Detroit Red Wings doing due diligence on top prospect Leo Carlsson, likely a top-3 pick

Detroit Free Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Detroit Red Wings are doing due diligence on top prospects that would only be available if they manage to trade up in the draft.

One of the players the Wings interviewed during the NHL combine was Leo Carlsson, a highly rated center out of Sweden who is projected to be selected as high as second or third.

The Wings hold their first pick in the June 28-29 draft in Nashville, Tennessee, at No. 9, so unless they come up with a pretty fantastic package (they also have another first-round pick at No. 17) to persuade the Columbus Blue Jackets to give up the third overall selection, Carlsson isn’t coming to Detroit.

But still, the Wings are doing their homework. And when they met in a hotel suite during the combine, they had questions.

“They wanted me to tell them about their Swedes,” Carlsson said. “And of course they wanted to know about me.”

There’s much to like about Carlsson:

• He was named Swedish Junior Hockey Player of the Year in 2022-23 after leading Sweden’s top professional league (SHL) in assists (15) and points (25), as well as finishing second in goals (10) in his age category.

• He represented his country in their gold-medal entry at the 2022 Under-18 World Championship and earned a bronze medal at the 2021 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He also skated for Team Sweden at the 2023 World Championship and sat tied atop his country in goals with three goals and five points in eight games.

• He was tied for third in team scoring for Sweden in their fourth-place finish at the 2023 World Junior Championship (three goals and three assists in seven games played).

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As mentioned above, the Wings would need to make a big move to get anywhere near where Carlsson is likely to be selected. The Chicago Blackhawks won the “Connor Bedard Sweepstakes,” with the Canadian center widely considered a lock to be picked first.

But Carlsson wasn’t the only top prospect the Wings were interested in chatting with. They spoke with Michigan’s Adam Fantilli, who projects to be a top-three pick.

Carlsson (6 feet 3, 198 pounds) has the confidence befitting a player projected to go so highly in the draft: Asked if he might need to play wing in the NHL at the start before transitioning to center — his preferred position — like he did in the Swedish Hockey League, Carlsson didn’t hesitate: “No,” he said, “I think I am ready to play center right away.”

The Wings need a top-line, superstar-potential center in the system, and would have hit big with the No. 2 or 3 pick this year. General manager Steve Yzerman selected Marco Kasper at No. 8 last year, but Kasper doesn’t have the “wow” factor Fantilli and Carlsson have.

NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr raved about Carlsson’s ability to thrive at center and wing.

“Any time a player has that versatility, it bodes well for them,” Marr said. “The player that has that versatility that he can adapt on the play, it’s a bonus. Coaches like that. Coaches are going to do what they have to do to win, so if they think they can win with someone else at center and him at wing, then that is the way it is going to be.

“He has been playing at a higher level as one of the younger players on the team, so he is quite accustomed to moving around. I think he’d prefer to play center, and he has the vision and the ability to control the play from that position. But any team that gets him, it’s an added luxury when you get a top end player that is versatile enough to be able to complete and contribute at two positions.”

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It was a topic with all 11 teams that interviewed Carlsson: “Every team is wondering,” he said.

Wherever he goes, Carlsson got some insider tips on adjusting to his new life from Wings forward Lucas Raymond while they were teammates at last month’s World Championship.

“He gives me some small tips on living over there the first year and then on the ice, too, because it’s fast and skilled,” Carlsson said.

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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