IRVINE – The clue that Leo Carlsson could indeed be the second-best player in what many consider Connor Bedard’s draft – first among equals, so to speak – could be this: a month before the selection process of the NHL last week, 18-year-old Carlsson was playing with the big boys at the IIHF World Championships.
“Orebro (HK, the Swedish pro team he played for last season) had him on the wing almost all year, almost all year,” Carlsson’s agent Matt Keator said. based in Boston, during a telephone conversation. “And then he goes to the Swedish national team and he’s their frontline center in the national team at Worlds.
“That says a lot about him as a player and a prospect.”
Carlsson has three goals and two assists and is plus-5 in the tournament, playing with and against seasoned pros. That was months after registering three goals and three assists with a plus-4 differential at the World Junior Championships in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada.
Those tournaments, along with his performances with his club team – including 10 goals and 15 assists in 44 games last season – convinced the Ducks to make him the No. 2 pick last Thursday, just another moment that spins head into what has been a frenetic few weeks for Carlsson.
Among his Swedish teammates at Worlds was Ducks defender and assistant captain Jakob Silfverberg. While Carlsson – ranked Europe’s top prospect in the draft – had no way of knowing if the Ducks would use the No. 2 pick on him, it was certainly a possibility. But his conversations with Silfverberg were less about the Ducks organization and “more about the weather and all that,” he said.
It’s a selling point, of course. The day at the beach that Carlsson and several others enjoyed on July 4, a day off during the week-long development camp, must have reinforced this.
The World Championships, which ended for the Swedes on May 25 when they lost to co-hosts Latvia in the quarter-finals, have started a turbulent few weeks. This included two different trips home to train with Orebro, the NHL Draft in Buffalo, a visit to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Las Vegas with fellow prospects Bedard, Adam Fantilli and Will Smith , then the draft itself in Nashville.
The NHL Combine isn’t the type of dog-and-pony TV show we see in the NFL. No on-ice evaluation; just physical exams and lots of job interviews.
“Basically it was a meeting…and then maybe an hour or 30 minutes off, then the next meeting,” Carlsson said. “And then lunch, then more interviews and stuff like that. So quite easy, actually.
“I mean, I got advice from my agent on certain answers and stuff like that. But I was on my own. I had no problem with that.”
He seems able to handle the tough stuff and the crazy stuff, even when his trip to Nashville turned into a 14-hour drive with his family due to weather-related flight cancellations. Is it a challenge to stay calm when things around him aren’t?
“Not really, to be honest,” he said. “I don’t know how to say it, but nothing gets too crazy for me.”
This week, he wears the No. 37 practice jersey at the Ducks’ development camp at Great Park Ice, and perhaps the low number is indicative of his status here. Even so, with on-ice skills work and physical testing interspersed with sessions on topics such as nutrition and leadership, and with so many new faces to name, it can be disorienting.
“I think I spoke to everyone,” he said. “I mean, sure, it’s tough with new faces everywhere, stuff like that. So it’s kind of hard to remember (who) is who sometimes, because there are so many.
New coach Greg Cronin had heard glowing reports about Carlsson, but getting his first close look this week, one thing stood out: At 6-foot-3 and 194 pounds, he’s “a big kid.”
“Some guys who are 6-3 are tightly built,” he said. “He has a big frame. I don’t know what his weight was at the combine, but if he weighs 193 pounds in early June, what will he look like in a year? … Its frame can support 220 pounds, I think quite easily. So that’s the first thing that stands out. And then he has long arms. He has reach and he has reach for him. You know, basketball players cheat a lot. He has length going for him.
“It’s early days, so we don’t know how much his body will grow in the next year, two, three or four. But I think his advantage, relative to his body growth, is huge. I mean, Connor Bedard “He’s not a big guy, is he? So he’s not the size of Leo. He has other skills that are really great. That’s why he’s the first overall pick. But I think just watching him skate, watching him move, he’s an athletic boy, which is also important, his athleticism for me shows in practice with his skating and his movement in spaces restricted.
Carlsson said he grew up idolizing Sidney Crosby, but as a guy who’s got size but is sneaky and won’t shy away from defensive duties, a more accurate comparable might be the Kings’ Anze Kopitar, who is 6-3, 225. And Carlsson has shown, over two seasons in the Swedish Hockey League and then at the World Championships, that even at 17 and 18 he is unfazed by more experienced competition .
The No. 2 picks in the NHL Draft are riskier than you think. In 30 years of drafts, you can find just over a handful who have proven to be true impact players: Drew Doughty, Evgeni Malkin, Daniel Sedin, Patrick Marleau, Chris Pronger and Trevor Linden. Guys like Eric and Jordan Staal (brothers taken No. 2 four years apart), Gabriel Landeskog and Jack Eichel are part of the next level. And there are plenty of players taken at No. 2 in that span who never reached the potential expected of them.
Carlsson already has a shot at being the Ducks’ best second choice, although the other two have been productive in different ways.
Bobby Ryan, chosen just after Crosby in the 2005 draft, had four straight 30-goal seasons for the Ducks and was eventually traded to Ottawa in 2013 for a package that included Silfverberg. Defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky, drafted in 1994, was traded for future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne in 1996, then bought out in 1999 and traded to New Jersey in the summer of 2002 for a package that included Petr Sykora…and the Devils were done. by beating the Ducks in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final.
But the immediate question Carlsson faces: After this development camp, which ends Friday with open practice at 11 a.m. and a 3-on-3 scrimmage at noon at Great Park Ice’s Five Point Arena, does he return to Sweden for another year seasoning? or start the clock on his NHL career?
The Swedish Hockey League’s pre-season begins Aug. 1, well before the September start of Ducks rookie camp, but Keator said there’s ‘no rush’ to what will be a group decision.
“He’ll talk to his family, his Swedish agents, myself, (Ducks GM) Pat Verbeek, his staff, and we’ll come to a consensus,” Keator said. “But in the end, it’s Leo’s life. And you know he’s going to make the decision with our input. But it’s a matter of consensus. We all work together, and I spoke to Pat about it at a few times, and he’s been great. And we’ll just see how that evolves.
However it develops, we know: Leo Carlsson will approach it calmly.
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