One of the growing trends in the draft is the increase of European players coming to North America to hone their game. The reasoning behind it can be for many reasons. It could be that the prospect wishes to learn the domestic style and get used to the smaller rink to be better prepared for the next level. It could be more personal, what with the prospect taking advantage of the opportunity to play abroad. Whatever the reasoning may be, top European prospects can come from the the U.S. college and Canadian major junior leagues.
The subject for today's prospect profile, forward Gabriel Landeskog fits that bill to a "T." After coming up through Djurgårdens IF, he moved to Canada to play for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League at 16 years old. This article by Chris Pope at the Good Point has the story behind the move. After the jump, let's learn why Landeskog is among the top prospects available for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Who is Gabriel Landeskog?
Gabriel Landeskog is a left winger for the Kitchener Rangers. Per Eliteprospects' profile page on him, he's officially listed at 6'0" and 201 pounds. He was born on November 23, 1992; so he has a late-ish birthdate. Landeskog did turn 18 during his most recent season. As noted prior to the jump, while he grew up in Sweden, he moved to Canada all by himself to play for Kitchener. Most of all, he's had a very busy hockey career so far both at the club and international level.
That is a lot of work - such is the result of being a very talented young hockey player. The production is certainly enticing. You may not be thrilled with 36 goals and 66 games immediately, but do note that he missed most of the World Junior Championships and 15 OHL games with a high ankle sprain at the WJCs. 15 games may not seem like a lot, but it's over a fifth of the OHL regular season. That he averaged 0.679 goals per game and 1.24 points per game speaks to his production in his shortened season with Kitchener.
Speaking of, well, speaking, Landeskog was named the captain of the Kitchener Rangers in 2010-11. According to this article by Ryan Kennedy in The Hockey News, he does more than just lead by example but in the locker room as well. He's picked up on the language very quickly; and his style of play has endeared him to his teammates and his coach.
It has also endeared him to many scouts. According to his prospect profile card at NHL.com, Central Scouting Services named him the top North American prospect in their midterm rankings and dropped him to second in their final ranks despite the injury. International Scouting Services has him fourth among all eligible players in this coming draft based on their most recent list at Hockey's Future. Kyle Woodlief at Red Line Report named Landeskog their second best forward in this coming draft in this recent USA Today article. Landeskog has received a lot of praise coming into this draft, let's go in deeper as to why that is.
What Experts Have Said About Landeskog
The NHL.com prospect profile page on Landeskog features these two quotes from Central Scouting Services. It's a good place to start as any.
NHL Central Scouting’s Peter Sullivan
"Gabriel does remind me of former Kitchener Ranger (and Philadelphia Flyers captain) Mike Richards. He sticks up for his teammates and is as strong at both ends of the rink as any player in the draft this year. He competes as hard if not harder than anybody. He's got all the assets that you need to be a team leader and, for a potential No. 1 overall, that's what you would want."
NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards
“He is a good-size guy who is solid on his skates, not afraid to take the puck to the net or battle for it along the boards. His skating is very good in all areas. He plays the game with so much passion, he plays the game hard, he's a great mentor for players that are younger and older, maturity beyond his years. (He) doesn't need one game in the American league next year -- he should step right into the NHL. I think the team that gets him next year is going to get a player that helps them win a Stanley Cup.”
Both Sullivan and Edwards are high on Landeskog, which makes sense since CSS ranked him very highly. They like his size, the use of his size, and his general play. I also want to point out that these quotes are example of two themes that are commonly associated with Landeskog. The first is the notion that he's the most "NHL-ready" prospect in the draft with his skillset and maturity. The second is a comparison to Mike Richards, who was also a captain for Kitchener and would do-anything-on-the-ice for his team. While I can't respect all of Richards does on the ice - no true fan should - it's a very complimentary comparison.
Kyle Woodlief's blurb on Landeskog in his recent USA Today article touches on that first theme, which also briefly summarizes why he's so highly rated by Red Line Report (and incidentally lists him as a right winger):
Gabriel Landeskog is a terrific all-around talent who can both distribute and snipe. He can beat you with a big hit, a creative set-up, a clutch goal, or a huge shot block on the penalty kill. In short, he's the most complete and NHL ready of all the forwards in this year's crop. As an import from Sweden, he was the first European ever named captain of the prestigious and historic Kitchener Rangers franchise, which should speak volumes about his character and leadership. He makes others around him better.
