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Kitchener's Landeskog different kind of Swedish prospect

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TSN.ca Staff
10/29/2010 12:58:47 PM
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Gritty.

Determined.

Physical.

Tough.

Mean.

All of these attributes bring a smile to the faces of NHL scouts when they come across a junior-aged prospect that embodies everything a hockey player is supposed to be. But a raised eyebrow might also accompany those smiles when they come to the realization that the player that they are watching is a 17-year-old Swede who is dominating the competition in North America.

Kitchener Rangers forward Gabriel Landeskog is not your average Swedish prospect.

While fellow countryman Adam Larsson is expected to be a top three pick in the upcoming entry draft, Landeskog has bulldozed his way into Top 10 consideration due to his bull in a china shop approach to the game.

"The first couple of games he got in two fights," recalls Rangers' teammate Jason Akeson. "Everybody was shaking their head like they had never seen a European do that before."

Landeskog is not your typical European. 

While the majority of Swedish prospects remain in their homeland until at least their draft year; Landeskog took a different approach.  After cracking the lineup with Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League as a 15-year-old, Landeskog turned heads at the World Under-18 Championship with four goals and 24 penalty minutes in six games.  That's where he caught the eye of Rangers' head coach Steve Spott.

"He played a North American style of game," said Spott. "He played hard and I felt that he was the type of player that would fit well inside our system."

That's when Landeskog made a nearly unprecedented move as he chose to join Kitchener of the OHL to continue his professional development.

"I've always had the dream to come over here and there are not a lot of players that have gone on this path," Landeskog admitted.  "I thought that it would be a journey and it would be an experience."

It was a decision that his coach believes was essential to his evolution as a hockey player.

"He's very proud of being a Swedish born hockey player, but recognized for his own career it was probably best that he come to North America to learn our culture and learn the way we play the game," said Spott.

The move appears to have paid off as Stockholm native has rocketed up the draft charts of many NHL scouts after finishing third among all OHL rookies last season in scoring with 24 goals and 46 points. Come June he will likely become the first ever CHL player from Sweden to be selected in the first round.

"The scouts are talking him up big time," said TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie.  "He's tucked right in behind those big three (Larsson, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sean Couturier) in this year's draft and he can push them."

In addition, Landeskog has acclimatized himself to his new surroundings off the ice - not always an easy situation for a teenager from halfway around the world. "He gets better grades in school than any of the guys over here and they speak English while it's not his first language," said Rangers' goaltender Brandon Maxwell.  "He's a perfect human being I guess."

Maybe not perfect, but certainly one of a kind.

While Sweden has developed plenty of hockey players with toughness (think back to Peter Forsberg's legendary determination and strength on the puck or the way that Tomas Holmstrom has made a career out of taking a beating in front of the net), there may be no precursor to Landeskog's combination of toughness, skill, intelligence and leadership abilities.

"I think that he'll be a captain in the NHL one day," stated Spott.  "I believe that. When there is something to be said, he says it.  To me he's the real deal."

That sentiment is echoed by his teammates. "When you see him on the ice, you think that he's a North American player," said Maxwell.  "He came over here and right away he was one of the leaders on the team."

One aspect of Landeskog's game that scouts have determined he needs work on is his offensive touch; however with nine goals and seven assists in his first 13 games this season, it appears that some of those worries can be put to bed. Still, Landeskog realizes that he cannot stray too far away from the traits that put him where he is today.

"I'm a powerful guy who likes to play rough and tough," said Landeskog.  "But I do see myself as a skilled guy but it still comes down to hard work and being gritty and being in your face.  That's what I want to do."

Regardless of where he ends up come draft day, one team will end up with an excellent hockey player if you ask his coach.

"I said it from Day 1 - I don't think that Gabriel needs to suit up for one game in the American Hockey League," said Spott.  "I think that he'll be able to jump from this league to the National Hockey League because of the way that he plays."

-Written with files from TSN producer Matt Cade

Gabriel Landeskog (Photo: Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

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(Photo: Aaron Bell/OHL Images)
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