NASHVILLE, Tenn. – There was plenty of buzz leading up to the NHL Draft about who the Ducks would select with the second overall pick. They had plenty of options to choose from in Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson, Matvei Michkov and Will Smith.
In the end, it appeared to come down to Fantilli and Carlsson. Fantilli won the Hobey Baker as the best collegiate player after a historic freshman season at Michigan and made the most of his time at World Championships with Canada, despite playing limited minutes, primarily at wing.
Carlsson more than held his own in the SHL, playing against grown men and was named the Swedish Junior Hockey Player of the Year this past season. He also performed well at World Championships, becoming the youngest player to score for Sweden in the tournament.
Arguments can be made for why either player would have been the right pick at second overall. Ultimately, the Ducks opted for Carlsson. He is the highest-drafted Swede since Lucas Raymond went fourth overall to the Detroit Red Wings in 2020. Though he has played wing often for Örebro in the SHL, Carlsson sees himself as a center in the NHL.
It’s unclear right now whether Carlsson will return to Sweden for next season or begin the season with Anaheim, but that is likely something that will be decided once development camp—which he confirmed he will attend—and training camp has passed. If he returns to Örebro next season (he said his contract with them runs through 2026), Carlsson says he’ll be playing down the middle.
“I think I’m going to be the best at center. I can play wing as well, but I think my natural position is center and I’m best at center as well.”
It wasn’t the smoothest of trips to the draft for Carlsson and his family. With a slew of flights on the east coast either delayed or flat out canceled due to weather, the Carlsson family opted to drive from Newark to Nashville—a nearly 14-hour trek—in a minivan, arriving yesterday morning.
“My mom, dad and brother would drive two hours and then pass it on to the next person.” Carlsson just got his driver’s license two weeks ago so this excursion being his first driving experience in the U.S.?
“I was like ‘No, I cannot’. I was just sleeping. We were driving at night so I was just sleeping.”
Carlsson, who had one final meeting yesterday with the Ducks after getting into Nashville, isn’t completely unfamiliar with the organization after playing with fellow Swede Jakob Silfverberg at World Championships. Silfverberg captained the team.
“I didn’t ask (him) about the NHL too much to be honest,” said Carlsson about playing alongside Silfverberg. “I just asked him to give me some easy tips on being a professional, not only on the ice but off the ice.”
As for where Carlsson thinks he still needs to improve, he cited his first three strides when skating as one area he wants to improve. “And then I can shoot more,” he added. “I think I have a good shot, but I want to be a shot threat as well as a passing threat.”
While the expectation of many in the fanbase may have been a “Silly for Fantilli” campaign, there is no reason to suggest that taking Carlsson over the Hobey Baker winner was a gaffe by general manager Pat Verbeek and his scouting staff.
Carlson’s hockey sense and playmaking are among the best in this draft class and though he’s already 6-foot-3 and 194 pounds, he will continue to fill out as he grows older and matures.