Will Gabriel Landeskog be the difference between Sweden getting close and finally getting there at the IIHF World U20 Championship?
Quick fact: Despite producing some of the world’s best players, Sweden has not won the World U20 tournament since 1981. Nobody has a really good answer to why, but several observers would suggest that the Swedes, despite being fundamentally sound as anyone, are too soft. At least, at that stage of their development (under 20).
Fast forward to 2010. Gabriel Landeskog has just been named captain of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers. That’s in his second year with the club and the announcement came even before the Stockholm-born power forward turned 18.
Hey, isn’t this a contradiction right there? “Swedish” and “power-forward”? Well, Landeskog is not your typical Swede. At, 16 (in 2009) he turned down a pro-contract with Swedish top-club Djurgarden and opted to play for $50 per week in the Canadian major junior league.
By doing this, Landeskog chose a path that countrymen like Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg, Daniel Alfredsson, the Sedin-twins, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Bäckström never really considered. The Swedish word of wisdom has always been: Stay at home until ready.
Again, some may check if the Landeskogs have some Canadian genes in their family because apart from the big Swedish flag that hangs on the wall in his room in Kitchener and obviously his passport, there seems to be precious little that is Swedish about him.
They say that his English is better than some of his Canadian teammates’ on the Rangers and the 184 cm / 91 kg heavy hitter (and still growing) doesn’t hesitate to drop the gloves if called upon in the OHL.
You guessed it: Landeskog is expected to go very high (top five?) in next year’s NHL Entry Draft. He topped the list of draft-eligible players from the OHL in the rankings released in mid-November.
“He is physical, good in front of the net and he has a very good shot. Gabriel is a leader and a real competitor,” Swedish U20 national team coach Roger Rönnberg says on Landeskog.
One week prior to the World Juniors, he had 44 points (24 + 20) in 31 games.
Why did you turn down a chance to play in the Swedish pro league and choose Kitchener instead?
To play junior hockey in Canada had for some time been a dream of mine. I visited Kitchener during the summer of 2009 and I was impressed by the club and the program. I know many have questioned this path, but I wanted to do what I felt was the best for my career.
What is the best thing about playing junior in Canada?
You play 68 games as opposed to 30-40 in the Swedish junior league. Everything is very professionally organized, on and off the ice. The road trips prepare you for what life will be in the NHL.
How important is it to position yourself for the draft next June? Is it important for you to be selected early?
There is no question that your draft number is a measuring stick of how you are valued as a prospect. But I am perfectly aware that there are players who were drafted in latter rounds and still became great players. The most important thing is to be drafted by a good organization.
Do you have a favourite NHL club?
Detroit and Ottawa. The Red Wings have a winning mentality and Swedes have traditionally done well there. Ottawa was the place where I saw my first NHL game when I was a kid and I have always admired Daniel Alfredsson--what a competitor!
Everybody is raving about how well you have adopted to the North American game and lifestyle and that your English is better than some of your Canadian teammates’. Comment?
Again, to play in Canada has always been a dream, so I was always focused during the English classes. Often when I watched English TV-programs I tried not to read the subtitles. So I was well prepared when I got to Kitchener.
How do you deal with school?
Education has always been important in our family. So, one condition was that I had to attend school if I wanted to play junior. So I go to school every day eight to one and I take three courses each semester.
What are your thoughts leading up to the World U20 Championship in Buffalo? Will it be difficult to focus on your game knowing that all scouts and many GMs sit there and watch your every move?
The success of the team is the most important thing. If you contribute to success the other stuff takes care of its self. Knowing that there are scouts in the stands when I play is nothing new to me.
Despite producing great talent, Sweden has not won World Juniors gold since 1981. Do you have a theory to why?
It’s difficult to say. One reason could be that the Swedish junior league is not good enough and the players who already play in any of top leagues don’t get enough playing time. Swedes usually develop a little slower than North Americans.
How does this year’s Swedish junior team measure up against the top rivals?
We have a strong team. The age group 1991 is exceptional. So even though we won’t have the players who already are in the NHL--Magnus Pääjärvi, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jacob Josefson or Robin Lehner--we will still have a good team. You must name Canada and the USA as favourites, but I like our chances.
What qualities will you add?
I hope to be able to contribute with experience from playing on small rinks and against North Americans basically every day. Some grit, some toughness. The qualities which are maybe not considered as typically Swedish.