The New Jersey Devils don't need a left-winger, but Gabriel Landeskog may be too hard to pass up.
Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias (a left-winger converted to center) all hold guaranteed roster spots. That doesn't leave much space for the Kitchner Ranger.
His ability, as well as his maturity, make him one of the top prospects heading into Friday's NHL Entry Draft. If he's still available when the Devils pick fourth, he'll present an interesting choice for the organization.
Landeskog enters the draft ranked as the number 2 North American skater by the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau. The Kitchner captain recorded 66 points in 53 games last season, a 10-point improvement from his 2009-10 season. Despite his offensive potential, Landeskong stresses the importance of defense.
"I think today in the NHL, you've got to be able to play in both ends of the ice," he told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "I've always taken pride in my defensive-zone (play) first and, being not the most skilled guy out there, I've got to rely on my work ethic and take care of my own end first and let my skill take over in the offensive zone."
New Jersey stresses the importance of two-way play, imploring its forwards to backcheck and play in their own zone. Landeskog's dedication to defense shows his character, which many believe can make him a future captain.
Landeskog is one of the more mature prospects, measuring 6-1/2 feet and weighing 204 pounds. His maturity runs deeper than his physical appearance. He began to learn English at a young age and does not speak with a noticeable accent. Kitchner made him the youngest captain in 30 years and their first European on-ice leader. His debut as a 16-year old with Djurgadren made him the youngest player in history.
Kitchner coach Steve Spott compared Landeskog to the Philadelphia Flyers' Mike Richard.
"For me he's in the Mike Richards territory with leadership and I fully believe he's a captain in the NHL one day," Spott told The Hockey News. "On the ice, he's a powerful weapon every time he's out there; he can score goals, he can defend, he's a 200-foot player, a complete player. At the same time, he's our leader and deserving of being our captain."
Landeskog is a left-handed shot, but spent time at all three forward positions. The Devils have a bigger need at right wing and could shift him to that side.
"He is best on the wing and I don't think it matters if it is right or left," TSN's Craig Button told Gulitti.
He also brings a physical element to the ice. Typically, European players are labeled "soft" because they play a more finesse game. But he's drawn comparison to the Detroit Red Wings' Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, two gritty Europeans.
"I think it all started when we were allowed to hit (in Sweden) at age 13," Landeskog said to NHL.com. "My dad used to play, and he was a big, physical defenseman and he gave me advice. He said, 'It's not bad to play physical, and it's an asset to your game.' I started young and came along with it and have been using (that physical approach) to my advantage now."
Many analysts believe the young Swede is NHL ready.
"Every year you always say you'd like to see the guy go back to junior and there's always those guys that make the step every year," Chris Edwards of NHL's Central Scouting told Gulitti. "I think of the last few years, (Landeskong) is probably the guy that I'd say (is) the most ready and can make the jump. He's physically strong. He's a real mature guy and he speaks English better than I do. That's pretty amazing. Some guys come over here for years and it's a tough adjustment. He's made it real well."
The Devils interviewed Landeskog at the scouting combine and administered extra testing. But he may not even reach them, as many mock drafts project him to fall no further than second.
Landeskog knows he has the ability to play in the NHL right now. But he's not taking that for granted.
"Working hard is what's taken me here," he told Gulitti, "and I can't forget that."