Three of the Devils’ last four first round picks have been forwards from Sweden. So if Director of Scouting David Conte calls Stockholm native Gabriel Landeskog to the stage on June 24, one may be tempted to expect more of the same. However, Landeskog is a much different player than his countrymen, and actually fits the profile of a typical Canadian or American player.
Landeskog began his hockey career with Djurgårdens IF, the same club where current Devils prospects Jacob Josefson and Alexander Urbom got their starts. But after just two seasons, he left Sweden for the Ontario Hockey League and has played for the Kitchener Rangers ever since. As a result, the 6’0, 201 lb right-winger will go into this year’s draft as a North American player, and is second to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, not Adam Larsson, in Central Scouting’s final rankings.
The Devils are already very well stocked up front, but Landeskog has some unique qualities to his game that may allow him to climb up the depth chart fairly quickly. He is a skilled offensive player, but loves to play an aggressive and physical game. In 53 regular season contests with Kitchener, he scored 36 goals and 30 assists for 66 points while racking up 61 penalty minutes and three fighting majors in the process.
Landeskog had a strong showing in the playoffs as well. Although the Rangers were unable to get past the first round, he recorded six goals and four assists in a series that went to seven games. He was also selected to Sweden’s World Junior team this past winter, and was named an alternate captain, but played only one game due to a high-ankle sprain. He did, however, tally a goal and an assist in that game.
In the intangibles department, Landeskog has it all. He is a natural leader who can spark his team with his strong work ethic and intensity. He is also very well spoken, without a hint of an accent, and makes his presence known on the bench and in the locker room. Often compared to former Kitchener Ranger and current Philadelphia Flyers’ captain Mike Richards, he was handed the “C” as a 17-year-old, and could find himself wearing a letter early on in his professional career.
By all aspects, Landeskog is the most NHL-ready prospect in this year’s draft. He already possesses the build, maturity, and talent to play in the NHL. If he does land in New Jersey, it’s certainly possible that he’ll be on the Devils’ opening night roster. He may start out on the third or fourth line, but he could compliment scoring wingers such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise on the top two lines in the future.