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The 2023 NHL draft class is a loaded one. From the top with Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli, it is arguably one of the best classes in recent memory. A part of that potentially elite top-end is Swedish forward, Leo Carlsson.
Leo Carlsson, born in Karlstad, Sweden on December 26th, 2004, is one of, if not, the best European prospect in this class. Standing at 6’3” and 194 pounds, the Swedish forward has played parts of the last two seasons in the SHL with Orebro HK. In total, he has 20 goals and 32 assists for 52 points in 79 games in that span, playing in the top Swedish men’s league. This season, he has 10 goals and 15 assists for 25 points in 44 games, an impressive staline for an 18-year-old.
With those stats, Carlsson has been consistently ranked within the draft’s top-five (outside of one site). He has been ranked as follows by various sites and experts: third by Smaht Scouting, SportsNet, Craig Button, McKeen’s Hockey, Bob McKenzie, The Hockey News, and Elite Prospects; fourth by FCHockey, Daily Faceoff, Dobber Prospects, and Draft Prospects Hockey; and sixth by Recruit Scouting. What makes him one of the best players in one of the best draft classes of the last few years?
Leo Carlsson Scouting Report
Centere — shoots Left
Born December 26th, 2004 — Karlstad, Sweden
Height 6’3″ — Weight 198 lbs [191 cm/90 kg]
Leo Carlsson Deep Dive
With names like Bedard, Fantilli, Matvei Michkov and even Dalibor Dvorsky coming into the season, then guys like Zach Benson and Andrew Cristall emerge and challenge for higher spots as the season wears on, it’s easy to get lost amongst the crowd. But Carlsson still remains highly coveted. Let’s take a deeper look into what makes him so coveted.
Carlsson is one of the best skaters in this entire draft class. He is technically sound in terms of his stride mechanics. His edgework is strong as well, allowing him to be a smooth and shifty skater when the time calls for it. While his top speed isn’t elite, he has excellent size and stickhandling skill. He makes up for it. In other words, he doesn’t *need* to possess elite speed. Even Josh Tessler of Smaht Scouting praised his skating ability, as he said this about Carlsson:
“Overall, Carlsson has a good blend of speed and size… Carlsson has quick feet and can react to a pivot on a dime… The speed that he nets allows him to win puck battles shift-in shift-out. His quick feet allows him to react to a big change in puck movement… he also does a good job of surveying his opponent’s speed and matching it in situations where he is far back.”
Offensively, this is where the Swede really makes his presence felt. He is a true playmaker, with high end vision and hockey IQ to read his opponents movements and find an open teammate. Every move is calculated, and he shows incredible poise and patience with the puck. He also possesses the confidence and skill to create space for himself using his stickhandling and creativeness. Even though he plays in the top Swedish men’s league, he doesn’t allow that pressure to change the way he plays.
As for his shooting, he isn’t bad but it isn’t something he looks to do. He is absolutely a pass-first player, and he knows it. However, that does not mean he is neglecting those opportunities. He isn’t afraid of posting up at net front to get deflections and rebounds, and even had some success with that style. He possesses the vision, as mentioned earlier, to find open pockets of space when he does not have the puck to set up for a one-timer. The problem is that he doesn’t have consistent accuracy. As for his shot contributions, let’s take a look at the data gathered by Mitch Brown and Lassi Alanen.
As shown above, Carlsson ranks 13th amongst European players not playing in the J20’s since 2017. When you expand it to include J20 performances, Carlsson ranks 32nd. It’s certainly not bad, but it also displays that it isn’t the strength in his game.
To go back on his playmaking, this is where Carlsson shines. Again, it’s a combination of his high-end stickhandling, shifty skating ability, smarts, and incredibly high hockey IQ that allows him to succeed. Time and again he manipulates the opposition into going where he wants them to with subtle movement to create space for himself or a teammate, then strikes with an excellent feed to a teammate. It’s like clock work. To put that into perspective, let’s again look at the data from Brown and Alanen. Here, they looked at “Passer Rating” which is weighted by the value of the pass, the difficulty of the attempt, and the results of said pass.