That's all well and good, but it's missing on the Mike Richards theme. Fortunately, Brian Huddle's profile at The Hockey Writers more than makes up for that. In fact, the title of his profile proclaims him to be "The Next Mike Richards." Rather than tell you what Huddle found his strengths to be, let me quote what he found to be his weaknesses:
Flaws/Aspects He Needs To Work On:
- Continue to get stronger
- First step quickness needs continued improvement to make bigger impact at NHL Level
- Add power to shot
If a prospect only has these weaknesses and all else is good, then he's a very good prospect, indeed. It's also evidence that while he may be "NHL-ready," he's not set in terms of development - which is a positive in of itself. You wouldn't want to draft someone who has peaked or come close to peaking at only age 18.
Mark Stepneski at ESPN Dallas has this profile on Landeskog with two notable points. The first is that the only negative listed is his "finishing" - nothing about power (shot, body) or skating. The second is a quote from a scout from The Hockey News 2011 Draft Guide that's in Stepneski's profile:
"He's the best player in the draft. He could have played in the NHL two years ago. If he didn't care about defense, he'd score 50 goals just for fun." - A scout, quoted in The Hockey News Draft Preview 2011
That's incredible praise. And a bit hyperbolic since he wouldn't have put up 50 goals in the OHL if he maintained his 2010-11 goal scoring rate over 68 games. Though, 46 wouldn't be anything to sneeze at. Still, it gives an idea of how some scouts are just in love with the player. However, I like my reports with more detail. One such person who has broken it down is Kirk Luedeke of Bruins 2011 Draft Watch. In his review of the OHL prospects after their regular season ended, he named Landeskog the top draft eligible player out of the league with a glowing report. Here's a snippet of it:
Landeskog finished with 36 goals and 66 points in 53 games with 61 penalty minutes, demonstrating that he can finish and plays with an edge, but isn't an undisciplined player. You have to look long and hard for any flaws in Landeskog's game, and his character, intelligence and attitude are beyond his years as an 18-year-old who had his birthday in November. Landeskog is not huge- only about 6-0/6-1 but is a very stout 205 pounds and has a lot of upper- and lower-body strength. He's a good skater who isn't a blazer, but does have nice jump and can separate. He's very strong on his skates and uses that lower leg drive to go right to the net, fight off defenders and make things happen in close. He can fire the puck off the rush, but while his drive is heavy, it's not all that overpowering, so he does his best work between the hashmarks. Landeskog sees the ice well and distributes the puck as his pretty even split of goals and assists attests. .
The strength of his game is in his completeness as a player: he can play the finesse game or grind it out, blocks shots, kills penalties, fights and does whatever his team needs him to do. He's compared a lot to Jarome Iginla, which is apropos, considering Landeskog looks up to the Calgary captain the most as his model player. He not only passed on going the traditional route via Swedish Elite League to come to North America, but plays a decidedly North American-style game. The only real criticism you'll find with Landeskog is in his ultimate upside, as his overall skill level is not as high as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Strome or even Jonathan Huberdeau. But in the end, because he does so many things well and is a heart-and-soul player, he's going inside the top-four of the 2011 draft, end of story.
Luedeke has a lot of good things to say. Just as importantly, he mentions the reason why he's not a sure-fire #1 overall pick: upside. While he could do , the risk is that he may not develop into much more than what he already is in terms of a player. Fortunately, what he currently does is very desirable for pretty much any team. I also thank Luedeke for not comparing him to Mike Richards, but to Jarome Iginla - an elite power forward in a league that really doesn't have too many of them. Incidentally, in an interview with Tom on this very site last month, Luedeke described him as a hybrid of Mats Sundin and Brendan Shanahan. If that's the kind of player he is, then who really cares if his skill level projects as high as others in the draft?
Scott Campbell and The Scouting Report more plainly state the "upside" issue in their little blurb about Landeskog in their top 25 skater rankings. TSR has him third overall, but they caution against those thinking he could be a dominant offensive force:
A sophomore season in North America proved to be exactly what the doctor ordered for Gabriel Landeskog. After coming over with high expectations last season, the reviews were fairly lukewarm on the Swede until his impressive play-off run. This season, Landeskog picked up where he left off and has ascended to the top of the NHL draft board. He’s not going to be a dominant goal-scorer at the next level, but Landeskog has a great package of competitiveness, offensive talent, and the ability to dominate the play in tough areas on the ice. He projects as a 30/30 type player who has all the intangibles coaches and team’s love to have.
Finally, I'd like to defer to Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus. Unlike most of the others I have quoted and linked to so far, Pronman isn't as high on Landeskog as the others. He doesn't have him in his own top 10; making a very interesting case to justify his decision. Rather than quote his entire opinion, I'm going to focus on these two bits from his post, which you should definitely read.
