Gabriel Landeskog spent the final days of his summer in Toronto last week catching a Keith Urban concert and relaxing at a cottage. He arrived back in Denver on Sunday to get back on the ice and workout with his Avalanche teammates. While in Toronto, Milan Hejduk called and asked him to come to the team practice rink early Tuesday morning, before Landeskog had planned to arrive. He wasn't sure why he needed to get there at 8 a.m. Maybe there's a team meeting or a meeting to talk about the CBA negotiations, he thought.
When Landeskog walked in he noticed it was only him, Hejduk and Colorado head coach Joe Sacco. Still puzzled as to what was happening, he said down and listened. Hejduk then began talking about how he was getting older and wanted to pass the team captaincy along to someone on the team who could be a leader for a longtime. That's when it was revealed that the next captain of the Colorado Avalanche would be the 19-year old Landeskog.
"[Hejduk] had faith in me," said Landeskog by phone on Wednesday evening. "He believed in me as a captain and a player. That means a lot to me, especially coming him being such a respected player all around the league and in our dressing room."
By adding the C to his jersey beginning with the next season whenever hockey is played, Landeskog becomes the youngest full-time captain in NHL history, beating Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins by 11 days. The Stockholm-native is now a leader of young men. Colorado is a team filled with youth and only five players, including the 36-year old Hejduk, over the age of 30.
Landeskog has worn the "C" before as a member of Sweden's U-16, U-17 and U-18 teams and was the first European-born captain of the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers. At 17, he was also the youngest captain for the Rangers since Brian Bellows. But the NHL is a different level. There's various levels of experience in a locker room, along with egos and personalities to deal with. Sacco and Hejduk met last week to discuss who would be best to fill the role and seeing how Landeskog handled himself in his rookie season was enough evidence that he was the right pick.
"Don't let his age fool you," said Sacco to reporters on Tuesday. "He's certainly quite mature... more beyond his years. Not only by the way he conducts himself, but by the way he plays on the ice. He's the future of this franchise starting now."
"I think I'm just more excited," said Landeskog. "I'm more looking forward to the challenge."
It's a new situation, so there'll be plenty of nerves for a kid who has a whole 82 NHL games on his resume compared to that of a grizzled vet. But the NHL is now a young man's league. Teams are investing in youth long-term and are rewarding young leaders with C's and A's on their sweaters.
As Sacco said, Landeskog has shown a maturity not found in many 19-year olds. Away from the rink, he's taken an active role in the Players' Association, attending the meetings for European players last month in Barcelona. He said he will be in New York next week when the PA meets again. Despite his inexperience in the league, Landeskog understands the importance being involved in the discussions.
"It's huge. It's our job It's our lifestyle," he said. "It's up to us to make sure we're in the know with things and we know what's going, especially as a young guy. Last year I was getting more and more involved throughout the year. It's something that I'll learn a lot more as the years go along. It's the first time I've ever experienced a CBA situation. It's a good experience. It allows you to understand what's going on in the background of things and what the business aspect of the game is all about."
With the NHL and PA currently recessed and the hockey world waiting to see when the sides will meet again, it appears in 10 days time the lockout will begin. Both sides are entrenched in their positions, but is there common ground to be found at this point?
"I hope so," said Landeskog. "We have strong faith in the PA and in Don Fehr. We know that they're extremely knowledgeable of what's going on. A lot of players are extremely knowledgeable as well, especially for us coming together as a group and staying united is really important. We all want to play and fans want to watch us play, as well. But it's got to be a fair deal... for both sides."
Unless many of his PA brethren, Landeskog hasn't made any arrangements to play in Europe during a potential lockout, but he's keeping his options open.
The hope is that come Oct. 11 the Avalanche will be on the Pepsi Center ice opening up against the St. Louis Blues. That'll be the first day of Landeskog's captaincy and also when he will regularly have to pick up the tab at team dinners.
"There's only going to be a few every month. I'll just have to get used to that."
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy
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