Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche had a goal and an assist in Wednesday night's shootout victory over the Buffalo Sabres, which is expected: When the 19-year-old left wing puts up a point, the Avs are usually trading high-fives and giving their netminder mask noogies after the final buzzer.
Since Feb. 2, the Avalanche are 10-2-1 when Landeskog hits the scoresheet, and 2-4-1 when he doesn't. He's become as much at a catalyst for their playoff contention as anyone, and in the process he's wrapped up the Calder Trophy.
Seriously: Game over. He's the rookie of the year. He's gotten stronger as the season's gone on, and now he's getting those types of memorable highlights that are catnip to the voters: The overtime game-winning goal against the Anaheim Ducks — after which he dropped to the ice, hands aloft like Willem Defoe in "Platoon" — being the most vivid example.
He now leads all rookies in goals (20) and points (46, tied with Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils) and is second in plus-minus to Carl Hagelin of the New York Rangers. He plays in every situation. He throws the body (first among rookie forwards in hits) and takes the puck away (first among all rookies in takeaways). Fifteen of his 20 goals have come away from Denver. That's clutch.
The Sabres felt the kid's sting early in the second period on Wednesday. With the score tied 2-2, Landeskog collared a rebound in front of Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller and stickhandled him to the ice to put Colorado ahead 3-2.
It was the sort of calm move that showed why Sacco has Landeskog on the ice in all situations despite his age. "He plays on our power play, plays on our penalty kill, on one of the top lines, plays in the last minute of periods, the last minute of games, when we're up a goal or down a goal," Sacco said. "That says it all."
Landeskog's play over the last month put him in the conversation with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins about the Calder Trophy, the NHL's rookie-of-the-year award. Nugent-Hopkins, who was taken first overall in last year's entry draft, just ahead of Landeskog, was the favourite until Landeskog caught fire in February.
Nugent-Hopkins will still get significant support, as he should: He would have waltzed away with this were it not for injury, and still has a points per game average (0.86) that trumps Landeskog's (0.64).
Henrique has been a vital contributor for the Devils after they lost Travis Zajac to injury, and his contributions as a top line pivot for Ilya Kovalchuk can't be underestimated. He'll have a chance to state his case as the Devils and Avalanche meet in Jersey on Thursday night. He'll be a finalist, and might yet steal it.
Matt Read of the Philadelphia Flyers has made the most of his ice time and spots in the lineup, and deserves attention too. Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes is 19 and plays 22:55 per night; in a different year for both the rookie field and the Hurricanes, he might get more attention.
But now, it's Landeskog's award to lose. Like Corey Perry last year for the Hart, he's closing better than the other candidates. He's making a clear difference. He'll have to lead the League in either goals or points for rookies to really secure the Calder, but would anyone bet against him at this point?