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There's nothing soft about Landeskog's game

by Mike G. Morreale
Gabriel Landeskog of the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers isn't your typical swift-skating Swede. He comes with a lunch pail, packs plenty of power and knows the English language as well, if not better, than most Europeans playing professionally today.
"I studied English since third grade and my ambition was to always play in North America, so I guess I always paid extra attention in class and watched movies and listened to music in English," Landeskog told
Off the ice, the 6-foot, 207-pound left wing, a native of Stockholm, oozes confidence -- his blonde hair and stern grin provide a glimpse of what could be a very marketable asset, too.
On the ice, he backs it up with feistiness reminiscent of two of the game's grittiest Swedes -- Detroit Red Wings forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen. He also admired the way one of the country's most decorated players -- Peter Forsberg -- went about his business on the ice. Heck, he's even gone on record as saying he doesn't want to be considered a "soft European player."
"I think it all started when we were allowed to hit (in Sweden) at age 13," Landeskog said. "My dad used to play, and he was a big, physical defenseman and he gave me advice. He said, 'It's not bad to play physical, and it's an asset to your game.' I started young and came along with it and have been using (that physical approach) to my advantage now."
Tony Landeskog, Gabriel's father, starred in the Swedish Elite League as a defenseman for Hammarby from 1977-85.
But will the no-nonsense approach be good enough to get the 17-year-old drafted by an NHL team at the 2011 Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn.? The odds certainly are in his favor, since it seems he's already a few strides ahead of the competition.
Landeskog was named captain of the Rangers this season, his second in the OHL. While there's pressure wearing the "C," he's managed to produce 10 goals, 19 points, 32 penalty minutes and a plus-3 rating in 15 games.
"As captain, sometimes guys expect you to step up," he said. "Obviously if you see a guy isn't ready, you have to go up to him and make sure he is. Sometimes on the bench you have to call out a guy too, if he's not doing his job right. Yeah, we're all friends, but when we're at the rink and playing games we have to take that aside and must do what's best for the team. I think sometimes you have to tell a guy what he's doing right or what he's doing wrong.

"You might have to say something you don't want to, but it's all for the team."
Prior to being named Kitchener's Rookie of the Year and becoming a member of the OHL's All-Rookie First Team in 2009-10 after producing 24 goals and 46 points in 61 games, he was the youngest player (16 years, 90 days) to suite up for Djurgarden in the Swedish Elite League.
It was an eye-opening experience for Landeskog, who felt primed for the challenge.
"It was kind of a shock because I didn't expect it," he said. "I was playing with a junior team and then my coach called me one Friday night and said that I was going to practice with the men's team the next day and there might even be a chance I could play after that, so I started jumping around at home. I didn't know at the time that I would be the youngest, but it was one of the biggest moments for me, for sure."
Despite the fact he'd be competing with and against players older and wiser, Landeskog went about his business. In three games, he recorded 1 assist and 2 penalty minutes.
"I was unsure what to expect … not planned at all," he said. "But I felt like I could take that next step and I was really close on making it, so it really opened my eyes that I had come a long way. It's been a big goal of mine to play in the elite league, so it was dream come true when it happened."

That opportunity, it seems, was all it took.
"I had the chance to return to the elite league or play Canadian junior hockey and I wanted to play in North America (prior to 2009-10)," he said. "Canadian junior hockey has always been one of my dreams, so I've always been updated on how it's been. I kind of felt that when the opportunity came up, I really thought it would be interesting.
"To come here to Kitchener and play with a team that believed I would improve as a player and also a person is great -- because moving from home to another country is tough."
Particularly for a player who turns 18 on Nov. 23. But Landeskog, who openly admits he wasn't a very good hockey player at a younger age, has a knack for the game. Perhaps it's something the scouts, general managers and coaches on hand at the 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp Fueled by G Series in August will remember come June.
"When I turned junior age, I think I matured a bit, both physically and mentally," Landeskog said. "Hockey began going a lot better than before. My parents got divorced, but nothing really ever changed for me hockey-wise. That's what got me through."
Landeskog, who competed for Sweden at the 2009 World Under-18 Championships and was also selected to compete in the U-20 Four Nations Tournament in Finland, enjoys watching how a few of the NHL's big hitters consistently get it done.
"I try and pattern my game like Jarome Iginla (of Calgary) and Mike Richards (of Philadelphia)," Landeskog told "They're kind of my role models. I look a lot like how they play, and I want to be a leader like they are for their teams."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morrreale

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