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Photo Credit: Twitter via @Canucks

Smooth skating defenceman Hugo Gabrielson is showing early promise: CanucksArmy prospect rankings #11

The Canucks targetted high upside throughout the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and went fishing in the Swedish J20 pool to find their potential diamonds in the rough. That’s where they found a 6’1″ smooth-skating defenceman who was playing alongside Simon Edvinsson (The 6th overall pick of the 2021 draft) and shows potential in all three parts of the ice.

Coming in the number 11 spot on our prospect rankings is a new addition to the pipeline in Swedish defenceman, Hugo Gabrielson.

Height: 6’1″

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Weight: 172 lbs

Age: 18

Position: LD (played most of the 2020-21 season on the right-side)

Handedness: Left

2021-22 Team: Västerviks IK

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It’s been a heck of a ride for Hugo Gabrielson since the Vancouver Canucks drafted him 169th overall in the 2021 draft. He scored a goal in his first preseason game with his new team before shipping off to play on Sweden’s U20 team at the Four Nations tournament.

When we say there’s a lot to be excited about with this sixth-round pick, we mean it.

Gabrielson was first in J20 scoring from a defenceman out of eligible defencemen for the 2021 draft. He put up 13 points in 17 games before the Swedish J20 league was shut down due to COVID-19. During his time in the J20, most of Gabrielson’s ice time was spent as the defence partner of Simon Edvinsson. The pairing was excellent at moving the puck up ice and their defensive effort level matched their offensive skill.

When the J20 league was shut down, Edvinsson went on to play in the SHL while Gabrielson was sent to the Swedish third division, our least favourite league to cover, the HockeyEttan. In the HockeyEttan, Gabrielson got a taste of what it was like to compete against men and found himself in a league where the fun Swedish style of fast-paced offence goes to die. In the J20 league, there are constant coverage mistakes that allow defencemen to develop their breakouts through 100-foot passes to streaking wingers for quick transitions from their own zone to the attacking zone. It’s a great league for puck-moving defencemen to develop in and if you show well defensively, it’s an added bonus.

Through watching the tape on Gabrielson, I’ve found that the defensive side of the game looks to be the most developed. He does an incredible job of realizing danger when in front of the net, he closes in on opposing forwards who attempt to gain the zone, and he is able to make snap decisions when he gains possession of the puck.

I recently went deep into Gabrielson’s game in an article at the beginning of August.

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Gabrielson was one of the players we identified for the Canucks to target in the later round of the draft and here’s what I wrote about his game back in July.

Quick Hits: A smooth-skating Swedish defenceman who was unable to finish his season due to COVID, Hugo Gabrielson is a smart defenceman who looks uber comfortable with the puck around the blue line. He was the sixth highest-scoring defenceman in the J20 Nationell league before it shut down. Gabrielson has great spatial awareness in his own zone and it helps that he is always moving his feet to gain momentum on his edges. His skating sticks out in the HockeyEttan league and he will move up to the Swedish second division next season to show the growth in his game.

Special Trait: He appears to be an above-average skater with good hands for a defenceman.

Ranks: #81 by Draft Prospect Hockey, #91 by Smaht Hockey, #154 by McKeen’s Hockey and #225 by FCHockey.

Back in July, I talked about his skating being impressive and that continues to be true today. He has an excellent stride when defending and you can see here how quick he can skate backwards while setting up to defend a rush.

Though he will only be 18 at this year’s World Junior Championships, Gabrielson’s name is starting to make the rounds throughout Swedish circles. Gabrielson played for Sweden in the 4 Nations U20 tournament that took place on August 26-28th. In the first game of the tournament, Gabrielson led team Sweden in ice-time and looked excellent in the defensive zone.

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It was his skating that initially caught my eye but when getting a chance to dive in deeper, it’s his defensive smarts combined with his active feet that excite me about his development. One of the things that I like to see from defence prospects is how they are at evaluating danger in their own zone. This is one of the reasons why I disliked Philip Broberg at the time of his draft year. Gabrielson is constantly scanning the defensive zone to address oncoming danger while also staying in contact with his man.

In the 4 Nations tournament that features Finland, Russia, Sweden and Czech Republic, Gabrielson has had an excellent showing defensively but has not yet found the score sheet as of writing this with one game to go in the tournament. His passes and puck-handling skills are looking like some of the best on the team and if he continues this upwards trend, he will push to make the WJC team this coming December.

Gabrielson will play in the Swedish second division Allsvenskan league this fall and we will have plenty of updates on him as the season progresses. We’re high on this kid due to his excellent defensive play combined with his skating ability and willingness to throw his body around to help his team gain possession.

It will be a telling year for him in the Allsvenskan and if he works his way into the SHL for the 2022-23 season, we will be looking at a player who has a strong case to come over to North America and try his hand in the AHL as he attempts to achieve the ultimate goal and work his way up to the NHL one day.