No. 2 pick Carlsson starting career with Ducks with a fraction of Bedard's fanfare
IRVINE, Calif. (AP) — The player drafted right after Connor Bedard last summer is about to make his NHL debut with a fraction of the fanfare.
And that's more than fine with Leo Carlsson.
While he sat out the Anaheim Ducks' first two games of the season with a minor injury last week, Carlsson was aware of the hockey world's massive celebration of Bedard's arrival with the Chicago Blackhawks, who chose the budding superstar first overall.
Nothing like that media blitz will happen around Carlsson when he starts his own career, possibly in the Ducks' home game against Dallas on Thursday night.
Unsurprisingly, this quietly confident 18-year-old Swede doesn’t mind the lack of hubbub.
“Don't really care, to be honest,” Carlsson said. “I think I’d rather be the underdog. Well, the second pick isn’t the underdog, but I’m still not in the media and stuff like that. I feel like that’s easier, to surprise people and not let them down that way. Maybe if I was from Canada or the US, it would be bigger as well. But I’m comfortable.”
The international hype around Carlsson is infinitely more subdued than the buzz around Bedard, and that's no surprise. Although Carlsson's skills were advanced and obvious to anybody watching him in Sweden, the lanky 6-foot-3 forward wasn't even guaranteed to get a chance in North America this year.
While the rebuilding Ducks love Carlsson’s skills and potential, they acknowledged that Carlsson could have ended up spending another year in Sweden before moving stateside, since their long-term rebuilding project doesn't exactly require Carlsson's immediate contribution.
But Carlsson was determined to start his next hockey adventure now.
“That was the goal coming here,” Carlsson said. “Otherwise, I probably would have just stayed in Sweden. I was determined to earn a spot.”
Carlsson’s plan for the season still isn’t 100% set, but he already bade farewell on social media to Örebro, his Swedish Hockey League team for the past three seasons. He’s currently shopping for a car and a permanent place to live in Orange County.
Greg Cronin, the Ducks' first-year coach, got his job a few weeks before Anaheim general manager Pat Verbeek bucked conventional wisdom and chose Carlsson over polished American center Adam Fantilli, who went third to Columbus.
While the Ducks' choice mildly surprised many hockey experts and Anaheim's fans alike, Cronin's estimation of Carlsson has only grown in the four months since the draft.
“I was secretly worried when he was in the rookie camps, because he didn’t really dominate the games,” Cronin said. “He’d flash-dominate, like he’d flash a few shifts. And then when we got to the main camp and he played against better players from the American League, he was more noticeable. And then as we went to the NHL level, he went, ‘Phew!’”
Cronin points his arm in a rocket’s upward trajectory.
“I’ve seen that happen with so many young kids that kind of blend in for whatever the reason is, and then as they get to the training camp and it’s more NHL players, they kind of take off,” Cronin added. “I think a lot of times that’s because they have the same IQ as those (NHL) guys. He’s 18 years old, but he thinks the game like a 25-year-old.”
Carlsson rejoined the Ducks in practice this week, and Cronin put him at the center of their top line between Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras, Anaheim's two most accomplished young forwards. The trio could be together for many years, and Carlsson has begun the process of growing into a two-way center capable of making every teammate better.
“I don’t set goals for points and stuff,” Carlsson said. “Just trying to be a comfortable NHL producer. Your rookie year is also hard, but I’m going to play with some good players as well, so I think it’s going to make it easier for me.”
Carlsson's skills continue to catch the eyes of his teammates and coaches. His growth culminated so far in an outstanding preseason performance against Arizona in which he clearly stood out as an elite playmaker who still needs refinement of his finishing skills, but is far ahead of his peers in many other areas.
“It’s really impressive, his strength – because he’s not an overly fit guy – on puck battles,” Cronin said. “I was surprised at how fast he could skate, because it doesn’t look like he’s going fast, but he’s going fast, and how he can change direction quick.”
After spending his entire life in Sweden's frigid winters, Carlsson smiles at the thought of a full winter in sunny Southern California. A skilled golfer and a big fan of the entire NBA and the NFL, Carlsson is looking forward to watching the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Chargers, who he adopted as his team this year after he was “forced to pick one” by his teammates, he joked.
He'll also be focused on creating a career worthy of the top draft pick behind Bedard.
“I don’t need to get too confident about predictions now,” Cronin said. “But I think from what I’ve seen, and if he manages it the proper way, if he continues to grow from where he is now, he’s going to be a heck of a player.”
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL