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Landeskog brings North American edge to game

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Kitchener Rangers left-winger Gabriel Landeskog has been a team captain for most of his life, one of the many intangibles he brings to the table as a top NHL draft prospect (Photo by Aaron Bell/CHL Images).
(Earlier this month, the Ottawa Senators brought five prospects to Scotiabank Place for some interviews and physical testing in advance of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. One of them is highly likely to be their choice with the No. 6 pick in Friday's first round at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. OttawaSenators.com profiled the four centres in that group last week. Today, we zero in on left-winger Gabriel Landeskog).


Playing in the Ontario Hockey League, it's often been suggested, has brought a North American edge to Gabriel Landeskog's game.

Do a little more digging, however, and you'll learn soon enough that the physical style that's helped make the Kitchener Rangers winger a top prospect for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft runs much deeper.

Like father, like son, one might say.

"I think it all started when we were allowed to hit," said Landeskog, an 18-year-old native of Stockholm. "I don't know what age it was, probably 13 or something. My dad (Tony) used to play (for Hammarby of the Swedish Elite League) and he was a big, physical defenceman, so he gave me some advice.

"It's not bad to play physical. It's just another asset to your game. I started out young and then it just kind of came along with it. I've just been using it to my advantage."

So well that, combined with offensive gifts and a willingness to play responsibly at the other end of the ice, Landeskog ranked No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting's mid-season ratings of North American skaters for the 2011 draft. While he slipped to second in the final rankings behind Red Deer Rebels centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, nobody doubts that Landeskog is headed for bigger things in the National Hockey League.

At 6-0 and 207 pounds, Landeskog is widely considered the most NHL-ready player in the draft.

"He is a good-sized guy who is solid on his skates, not afraid to take the puck to the net or battle for it along the boards," said Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting. "His skating is very good in all areas. 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 (and has) maturity beyond his years.

"(Landeskog) 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 is going to get a player that helps them win a Stanley Cup."

"He's more mature than the other top picks right now and he could probably step in and play sooner than the other picks, depending on which team takes him. He sticks up for his teammates, he's strong at both ends of the rink and he competes as hard, if not harder, than anybody. He's got all the assets you need to be a team leader. That's what you want your No. 1 pick to be." - Peter Sullivan
Indeed, Landeskog has worn the captain's 'C' just about everywhere he's been, from Sweden's under-16, under-17 and under-18 teams, to the Rangers, for whom he became the first European captain in the storied 48-year history of the OHL franchise.  He is often compared to former Kitchener star and current Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards.

"He's more mature than the other top picks right now and he could probably step in and play sooner than the other picks, depending on which team takes him," NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told NHL.com. "He sticks up for his teammates, he's strong at both ends of the rink and he competes as hard, if not harder, than anybody. He's got all the assets you need to be a team leader. That's what you want your No. 1 pick to be."

Though he was the youngest player (at 16 years, 90 days) to ever suit up for Djurgarden in the Elitserien — he played three games in 2008-09 — Landeskog decided the OHL was the place to be to further hone his game for the future.

"I had two ways to choose," said Landeskog. "I could play in the Swedish Elite League or I could come here. I felt that I wanted to try something new (and) Canadian junior hockey has always been one of my dreams.

"I felt that if I would come to Kitchener and play for a team that really believed in me, I would improve a lot more as a player and also as a person because moving away from home and moving to another country would be a really great experience."

Today, much like Detroit Red Wings superstar Nick Lidstrom, Landeskog talks with barely a hint of an accent. And when he speaks, his teammates usually know to follow.

"As captain, sometimes guys expect you to step up," Landeskog told NHL.com. "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 put 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."

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