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Anton Lundell: Florida's Next Top Star

The Panthers welcomed rookie Anton Lundell into the fold this season, and the 12th overall pick in the 2020 draft has not disappointed.
Anton Lundell

The Florida Panthers have been one of the premier teams in the NHL this season, thanks to a deep lineup featuring a Finnish center who excels at both ends of the ice. Check that: two Finnish centers who excel at both ends of the ice.

While captain Aleksander Barkov has been his usual excellent self, the Panthers have also welcomed rookie Anton Lundell into the fold, and the 12th overall pick in the 2020 draft has not disappointed. Lundell, who had five assists in a late January win over Columbus, has been one of the NHL's top freshman scorers and Florida’s most frequently used penalty-killing forward.

Given the similarities, it’s hard not to think of Lundell as ‘Barkov Junior’ right now, and the Cats’ captain gets the comparison. “We’re both trying to play the game the same way,” Barkov said. “We want to score goals and be in the offensive zone as much as possible, but at the same time, we’re going to be responsible and reliable in our own end. He has a lot of skill, good stickhandling and high hockey IQ – he can see the ice so well. He’s really fun to watch.”

As for Lundell, his initial North American experience has been thoroughly gratifying already: Barkov was one of the NHLers he followed before coming over, and now he sees him practically every day. “He’s the leader and has been here many years,” Lundell said. “He’s one of the best players in the league, and you can see him every day, putting the work in. I can take things he does and put them in my game.”

Barkov also took care of Lundell when he arrived in Florida, inviting the 20-year-old to live with him for a couple of months as he found his footing. “That was very generous of him,” Lundell said. “I’m a boy from Finland, and I had never lived in the U.S., so everything was new. When you go to the grocery store, there’s like 25 different kinds of fish and so many different meats. It’s so much bigger and very different. He helped me so much and still helps me.”

For Barkov, it was a matter of paying it forward. When he first came to Florida, the team had one Finnish player, Sean Bergenheim, and one Russian in Dmitry Kulikov (Barkov’s dad is Russian, so he spoke Russian and Finnish but not much English). Both helped him adjust to life in the United States, so he wanted to do the same for Lundell – introducing him to Whole Foods for organic and healthy groceries and going out for meals together frequently. Barkov also saw that Lundell made good decisions on his own and found his way quickly (the youngster now has his own place in Florida).

On the ice, the adjustment has been rather seamless for Lundell, and staying home instead of coming to North America last season played a significant role. In his second full year in the Liiga with HIFK in Helsinki, Lundell pumped up his offensive contributions and wore a letter for the team he grew up supporting – the same team his father, Jan, played goalie for back in the day. “It was huge that I stayed there,” he said. “I played big minutes, I was a key player and I used that time to improve my game and grow as a person, too. I played at the world juniors and the World Championship, where I was able to show everybody I could play against older players and even NHL players. The season had so many chapters and was really important for me.”

Lundell was a powerhouse for Finland at the WJC, captaining the squad to a bronze medal and putting up a team-high 10 points in seven games. Funny enough, Lundell already had a gold medal from the 2019 tournament when, as an underager, he assisted on Kaapo Kakko’s winner in the final against the U.S. He missed the 2020 event due to injury, but the international game has been good for him so far: at the 2021 World Championship, he led Finland in scoring en route to a silver medal in Latvia.

Now that he’s in the NHL, the mission is a Stanley Cup, and the Panthers are one of the contenders now and for the foreseeable future. He might have been new in town, but Lundell got a good vibe right away. “When I came here, I knew we would have a really good team and really good coaches,” he said. “I had only heard good things about the organization and that things are going in the right way. Last season, I saw they were doing really well, so I was excited to come. You never know until the season starts, but during training camp, I could really see the potential.”

That potential became apparent once the campaign began – from the team’s cornerstone center to its newest two-way beast-in-the-making. 

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