The 2023 NHL Draft class is shaping up to be one of the most explosive and deep classes in recent memory. The projected first round is littered with offensive firepower and athletes who might legitimately have Hall of Fame potential, one of which being a 18-year-old Swedish superstar named Leo Carlsson.
The young Swede has a strong mix of size and incredible puck handling in tight spaces. Combine that with arguably his strongest asset, his hockey IQ, and you have the potential for an elite two way forward. With proven production and skilled playmaking in the SHL at the pro level, Carlsson could impact an NHL franchise as soon as next season.
2023 NHL Draft Update: Leo Carlsson was selected second overall by the Anaheim Ducks.
Who is Leo Carlsson?
|Leo Carlsson||C/W||L||6’3″ / 190cm||194lbs / 88kg|
Carlsson was born on December 26, 2004 making the forward one of the older prospects in the upcoming draft. Carlsson was born in Kalstad, Sweden and has played all of his young hockey career in Sweden.
Carlsson has played the last two seasons for the SHL’s Orebro HK, and made his World Juniors debut in 2022–23 on Sweden’s top line.
Carlsson’s on-ice production
Carlsson has displayed consistent offensive production throughout his career, highlighted by his most recent season in the SHL and during WJC. The centreman posted 25 points in 44 games, and six points in seven games respectively during the tournament. Additionally tallying nine points in 13 playoff games in the SHL playoffs this season.
|2017–18||D-5||U16 Div. 1||Färjestad BK U16 2||15||13||14||27|
|2018–19||D-4||U16 Div. 1||Färjestad BK U16 2||2||1||0||1|
|U16 SM||Färjestad BK U16||3||1||0||1|
|U16 Elite||Färjestad BK U16||19||0||10||10|
|2019–20||D-3||U16 Elite||Färjestad BK U16||15||8||9||17|
|U16 SM||Färjestad BK U16||3||0||1||1|
|J18 Elite||Färjestad BK J18||2||0||0||0|
|2020–21||D-2||J18 Region||Örebro HK J18||1||0||0||0|
|J20 Nationell||Örebro HK J20||19||4||5||9|
|2021–22||D-1||J18 Region||Örebro HK J18||2||1||2||3|
|J18 Nationell||Örebro HK J18||0||0||0||0|
|J20 Nationell||Örebro HK J20||14||10||17||27|
|International- Jr||Sweden U18||11||6||4||10|
There is no question that Carlsson has always had a knack for seeing the ice and creating offensive opportunities. As a 13-year-old Carlsson made his debut with the Färjestad BK U16 second team, posting a crazy 27 points in 15 games.
In his second season with Färjestad BK, Carlsson quickly moved up the U16 teams within the organization, playing 19 games in the U16 Elite division. The following season was much of the same with the then 15-year-old playing in two games in the J18 elite division while producing more than a PPG in U16 elite division.
The 2020–21 season being impacted by the pandemic took opportunites away from all athletes but Carlsson was still able to improve. Moving to Örebro HK J20 in 2020–21 gave Carlsson his first opportunity at the J20 level, seeing him playing in 19 games while posting nine points as a 16-year-old.
2021–22 was a breakout year to say the least, as he played 35 games in the SHL for Örebro HK while posting nine points as a 17-year-old. Carlsson also made his debut for the Swedish national team playing for U18 club.
Then most recently, 2022-23 saw Carlsson play the best hockey of his career while increasing his point totals in both the SHL and international competition. Carlsson’s draft-eligible season ranks as the fifth most productive ever in the SHL with 11 goals and 34 points in 57 SHL regular season and playoff games. The 18-year-old fell behind only Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Nicklas Backstrom and Calgary Flames centre Elias Lindholm.
Leo Carlsson’s strengths
Carlsson has few gaps in his offensive game, if any. The young Swede is a human highlight reel with incredible puck handling and size, making him a headache for defenders in puck battles and tight space. The forward’s puck handling and passing can in part be credited to his demeanour with the puck. He displays a confidence and swagger with the puck, while always thinking ahead to his next opportunity for a pass or move to the middle of the ice.
When watching Carlsson, nothing looks scrambled. There’s hustle on every play and while the centreman moves the puck extremely fast, it always looks controlled. Although Carlsson is a playmaker typically, his sheer size and power give him a dangerous shot that he can use accurately from the dot or in the slot.
Carlsson’s strongest asset might be between his ears. He displays high level hockey IQ in all three zones and analyzes the play at an incredible level—both on and off the puck. Watching Carlsson, it’s evident the forward is actively analyzing the play looking for opportunities while also maintaining a map of the ice through his periphery. This leads to creating chances in the middle of the ice at a elite level.
