The Second City Hockey staff will be profiling players who could be available at the No. 11 spot in the 2021 NHL Draft, where the Blackhawks will make their first-round selection. The draft starts Friday, June 23.
During their Stanley Cup winning years, the Blackhawks were one of the fastest teams in the league, able to transition better than almost any other team in a way that led to dominating puck possession. It’s partially due to their success that speed and skating have become so important to the NHL today. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks have been lapped when it comes to this talent, only recently starting to restock with strong skaters and build up team speed. For this reason, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Blackhawks opted to select perhaps the fastest, best skating winger in the 2021 NHL draft: Fabian Lysell.
Age: 18 (Jan. 30, 2003)
Hometown: North Vancouver, BC, CAN
Weight: 172 pounds
Team: Luleå HF (SHL, Sweden)
NHL Central Scouting (NHL): No. 9 European skaters
Elite Prospects: No. 9
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): No. 13
Corey Pronman (The Athletic): No. 22
Cam Robinson (Dobber Prospects): No. 3
Craig Button (TSN): No. 14
Lysell is an enticing prospect as he has some of the most raw potential in the 2021 NHL draft. He’s always played above his age group and dominated in a way few teenagers do, including 86 points (44 G, 42 A) in 41 games as a 15-year-old, split between U16 and U18 leagues in Sweden. This dominance continued partially into this past season as he racked up 13 points (3 G, 11 A) in 11 games with Frolunda HC’s J20 team, but he did see his production drop significantly while skating with Luleå HF in the top SHL league the latter half of the season.
Lysell had just three points (two goals, one assist) in 26 SHL games — which is underwhelming — but much of that was due to how he was being used: he was being eased into playing against men in one of the top leagues in the world, focusing on the fundamentals rather than the offensive output. Lysell was still quite noticeable in positive ways, even if the point totals were lacking.
Where production wasn’t lacking was at the 2021 World U18 Championships, where Lysell produced nine points (3 G, 6 A) while co-captaining the Swedes to a bronze medal. His playmaking really stood out at this tournament: he was in the 98th percentile for expected assists per 60 and 90th percentile for actual shot assists per 60. Lysell was often the offensive catalyst for his team both at 5-on-5 and on the power play, both in setting up his teammates and by pushing pace with high energy shifts.
Obviously Lysell’s skating is his best attribute, often described as close to technically perfect as you can get. His first step, acceleration and straight-line speed are arguably the best in the draft class. His edgework is top-notch, able to cut around players at full-speed or out maneuver them in tight spaces. Lysell does need to learn to change speeds a bit quicker (he likes breakneck speeds best), but that’s something that can come with experience.
Lysell is also one of the top puck handlers and playmakers in the draft, especially adept at deceiving defenders, making them look like fools. Lysell is great at fakes and often makes defenders uncomfortable with confronting him one-on-one. He’s not at Kent Johnson’s level of elite passing, but he might be the next closest in the draft in terms of creativity — especially when in motion.
Defensive, Lysell can typically hold his own and he’s definitely willing to engage in the defensive zone. He’s on the smaller side (he’s Patrick Kane sized) and needs to add strength to be more effective as he transitions to higher leagues, but his high work ethic currently makes up for deficiencies. Good vision makes stripping players of the puck and intercepting passes relatively easy for him. He’s relentless on the backcheck — a puck hound like Brandon Hagel but with top-six quality hands.
So why is Lysell a player with some of the most wide draft ranking spreads among evaluators? As mentioned above, size and strength is an issue for some, and while his shot is good, he tends to defer to passing instead even when he’s in a good location to shoot himself. Some scouts have concerns about Lysell’s skillset translating against better competition where his speed and puck handling won’t stand out as much.
Most of the players in this draft are imperfect and Lysell is no exception, but he has some of the most tantalizing skill. For more perspective on Johnson, check out the profiles done by sibling site All About the Jersey.
While the Blackhawks top-six wingers aren’t slow by any means, none really possess game-breaking speed either. Patrick Kane, Alex Debrincat, and Dominik Kubalik are all good skaters with above average speed but are not burners. Beyond them there’s a few speedsters but few — if any — who have top-line skill potential.
Hagel has excellent straight-line speed, but his hands are so-so, and it’s unknown really which line he’s actually best suited. Alex Nylander was quick in transition with great hands, but he’s been inconsistent and missed the 2021 season while recovering from knee surgery. Vinnie Hinostroza and Adam Gaudette are both undeniably fast, but their future with the Blackhawks is murky at the moment: one is a UFA with no reports of re-signing yet and the other is exposed in the Seattle expansion draft and hasn’t shown he can consistently play in the NHL yet (much less top-six).
With speed being such a premium in today’s NHL, Lysell’s stock is high just on that merit, but it’s his skating combined with top-six potential that makes him an interesting option for the Blackhawks.