When the Canucks were up to make their selection in the sixth round with their 169th overall selection, I was hoping for one of two names.
The first was local Vancouver boy, Trevor Wong, who ended up going undrafted. After Wong, my dream pick for the Canucks was Hugo Gabrielson out of Frölunda’s J20 program.
Gabrielson was another one of those J20 Nationell players who had their season ended early due to COVID-19. He was forced to go play in the HockeyEttan league after being the defence partner of the sixth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Simon Edvinsson. Both Gabrielson and Edvinsson are solid two-way defencemen and Edvinsson received much more hype due to his 6’5″ frame and the fact that he played well in the Allsvenskan and SHL while Gabrielson went to the HockeyEttan after his league shut down.
Edvinsson and Gabrielson played as one of the top pairings in the J20 Nationell league, it was actually Gabrielson who led the way in scoring on the pairing. I’m not saying that Gabrielson is a better prospect than Edvinsson — it’s far from that as Edvinsson is one of the top defencemen in this year’s draft and will be on a fast-track to the NHL while Gabrielson is a late-round pick that you hope makes it to the NHL one day.
That being said, there’s reason to be high on Gabrielson’s potential. In my recent article about Jonathan Myrenberg, there were noticeable habits in the defensive zone that were worrisome. With Gabrielson, the tape is just so damn good. It’s hard to find consistent habits in both the offensive or defensive zone that worry talent evaluators.
The knock you could have is that he played in a U20 Swedish league and third division HockeyEttan league. Everything that he did in these two leagues was done with pace, precision and almost always was the right decision.
Aside from maybe going for this open-ice hit…
I asked Gabrielson if he remembered this play.
“Lightweight,” he said while laughing. “In my mind, I was going to destroy him because I thought he didn’t see me but then I was flying.”
Primarily, Hugo Gabrielson is a defensive defenceman. He’s not the type to overpower you in the corners but he is the type who will use a low centre of gravity to position himself closer to the puck. Additionally, his stick work is at such a high level that it seemed as though he was able to strip the puck away from any competition that he faced this season.
At 6’1″, 176 lbs, he isn’t small but there is a lot of room for him to add muscle to his teenage frame. Once he adds more strength, his defensive habits are going to make him a very strong defender in the SHL by the time he’s 20.
Here’s just a small clip but a good example of Gabrielson working around his own crease.
Canucks prospect Hugo Gabrielson is a fan of Loui Eriksson and you love to see the little things that Gabrielson does defensively.
— 𝗖𝗵𝗿𝗶𝘀 Faber 🔥🎙 (@ChrisFaber39) July 29, 2021
An unabating manner in his game is how often he is scanning his own zone for threats. His head is on a Goture swivel and he will move around in the defensive zone to best position himself to limit scoring chances. If he continues to develop his defensive game, his smarts at such a young age show potential for him to play in the NHL. We’re a long way from that day but if he keeps this type of commitment to the defensive side of the ice, he will get a ton of minutes in Allsvenskan next season and will find himself playing a ton of minutes in the SHL in 2022-23.
You have to find him here on the right side of the play, behind the net to begin the clip. Watch how well he boxes out the opposing forward as he looks to drive the net and Gabrielson completely boxes him out of the play.
In this next clip, on the penalty kill, Gabrielson makes a clean hip swing as he goes back to be the first man on the puck. The pass skips over his stick but he brings defensive pressure on two opponents, forces a turnover, and clears the puck down the ice.
His fluid skating and flexible hips give him an advantage on racing to loose pucks and being able to get an extra second to make a decision when chasing down dump-ins. Those extra seconds won’t be there at the next level, but he has the building blocks to be able to adapt at the next level and be an impact defenceman.
First off, here’s a 125-foot stretch pass that immediately creates an offensive rush.
Props to the goalie on that little stick point.
The best part of Gabrielson’s game is likely his passing and how he can quickly transition to an attacking rush from his own zone. His passes are hard, accurate and are made with confidence. This is something that you can see on a consistent basis at the J20 level as the league is very much suited for defencemen to spring forwards in the open ice format due to lacklustre defending in the neutral zone.
When breaking out the puck, Gabrielson often realizes when the opposition is changing. He wastes no time as he snaps the puck up to a forward and continues to follow the play for an added offensive option in the offensive zone.
In this clip, Gabrielson makes a nice cut to give himself space. He then takes another important step to set up the breakout and makes the safe pass at the right time to get around the forechecker.
In this play, Gabrielson makes a strong pass to send in his teammate on a break as he finds open space in his own zone, moves past the blue line, and snaps a pass to send his teammate in on the break.
As mentioned earlier, his tape in the J20 and HockeyEttan leagues repeatedly showcases his high hockey sense and the true question will be if he is able to look this good at the next level. Gabrielson will play for Västerviks in the Allsvenskan next season and will be the youngest defenceman on the roster that has one other drafted defenceman in Michael Brodzinski (2013 fifth round of San Jose) on it.
A final part of his breakouts that needs to be mentioned is that for the majority of his season, Gabrielson played his off-side as a left-handed, right-side defenceman. He moved around the ice well and as you can see in the last two clips, he was able to use an inside-step move to create better passing lanes for his breakouts.
“I’ve always played both sides of the ice and I think that’s because there are more left-handed players than right-handed,” said Gabrielson. “I like to play on the right side too and I think I can play both sides of the ice. It’s nice to have the stick on the inside of the ice. You can cut into the middle of the ice and make some plays.”
Shooting and work in the offensive zone
His shot wasn’t something that stuck out but the part that I liked about his shot is how often he can find open ice for good scoring chances. From those scoring chances came some goals and his wrist shot isn’t below average, though his slap shot was almost non-existent last season.
He can shoot through screens and his shot often finds the net. He averaged 3.25 shots per game through his final eight games in the J20 league.
Right now, at face value as a sixth-round pick, there’s not a lot to dislike in his game. He’s got great instincts in both the defensive zone and offensive zone while his intelligent movement during offensive zone cycles to help create offensive chances leaves you wanting to see more.
The big question will be if he can translate those skills at the next level. He’s still pretty far away from the SHL but once he gets there if he shows growth in his all-around game, there’s a good chance we are all wondering when Gabrielson will be coming over to North America.
It’s tough to find NHL players in the sixth round and Gabrielson may not end up being an NHL player when it’s all said and done. For now, the Canucks have an extremely smart defenceman, who dominated the J20 league and is ready to take the jump into Sweden’s second division. The next two years are crucial for Gabrielson as he works his way up to the SHL. We should save our NHL hopes until he makes it to that level. Once he cracks an SHL roster and is competing in one of the best leagues in the world, then the real conversation begins on if Gabrielson has a future in the NHL.
The Canucks went with high upside in their late-round picks. It makes you wonder if some of these talented J20 Swedes snuck through the cracks of a weird draft year. No team in the J20 Nationell was able to get more than 20 games in this season. It’s a league that had so much talent and the Canucks went to that well three times with Jonathan Myrenberg, Lucas Forsell and Hugo Gabrielson. We will now see what each of these three players can do next season as they make the jump into the top two Swedish leagues.
As of today, the only thing holding him back from achieving that goal is the ladder that he needs to climb through the Swedish hockey leagues. The talent and smarts are there for Gabrielson, now it’s about playing to his potential as he moves up in competition.
Västervik is set to open its training camp on Friday, August 6th, and plays its first preseason game on August 20th. We will have instant coverage on everything that Gabrielson is up to as he makes the jump to the Allsvenskan league.
So far, so good.