimensional scorer like Chaz Lucius or Cole Sillinger, but they might be better off going back to Sweden, where they’ve found two other talented forwards in recent years: Elias Pettersson and Nils Höglander.
The most talented player available to the Canucks at ninth overall could be Fabian Lysell, a dynamic winger with speed, skill, and scoring touch.
Opinions are more widely split on Lysell than almost any other player in the draft. There are several outlets that see him as a top-ten pick. He’s ranked as high as 5th overall by Dobber Prospects, with Elite Prospects ranking him 9th overall, right where the Canucks are picking.
Where does the truth lie? Is Lysell a top-ten talent worth taking at ninth overall by the Canucks? Let’s take a closer look.
Fabian Lysell by the numbers
Lysell is a smaller winger at 5’10” and 172 lbs and will need to add more size and strength to his frame before reaching the NHL. His smaller size, however, didn’t keep him from playing 26 games against men in the SHL this season for Lulea.
That is one of the most encouraging numbers for Lysell. Only three first-time draft-eligible prospects played more SHL games than Lysell this past season and he likely would have played more if he wasn’t stuck in the junior Nationell league with Frolunda to start the season.
Sticking in the SHL for that many games as an 18-year-old is a good sign, even if he only had three points. It’s important to note that he averaged just 7:22 per game to put that lack of point production in perspective. For what it’s worth, he had a 50.9% corsi in those limited minutes, so he at least held his own in puck possession.
He was able to put up more points against his junior-aged peers. He had 13 points in 11 games in the Nationell league — fifth in points-per-game among first-time draft-eligible prospects — and took a starring role for Sweden at the World Under-18 Championships, leading the team in scoring with 9 points in 7 games. That’s solid production for a winger on a Swedish team that essentially had no quality centres to feed him the puck.
While it would have been nice to see a few more points from Lysell at every level, he put up enough points that it’s not a red flag, particularly when you watch him play.
Lysell is worth the excitement
More than most players in this draft, Lysell is fun to watch.
“Fabian Lysell, to me, is truly one of the very few really exciting talents available in this year’s draft,” said prospect analyst Will Scouch in his review of Lysell’s game. “And that goes both with and without the puck.”
Lysell’s calling card is his skating and he can flat-out fly around the ice. His skating mechanics are impeccable, giving him excellent acceleration and speed. When he has the puck on his stick in the neutral zone, he attacks opposing defencemen and gives them nightmares with his agile edgework and quick hands.
“When Lysell is feeling it, there isn’t much the opposition can do to stop him,” said Elite Prospect’s Cam Robinson. “Lysell’s a human highlight reel, a master manipulator who weaponizes layer upon layer of deception to send opposing defenders into the spin cycle.”
With his speed, agility, and hands, Lysell is exceptionally dangerous off the rush. He backs defencemen off with his speed, baits them into reaching for the puck, then suddenly cuts inside to leave them standing flat-footed in his wake.
In fact, one of his few flaws is that he has a tendency to constantly play at top speed.
“His pace is extremely high and at times it is too high,” said Scouch. “There just isn’t a lot of dynamic push-and-pull with his game. He’s just going flat-out a lot and it works out a lot of the time, but it would be nice to see him be able to control himself a little bit more and control his pace.”
“If Lysell changed speeds more often, that would take his rush offence to an even better place,” said Robinson.
A dual-threat to both score goals and set up chances
Lysell isn’t just dangerous off the rush, however. He can also create off the cycle, darting into open areas to score goals or controlling the puck in small spaces to open up passing lanes. This goal for Lulea in the SHL is an example of quickly identifying a lapse in defensive coverage and swooping into position to take advantage with a quick release.
While some scouts praise his shot — one scout quoted in The Hockey News described him as a sniper — others suggest his shot projects closer to NHL average and won’t necessarily be a major strength of his game at the NHL level. Fortunately, he’s also aan adept playmaker.
“Lysell spots teammates through layers, and has the deft touch to get them the puck when the time is right,” said Robinson.
“I think what keeps him in our top-10 and maybe even high is his passing ability,” said Elite Prospects’ David St-Louis in one game report from the SHL. “He can hit tight seams and do so in precarious positions.”
I’m particularly fond of this play in the neutral zone, where he quickly gets into position at the far boards, takes the pass, then identifies that none of his teammates are ready for a dump-in. He controls the puck, sucks in a defender, then hits a teammate with a pass through the defender’s legs for a clean zone entry with possession.
“His vision and patience and execution of dangerous pass attempts in the offensive zone was really, really solid, so I think he projects more reliably as a playmaker off the boards, rather than a scoring offensive player,” said Scouch. “There was just a tremendous playmaker’s toolkit that came out at the SHL level.”
The trouble was that his teammates in the SHL weren’t finishing on his setups, perhaps because he was playing with fourth liners. Perhaps with more talented linemates, Lysell would have tallied more than 3 points in 26 games.
Lysell is not a one-way winger
What sets Lysell apart from some of the other dynamic, offensive wingers that might be available at ninth overall is that he brings more to the table than just his offensive skill. He is also adept defensively and works just as hard without the puck.
“He’s a strong offensive generator but he’s even better defensively,” said DraftPro’s Anton Johansson. “He’ll come back into the play to disrupt or strip a puck from his opponents before making headway back up the ice.”
Teenagers don’t tend to stick in the SHL in their draft year unless they can hang defensively, especially for a demanding coach like he has in Lulea. In his limited minutes, Lysell showed a tremendous work rate defensively to win pucks.
“Do not, for one second of your precious, precious life, let anyone tell you that Lysell is too focused on offence, doesn’t care about defence, and takes his foot off the gas pedal too much,” said Scouch. “If someone tells you that, I don’t think they’re really paying attention to what he’s doing on the ice.”
Lysell uses his exceptional skating to track down the puck all over the ice. He’s strong puck pursuit is in all areas of the ice, as he pours on the pressure on the forecheck and looks to steal pucks from opponents at every opportunity.
“He scans regularly, reloads to support his defencemen, tracks well through the neutral zone, and his work rate never wanes,” said Robinson.
Essentially, Lysell is an offensively-skilled winger who already understands at a young age that the way to create the most offence is to play good defence to get the puck in the first place. To be honest, that aggressive puck pursuit and desire to win the puck in every area of the ice is reminiscent of Elias Pettersson in his draft year.
So, why is he ranked so low by some experts? Certainly he didn’t produce in the SHL like William Eklund, who is expected to be a top-five pick this year, but that’s not it. Instead, there are rumoured “off-ice issues.”
Bad attitude or justifiably confident?
Don’t be too worried about the purported off-ice issues. As The Hockey News puts it, they’re not “nefarious.” Instead, the rumours suggest he’s arrogant and has attitude problems.
The rumours stem from Lysell seeking to play in the SHL in his draft year, with his club, Frolunda, unwilling to grant him an opportunity on their roster. As a result, he was transferred to Lulea, who were willing to give him a spot in their SHL lineup.
The question is whether that’s really a lack of humility or if he was simply confident in his own ability to play at that level and frustrated that he wasn’t getting the chance to prove himself.
“If this kid has confidence and forced his way into the SHL and ends up playing like this, I think he’s on the right track and he’s betting on himself and is actually making a good bet on himself,” said Scouch. “If that’s what you consider attitude problems or arrogance, that’s your prerogative.”
Lysell certainly doesn’t play selfishly on the ice. He plays a team-first game with his commitment to defence and his playmaking ability. In interviews, he sounds confident rather than arrogant and he seems very self-aware of the steps he needs to take to get to the next level.
“You’ve got to improve everything, especially the things that you’re good at because that’s the thing that separates you,” said Lysell on the Future Sickos Podcast. “But, for now, improving strength in the corners to protect the puck, especially when I played against men this year...you get pretty exhausted after a while.”
What’s the upside for Lysell?
The question for the Canucks is whether the concerns with his attitude or limited production are enough to scare them off from selecting him with the ninth-overall pick because his upside is enormous.
“Lysell’s skill is undeniable, and it sets an almost uniquely high ceiling among the players in this draft,” said Robinson.
At the NHL level, Lysell can be a catalyst, the type of player that does something positive every time he steps on the ice, whether that’s breaking up an opponent’s scoring chance, driving the puck up ice, or creating a dangerous scoring chance. He has the potential to be a first-line winger.
“Lysell is one of the few players in this draft where I feel like his ceiling is almost non-existent,” said Scouch. “If someone wanted to sell him to me as a first-overall pick at a draft table, I would have a lot of time for that discussion, to be perfectly honest. It’s gutsy, it’s risky, but I certainly think I’d have time for that discussion.”
Scouch isn’t the only one who saw first-overall potential in Lysell.
“One of my personal favourite players on the ice during the 2021 NHL Draft evaluation process and he was my midseason number one,” said Dobber Prospect’s Tony Ferrari. “His play certainly warrants a position near the top of the board even if the counting stats didn’t show up regularly at the SHL level.”
The Athletic’s Corey Pronman has a less optimistic view of Lysell, but still sees him as a top-six forward.
“Lysell projects as a second-line winger who has the talent to dominate an NHL shift but may frustrate observers too,” said Pronman, who has him ranked 22nd overall.
The nice thing about Lysell is that he’s not really a boom-or-bust prospect. He has a high ceiling, but with his work rate and defensive habits, he has a high floor as well. At the very least, he should find an NHL role as a bottom-six winger. Compared to some other skilled forwards that could be available at ninth overall, there’s less inherent risk with Lysell.
Oddly enough, if the Canucks do select Lysell, they won’t be the first Vancouver team to draft him. He was selected by the Vancouver Giants in the CHL Import Draft but chose to stay in Sweden. Perhaps the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic played a role in that decision.
He might end up in Vancouver anyway. It all depends on where he lands on their draft board — is he top-five or top-ten like some independent scouts think he should be or does he land further down their list? There might not be another player more talented available at ninth overall.