Before Gabriel Landeskog was old enough to obtain a driver’s license in Sweden, he was on the road to a career in the National Hockey League.
In the land of beautiful blondes and IKEA, you have to be 18 years old to get your licence, but at the age of 15, Landeskog had already suited up in the J20 SuperElit in Sweden. A season later, it was the Swedish Elite League and then the Ontario Hockey League at the age of 17.
If young Swedish-born hockey prospects are of outstanding talent, they typically stay home to play in the domestic Elite League. It’s rare for a Swede to head overseas for junior hockey, especially if they’re highly touted.
When the 2011 NHL Entry Draft starts up in Minnesota tomorrow, Landeskog will become the first Swedish-born player ever drafted in the first-round out of the Ontario Hockey League.
Where he will land in the draft order is a whole different story; a story that seems to have found an ending — at least an end to the speculation.
“If I was a betting man, I’d like to think that he’ll go No. 2 to Colorado,” said Landeskog’s general manager/head coach for the Kitchener Rangers, Steve Spott told The Good Point on June 22.
But to know Gabriel — not Gabe; it’s a Swedish thing to use the full first-name (i.e, Daniel Alfredsson, not Dan, Tomas Holmstrom, not Tom) — is to know that it doesn’t matter where he’s drafted, as long as he gets a shot to make the team.
A shot he plans on taking and making.
He’s a 6’0″, 200-pound forward that plays the game with the physicality and tenacity of a Running Bull in Spain. Pair that with the finesse of a Muhammad Ali stutter-step and it’s no wonder he met with 16 extremely interested franchises at the Combine.
“Most of the meetings were pretty good. I’m not sure who the best meeting was with,” Landeskog said. “Florida was really nice and Colorado was a good meeting, too. It’s hard to say which one went the best — just a gut feeling is that I did a pretty good job on all of them. I felt I was myself and answered all the questions the way I wanted to.”
His bench boss heard that the sought after Swede left quite the mark on scouts and management alike.
“I had a scout tell me he’s been interviewing players for 14 years and the best interview he’s ever had is Gabriel Landeskog,” Spott said. “He’s confident but he’s not cocky — I think there’s a line there — and he doesn’t cross over it.”
It’s well known that during the annual Combine, many teams try to throw the players off with questions as awkward as if a blind date turned out to be your aunt. Landeskog, however, didn’t get those questions.
“They played more mind games with me. Like turning the lights off in the room, putting spot lights on me and made me sweat,” Landeskog said.
“A lot of those kind of things — just keeping a straight face to see what you’re made of. [Keeping a straight face of my own] was a little hard but you kind of feel like it’s just an interview but at the same time you just have to roll with it and make sure to be yourself.”
Landeskog got a chance to be himself after the Combine. He flew back to Sweden to take in his fraternal twin Beatrice’s high school graduation, something Landeskog has yet to experience himself.
“It’s exciting for them and I to show support to my family and friends. It’s important,” he said. “I have three courses to finish. At the end of the season I had to choose whether to go back to Sweden and continue training with my trainer or stay in school until the end of June. So whatever happens next year, I’ll take care of it then.”
After tomorrow, those three courses will likely need to be taken in either Edmonton, Colorado or Florida – the three NHL cities with the top three picks.
That’s because with his talents and attitude, Landeskog’s road to the NHL shouldn’t have any detours between Minnesota and opening day with an NHL club.
“He doesn’t say things to please people; he says things that he believes. I think that’s why he’s going to be a captain in the National Hockey League in the near future,” Spott said.