SHL club Växjö Lakers HC released a statement today confirming the earlier-reported signing of left-shot defenseman Gabriel Carlsson to a three-year contract. The former Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals defenseman signs in his home country of Sweden three days before SHL training camps begin on July 31.
A first-round draft choice of the Blue Jackets in 2015, the 26-year-old Carlsson joined the Capitals organization on a one-year, two-way deal last offseason after Columbus didn’t issue him a qualifying offer to retain his signing rights as an RFA. In hindsight, Carlsson likely received a little more hype than was warranted by his prospect status – Columbus drafted him as a shutdown defender, but registering just seven assists in 39 top-league Swedish junior games during his draft year didn’t inspire much confidence in terms of NHL projectability. Unfortunately, the concerns about Carlsson reaching his ceiling as a premiere defensive specialist turned out to be true, and he appeared in just 75 NHL contests for Columbus over parts of six seasons before the team cut him loose.
A last-ditch effort to get a full-time NHL job in Washington didn’t work out for Carlsson, either. He played just six games for the Capitals, his lowest total since 2019-20, recording two assists and a -1 rating. The season wasn’t a complete loss for Carlsson, however, as he played a top-pairing shutdown role for the AHL’s Hershey Bears and won his first professional championship in the process. Despite the Calder Cup win, his postseason play wasn’t as impressive as his regular-season performance, as he notched just two assists in 20 games and attached a -1 rating.
With that, Carlsson hit the UFA market thanks to the lack of a qualifying offer for a second straight season, obviously a fairly demoralizing experience. He’ll now participate in SHL play for the first time since 2016-17, when he posted two goals and two assists for four points and a +8 rating in 40 games for Linköping HC as a 19-year-old.
A three-year deal keeps Carlsson in Sweden through the 2025-26 season and could very well end his days of North American pro hockey. The towering 6-foot-5, 203-pound defenseman will look to help guide Växjö to their third SHL championship in four seasons after they won the title in 2021 and 2023. He joins a team ripe with former and future NHLers, including forward Tobias Rieder, defenseman Joel Persson, and high-end Buffalo Sabres center prospect Noah Östlund.