In addition to being the top-rated left wing available at the NHL Entry Draft next month, Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers might also be the most NHL-ready prospect on the board.
While the 6-1/2, 207-pound Swede dropped to No. 2 overall on NHL Central Scouting's final ratings of North American skaters in April, he'll remain a highly-coveted commodity come June 24 when the opening round of the draft is held at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
"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," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan told NHL.com. "He reminds me a lot of former Kitchener Ranger (and current Philadelphia Flyers captain) Mike Richards. 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 that you need to be a team leader; that's what you'd want your No. 1 pick to be."
According to Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald, Landeskog is a bruiser who takes pride in patrolling his portion of the ice.
"Landeskog's game is developed for up and down the wing, disciplined and doing the little things right," MacDonald said. "He'll fit in nicely because he does his job, and I think that's the difference between Gabriel and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- Hopkins will be more prolific down the road while Landeskog will be more steady, tough, the grind-it-out type, at the next level."
Landeskog played one game of the World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., in January with Team Sweden before suffering a tournament-ending ankle sprain.
"The one edge Landeskog has this year -- his size and physicality," MacDonald said. "He uses that to maneuver and manipulate the opposition he plays against, but he'll have to learn to do that against players just as big and strong and smart as he is at the next level, so it'll be interesting to see how he tackles that."
According to Central Scouting, here are the top 10 left wingers participating at the NHL Scouting Combine from May 30 to June 4 in Toronto.
1. Gabriel Landeskog, Kitchener (OHL): Landeskog was named captain this season -- his second in the OHL. While there's pressure wearing the "C", he still produced 36 goals, 66 points, a plus-27 rating and 61 penalty minutes. In Kitchener's seven-game setback to the Plymouth Whalers in the opening round of the OHL playoffs, he had 6 goals, 10 points and a plus-1 rating.
"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."
2. Sven Baertschi, Portland (WHL): The Switzerland-born Baertschi led all WHL rookies in scoring with 85 points in 66 games (34 goals, 51 assists). He represented his country at the 2011 World Junior Championship playing alongside Portland teammate and New York Islanders prospect (No. 5 pick in 2010) Nino Niederreiter.
"I don't think anyone can stay on the ice as long as he does," Portland coach Mike Johnston told NHL.com. "We have to tell him to get off the ice 45 minutes after practice ends. He stays out there forever to work on his game. He works on inside-outside moves, quick shots and little foot movements."
3. Brandon Saad, Saginaw (OHL): There's a good chance the Gibsonia, Pa., native becomes the first Pittsburgh area player since Plum's RJ Umberger (Vancouver, No. 16, 2001) to be selected in the first round of the draft. He was ranked No. 19 among North American skaters by Central Scouting after notching 27 goals and 55 points in 59 games for the Spirit.
Saad was one of the final seven players cut from the U.S. roster that made up the bronze-medal winning 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., in January.
"I think definitely getting cut is not fun and maybe a little disappointing, but use it as motivation," Saad told NHL.com. "Obviously I wasn't the right fit for the team this year but was also glad to get back to work in Saginaw."
Saad was asked what he felt NHL general managers look for in today's forwards.
"I would say two-way guys because you're not going to produce every night, but if you can bring hard work and do the little things, I think that's a big step," he said.
4. Phillip Danault, Victoriaville (QMJHL): In 64 games this season, the 6-foot, 170-pound Danault posted career highs in goals (23), assists (44) and points (67). He also sported a plus-17 rating, scored 5 power-play goals and 4 goals shorthanded. In nine playoff games, Danault had 5 goals, 15 points and a plus-4 rating.
"He's very versatile and can play in all situations, including wing and center," Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau said. "I think his main weakness is his lack of strength, but he'll work that out in the gym."
5. Matt Puempel, Peterborough (OHL): The Combine will be an extremely important component for Puempel, whose season came to an end in March when he required hip surgery. After leading all OHL rookies in scoring with 64 points in 59 games en route to capturing both OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year honors in 2009-10, Puempel still bested those marks this season in four fewer games with 34 goals, 35 assists and 69 points.
"For a guy like Matt Puempel, it's really important to have him say, 'Hey, I'm really healthy enough to go through this testing,' " Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "For a kid who scores on that kind of pace the last couple of years in the OHL, he's obviously going to have a lot of interest. He's highly rated by us (No. 28 among North Americans), so where he's at with this injury is going to be very important. It's important for teams to hear that, while he may not be there yet, he's going to be there."
6. Alexander Khokhlachev, Windsor (OHL): Khokhlachev, who could play either center or wing, might be the most physical of all the draft-eligible Russian players this year. He offers good hockey sense, a solid positional attack and some leadership to boot. He finished with 34 goals, including 12 on the power play, 76 points and a plus-9 rating in 67 regular-season games with the Spitfires.
"He'll take a hit to make a play and he's not at all afraid," Edwards said. "I've seen him get hit hard a few times and he just bounces right back into the play. His energy level is always there, and he's always working hard. Down the stretch for Windsor, he's played well. He's a skilled forward."
7. Mario Lucia, Wayzata (HIGH-MN): The son of University of Minnesota men's head coach Don Lucia offers an incredible release, smarts and knack for putting the puck in the net. The 6-foot-2, 183-pounder is able to protect the puck and, according to Wayzata coach Carl Davis, is a major threat out of the corners. He's expected to be the first scholastic player drafted and will likely join the Sioux Falls Stampede in the United States Hockey League next season. He's yet to decide which college he'll attend, although Notre Dame and Colorado College appear to be the frontrunners.
"When Mario Lucia has the puck on his stick, he makes everyone else better," Central Scouting's Jack Barzee told NHL.com. "When he's got the puck inside the blue line, he's a threat to score or set up a picturesque play … he's that dangerous."
8. Matthew Nieto, Boston University (H-East): In 39 games, Nieto had 10 goals and 23 points while generating 80 shots on goal. The 5-10 1/2, 175-pound freshman was a key fixture on every power-play and penalty-kill while seeing plenty of ice time.
"If this guy reaches his maximum potential, he'll contribute offensively and score many winning goals," Central Scouting's Jack Barzee said. "He'll be among the top six in any lineup down the road."
9. Scott Oke, Saint John (QMJHL): While the 6-2 1/2, 185-pound Oke might rank below the four possible first- to second-rounders at Saint John, he remained a vital part of the Sea Dogs' offense. In 54 regular-season games, Oke had 5 goals, 10 points and 55 shots on goal in limited playing time. Through 17 playoff games, he had 6 points and a plus-4 rating.
10. Lucas Lessio, Oshawa (OHL): Good size (6-1, 197), hands and playmaking ability. In his first season with the Generals, he had 27 goals, 54 points and a plus-8 rating in 66 regular-season games and chipped in with 5 goals and 9 points in 10 OHL playoff contests.
"He was used on the power play in Oshawa this season and had some success but his biggest asset is that great shot which he gets off quickly," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "He skates well and has very good speed and ability, but he's most effective in open ice. He needs to improve on his ability to protect the puck and play in traffic."
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