As shown above, amongst all European prospect forwards across all European leagues since 2017, Carlsson ranks 16th this year and 17th last year. Amongst players who played in men’s leagues in Europe, Carlsson ranks fifth and sixth, respectively. This is behind William Eklund, Kaapo Kakko, Tim Stutzle, and Juraj Slafkovsky.
Leo Carlsson’s Transitional Abilities
Carlsson is very impressive when it comes to his transitional abilities. It’s not so much because he is dominant, but because of the level he plays at and how he does not look out of place in the slightest. When watching prospects in Europe play, it’s rare to see them make an impact in this area. Whether it’s because of a lack of ice time or they don’t want to make a mistake and get sat on the bench, they simply don’t stand out. Carlsson is not like most European prospects. While he isn’t super involved, he is extremely efficient. Skating, stickhandling, smarts and confidence all come into play when watching his impact in the neutral zone.
Not only that, but Carlsson also generates chances off the rush as well. While he may not have the consistent top speed to burn defenders around the outside, he still can display that ability from time to time. Plus, his big frame allows him to drive the net as well. When he isn’t breaking into the zone around the outside, he displays poise and patience with the puck. He buys enough time to allow his teammates to set up, then looks to generate chances shortly after an entry.
Diving Deeper Into The Transitional Numbers
While one can say he is effective, it comes down to the numbers; how effective is he really? Brown and Alanen tracked 13 games of Carlsson’s, and when it came to zone entries, he had a controlled entry rate of 72.09%. Essentially, in entries that he was directly involved in, his team entered the offensive zone with possession 72.09% of the time. As for exiting the defensive zone, he had a controlled exit rate of 83.87%. Those are absurd numbers. Taking into account the fact he is playing against men, it becomes even more impressive. Carlsson should have very few issues translating to the NHL level, at least in terms of his effectiveness moving the puck up ice.
Carlsson’s Defensive Zone Play
To look back, Carlsson is an impressive offensive playmaker, with a shot that needs work but is still not a bad quality. His transitional play is excellent. The common factor in all of this is hockey IQ and precision. Those qualities are also applicable in regards to Carlsson’s defensive abilities. He may not have the best positioning, but he doesn’t stray too far from his responsibilities either. He also possesses an active stick that leads to plays being broken up. Carlsson hounds the puck as well, not afraid to pressure attackers and get into passing or shooting lanes.
While there is one thing to cherry pick, it’s clear his defensive game already has a steady and impressive foundation at a young age. That one nitpick is his lack of physicality. With his frame, he should be more willing to play harder in the dirty areas. But that’s not something that takes value away and can always be improved upon. Now just imagine if his skating improves, as it should, and he continues to bulk up and use his body more?
Leo Carlsson’s Potential
Carlsson is such an impressive prospect. As a matter of fact, this writer has debated for a while throwing Carlsson ahead of Fantilli in his unreleased rankings. His playmaking is incredible, and since it is predicated on timing and IQ, once he adjusts to the NHL level, which is expected, he can be a high-end playmaker. While his shot leaves something to be desired, that’s a coachable trait, and he still does just fine without a high-end shot. If he can develop that, though, his ceiling becomes sky-high. Then add to the fact that he’s big, can skate, transitions the puck beautifully, and defends very well? This has future first liner and fringe elite forward written all over it.
Based on style only, and not an indicator of what to expect, who does Carlsson project to play like? A name that comes to mind is Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom was one of the best playmakers in the league in his prime years, granted that was aided by Alex Ovechkin. But, regardless, Backstrom had a strong playmaking ability, was solid defensively, and was excellent transitionally. To show that even further, Backstrom, from 2013-14 through to 2015-16, was in the 83rd percentile for NHL forwards for defensive impact, per Evolving-Hockey. As for transitional stats, from 2016-17 through to 2019-20, he was in the 94th percentile of forwards in controlled exits, and 86th percentile for entries.
As Carlsson looks today, he has the playstyle to fulfill a Backstrom-esque role for his future team.
Tracked Stats from Lassi Alanen and Mitch Brown
Transitional Data via CJ Turtoro’s A3Z Player Performance Tool
Raw stats via Elite Prospects
Main Photo: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports