Sweden national junior coach Roger Ronnberg looks at his roster and sees in Gabriel Landeskog
something his team is missing.
When Ronnberg brought a team to Lake Placid, N.Y. in early August to play exhibition games as part of USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp, Landeskog showed himself to a be a straight-ahead skater who is ready, willing and able to get to the net and create all the havoc necessary to score goals.
"We're here in the U.S. now for this camp for a reason, and that's to find out what we need to change to be successful on the small rink," Ronnberg told NHL.com during the camp. "Gabriel is one of the players who already has found out how we should play in the small rink to be successful. He's one of the players who can do it."
Landeskog certainly showed last season he could not just play on the smaller North American rinks, but flourish on them. In his first season with the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers, the 6-foot, 200-pound left wing was third among league rookies with 24 goals and 46 points. He was just as good in the playoffs, leading all rookies and finishing third on the team with 23 points.
"He was a great teammate," Rangers linemate Jeremy Morin
told NHL.com. "Those guys coming overseas here, you don't really know what to expect, but he was a great guy, one of my linemates. He brought a lot of energy to the team and he was a great leader.
"He's a very physical guy. He's the nicest guy off the ice, but when you get him on the ice and into a uniform, he finishes his checks and plays hard."
His Swedish teammates feel the same way.
"We played on the same line in Fargo (2009 World Under-18 Championship)," Anton Lander
told NHL.com. "I loved to play with him. He goes first on pucks, he hits guys, makes plays for other linemates. He's a really good player."
Lander wasn't the only one in Fargo impressed by Landeskog.
"I was coaching Team Canada in Fargo at the Under-18 tournament and that's the first time I was able to not only see Gabriel but coach against him," Kitchener coach Steve Spott
told NHL.com. "The goals that he was scoring in Fargo, he reminded me a real young Tomas Holmstrom
-- just a very powerful young man who scored a lot of his goals in the blue paint. I thought he was a kid that would do real well in the North American game."
Landeskog's play certainly proved Spott right.
"Gabriel adapted very well to the Ontario Hockey League," Chris Edwards, NHL Central Scouting's Ontario scout, told NHL.com. "His production was excellent especially for it being not only his first year in the OHL but living and playing in North America. 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's going to go up and down his wall and do the hard work for his linemates," Spott said. "He's going to get to the net. When you get into World Juniors, Memorial Cup, those are the type of guys that have success. They keep the game simple and score those dirty goals, and he's not afraid to go into those dirty areas. He plays a North American game with those Swedish, God-given abilities."
Landeskog took an unconventional route for Swedish players, opting to leave his home in Stockholm and move to Canada rather than graduate to the Swedish Elite League, where he was developing in Djurgardens' system.
"I thought it was very important for me to get used to the North American style of game," Landeskog told NHL.com. "It's my goal to play in the NHL. ... The hockey is very good for me. I have a North American style of hockey, but I have some skill to me and I have that European style to me.
"That is my style of game. I like to rough it up a bit."
If his play on the ice doesn't speak loudly enough, he has no problem being vocal in the locker room. Landeskog was an assistant captain for Sweden in Lake Placid and likely will hold the same position at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo. Spott also said Landeskog is under serious consideration to serve as captain for the Rangers this season.
"He's one of the captains, and if you're a captain on a national team you have to be a true leader," Ronnberg said. "I think he's a born leader. He has the leadership in his way of being every day."
"It makes me really proud to be selected for an 'A' by my teammates," Landeskog said. "I see myself as a leader. Doesn't matter if I have an 'A' or a 'C' on my chest or nothing, I'm still the same person. I am vocal in the room and on the bench. ... It's all about being a pro on and off the ice and being a leader and trying to get the boys going."
When Landeskog watches NHL games, he obviously gravitates to players with similar make-ups -- skill, strength and leadership ability, starting with another hard-charging Swede: Peter Forsberg
"He was always my role model," Landeskog said. "But when he started getting injuries, I started looking more toward (Calgary's) Jarome Iginla
and (Philadelphia's) Mike Richards
, those types of guys and how they played and how great leaders they are. They really know how to lead their team."
Spott, who coached Richards for three seasons in Kitchener, sees a lot of similarities between Landeskog and the Flyers' captain.
"I think he has a lot of Mike's intangibles," Spott said. "I coached Mike for three years, and they have a lot of the same intangibles. They let their actions do the speaking. They don't talk often, but when they do talk in the dressing room, it means something. They allow their play to do the talking."
NHL scouts are getting to listen to Landeskog's play at the 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp Fueled by G Series this week. The players -- all top 2011 Entry Draft prospects -- are being used by the League to see potential rules changes in action. The side benefit is an opportunity for the players to get their names into the minds of the clubs' top decision makers.
"I think it'll be an exciting camp, and I'm looking forward to it a lot," Landeskog said. "There's going to be a lot good players there, I know that. I just feel like it's going to be a great measurement for me to see where I'm up to (against) other high-ranked players for next year's draft. I think I have to go in there and focus on myself and do what I do best and have fun with it."
Spott said it won't take those manager long to see what he learned in a very short time about Landeskog.
"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," he said. "It's maturity beyond his years. That kid 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."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org