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Carlsson capitalizing on postseason opportunity

20-year-old rookie is confident ahead of 2017 playoffs

by Alison Lukan @AlisonL /

Two weeks ago, defenseman Gabriel Carlsson was playing in his final game of the season with Linköping HC of the Swedish Hockey League. Fast forward to this week, and the 20-year-old Swede is preparing to be part of the Blue Jackets' roster heading into the 2016-17 playoffs.

"It's always been a dream to play in the NHL," Carlsson said. "As soon as I got drafted by the Blue Jackets, I had a dream to play here and now it's happening."

When Carlsson joined the Jackets Apr. 7, he had played just three games on North American rinks with the Cleveland Monsters. After getting one practice in with the Jackets, he was unsure if he'd even play a game with the big club.

But now it's two NHL games later, and the defenseman has logged over 34 minutes on ice and earned his first NHL point, a secondary assist that came in Sunday's regular season finale in Toronto. The 6-foot-4, 191 lb. defenseman cleared the puck from the Leafs' zone in the second period and that led to the Matt Calvert score that initiated a three-goal, game-winning offensive burst from the Jackets.

Video: CBJ@TOR: Calvert goes five-hole with smooth backhand

"The most important thing I like about his game is his demeanor," head coach John Tortorella said. "(Carlsson) is not afraid to step up. He's not afraid to make a pass into the middle of the ice. He's not a tentative player. I think he's very confident. To me, that's the most important thing."

In his first game, with his brother in attendance, Carlsson was paired with Jackets' All-Star Seth Jones. After feeling a bit nervous in what Carlsson called "a big atmosphere" at the Wells Fargo Center, the defenseman got to work. And it showed.

"He's a great skater," Jones said. "We moved the puck well, I thought. He had some good plays in the offensive zone, had some good shots on net and created some chances offensively. Defensively, he closed guys out which I like to see in a 'D' partner. I told him before the game to jump up and make stuff happen, and I thought he did that. He did a great job."

Against the Flyers, Carlsson had two missed shots, and in his second game against the Leafs, the 2015 first round draft pick registered three shots on net and one missed attempt. While two games is an admittedly small sample size, has Carlsson earning a 51.8% Corsi For rating in five-on-five play. That's definitely a strong start.

"I feel I did the things I'm good at," Carlsson said. "I tried to have a good gap and a strong stick. I want to be a little better with the puck but that's something I'll work on."

Now, Carlsson becomes one more weapon in the Jackets' defensive arsenal headed into the seven-game playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"You can tell he isn't timid," Tortorella said. "He tried to make a difference each shift. It's really encouraging as we enter into Wednesday."

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