Carlsson has the ability to come off the wall and draw defenders in, maintain possession, and make timely and accurate passes. On the flip side, the Swede’s movement when in the offensive zone off the puck gives him opportunities close to the net for tight give-and-goes or a one-timer. Carlsson utlizes his teammates extremely well and processes plays at an incredible rate, setting up plays with some of the best assists I’ve seen out of this class.
In the neutral zone, he does a good job of assessing lanes and creating space to pass, while utilizing his size to carry the puck effectively. In the defensive zone, Carlsson utlizes his long reach and vision to intercept passing lanes and break up plays through the middle. Additionally, Carlsson’s compete level and hustle are always on display, making effort plays for smooth breakouts along the wall in the defensive zone.
Carlsson’s mental skillset makes him an all-situations type player, someone who is effective at even strength, the penalty kill, and most notably as a power play specialist.
Size and strength
Carlsson’s size and puck handling alone make him a first-round prospect. At 6’3″ and almost 200lbs, the Swede is one of the biggest names on the board both figuratively and literally.
Although you may not see huge bone crushing hits or massive slapshots, he uses his size much like his game: with an elegance. He utilizes his body to shield the puck and has shown he can maintain a lot of space against high level SHL defenceman.
Along the half wall at the hashmarks is where some of Carlsson’s best body play happens. He’s incredibly deceptive when going into puck battles or with control along the wall. The Swede utilizes his hips and shoulders to throw off defenders, then turns his back to defenders allowing him space and a split second to analyze the ice, looking pass first or driving towards the slot, drawing defenders, and finally passing off the the open man.
Leo Carlsson’s areas of improvement
Carlsson’s skating is one area that could be focussed on to improve his NHL game. The forward is smooth on his edges with decent agility but lacks the top-end speed you’d hope for in an NHL game dominated off the rush. Carlsson slots in with an overall below-average skating at the NHL level. If Carlsson can create more separation with the defence it could take him from an all-star calibre prospect, to a franchise-level prospect.
Mostly due to Carlsson’s skating issues, the forward is listed at centre but played predominantly on the wing in the SHL. Carlsson has an extremely high motor and work ethic so bringing his skating up would give him all the tools he needs to be a #1 centre in the NHL one day.
Leo Carlsson’s comparables
Carlsson’s skillset and two way ability draw comparisons of Patrice Bergeron. Carlsson holds a much bigger frame and in my opinion more potential offensively. Another comparable would be countryman and Calgary Flame, Elias Lindholm. Again, a smaller player but similar levels of creativity in all three zones, compete and offensive potential.
Fit with the Flames
Carlsson would be an amazing fit for the Flames, although a farfetched one. With Calgary’s lottery odds out the window and Matvei Michkov’s off-ice concerns, it’s almost a surefire guarantee that Carlsson will go in the top three, at worst top five.
Carlsson would likely play the wing in Calgary’s system and would exciting to see with Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Huberdeau. Although Carlsson and Huberdeau have similar skillsets, Carlsson has the finishing ability in tight and could create some mind blowing passing plays with Huberdeau on the opposite side and Kadri down the middle.
As discussed, Carlsson has the ability to challenge for a top three draft selection and rightfully so. The Swede’s ability to perform in the SHL makes his floor in the NHL a safe bet. Add in the fact he’s been playing with men at a professional level for two full seasons as a teenager and you have a really safe forward prospect with a very high ceiling.
Carlsson, much like Fantilli, will be major factors in the NHL as creative two-way forwards one day and it’s going to be a difficult decision for teams with the second through fourth selections in the draft. Carlsson has little to improve and could blossom into a Selke calibre player, if not more. Although it is a major aspect of his game, Carlsson’s work ethic and opportunity in the NHL could be all he needs to explode onto the scene in the best league in the world.
Projection: Elite, two-way forward
All TWC 2023 NHL Draft Profiles
Check out more of our individual player profiles of selected 2023 NHL Draft prospects:
Connor Bedard | Matvei Michkov | Adam Fantilli | Leo Carlsson | Zach Benson | Andrew Cristall | Oliver Moore | Will Smith | Ryan Leonard | Eduard Sale | Colby Barlow | Axel Sandin Pellikka | Dalibor Dvorsky | Brayden Yager | David Reinbacher | Nate Danielson | Riley Heidt | Matthew Wood | Quentin Musty | Mikhail Gulyayev | Calum Ritchie | Gabe Perrault | Jayden Perron | Ethan Gauthier | Dmitri Simashev | Samuel Honzek | Lukas Dragicevic | William Whitelaw | Otto Stenberg | Gavin Brindley | Daniil But