While Landeskog is very strong on the puck, the most notable weakness of his game is that his puck skills as a whole are fringe to below-average and he won't be doing things with the puck in the NHL beyond the basics, but his smarts and vision allow him to at least be economical with the puck and not a liability.
Landeskog does a ton of things well and/or at an above-average level. He can skate, shoot, thinks the game well, is a physical beast, and has off-the-chart intangibles on top of other things. There is just one thing he can't do, which is his puck skills that I've graded as fringe, and the fact is for qualities in forwards I have that as the most important as it's the most critical quality needed to control possession. It keeps him from being a top puck-possessor and hurts his offensive ceiling. To summarize, I think Gabriel Landeskog will be a fantastic player at what he does, but what he does is not something I think will be of higher value compared to other prospects above him.
Pronman's analysis of Landeskog gets to the heart of the matter regarding his upside being a concern, and it actually makes selecting him a little more risky than others have suggested. That Pronman noted that other assets - vision and intelligence - make up for this; but it could be something that gets exposed at the next level if it doesn't get any better. It also could be a good reason as any to not throw him into the NHL right away regardless of how "NHL ready" he may be.
A Little Video
There are several highlight videos of Gabriel Landeskog available. So here's one where he's scoring goals, fighting a guy after a big hit on his teammate, and finishing plays. You can't miss him in this one, he's wearing #92.
An Opinion of Sorts
I'll be frank. I doubt Gabriel Landeskog drops out of the top 3. However, I'm doing this profile on him because it's entirely possible if one of Edmonton, Colorado, or Florida really likes Jonathan Huberdeau, Sean Couturier or someone else such that Landeskog would be the odd man out and so he'd be available at fourth overall. Should the Devils take him? Not unlike Couturier, Landeskog seems to be a safe prospect to pick. Virtually all reports on the skater, even Corey Pronman's, either like or love a lot what he does on the ice. From his vision, to his smarts, to his physical game, to his strength, to his shot, to his skating, and even all the way to intangibles. Which is really impressive since intangibles aren't even measurable. As much as I don't like Mike Richards, that his game has been often compared to him tells me that this is at least a prime prospect.
The criticisms surrounding Landeskog aren't very much, but what has been said is either correctable and will come to him with more development, or more serious - namely the issue of his potential ceiling. There aren't many power forwards in the NHL, so if Landeskog just becomes a NHL-level power forward, then I think that would be very fine on it's own. Pronman's profile is the only one that comes out and states something specific about Landeskog's game that isn't quite good, so I wonder if it's just his own observation or evidence that Landeskog isn't all that ready just yet. It's not enough to dissuade me from considering him as a selection for the New Jersey Devils, though I have some questions of my own.
First, can Landeskog play on the right side? I've seen him mostly listed as a left wing. I know you're supposed to draft the best player available; but this is a legitimate question. Given the Devils will have some guy named Ilya Kovalchuk for a while and possibly another guy named Zach Parise for a while, then there's not going to be a lot of room left on the left wing. If Landeskog can, then that's good for him in the Devils' system. If not, then that may make for another issue in terms of future lineup. Second, after hearing that he's the most NHL-ready prospect, is he going to have any problems with playing in the OHL for another season or two? The Devils won't have the cap space to put him into the lineup if they draft him, and honestly, being the "most NHL-ready" doesn't actually mean you're NHL-ready. It's only relative to the other prospects. Besides, I get the sense from these reports that Landeskog could stand to improve his puck skills and in general before throwing him into the NHL.
Third, and perhaps more importantly, is what he brings to the table more desirable than the other prospects? While it's been taken for granted to a degree that he'll be a top-3 guy, if he's available, then is he a player the Devils should take over Couturier or Huberdeau? I think selecting Landeskog would be a good idea. A very justifiable pick. Something I would be pleased with. As all of these experts have stated - even Pronman's profile - the Devils would be getting a very talented winger. But is it the best one should he be available? I'm not so certain. Just as his falling out of the top 3 depends on who gets selected ahead of him, whether the Devils should jump on him will depend on whether he's really the best prospect available.
Now that you've read what is out there about Gabriel Landeskog, I want to know what you think. Are you similarly impressed of all the praise he has received; or does that just make any criticism stick out more to you? Are you concerned about his potential upside? If he's available at fourth overall, should the Devils run up to the podium to take him, or should they take someone else over Landeskog? Lastly, did you see Landeskog play or know of any other good reports on him? If so, then please share them in the comments along with other thoughts on Landeskog. Thanks for reading.