Whether or not Colorado Avalanche winger Gabriel Landeskog wins the 2012 Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year, it’s safe to say every team in the league would love to add him to their roster.
The 19-year-old native of Stockholm, Sweden may not have the silky offensive moves of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was chosen first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, one spot ahead of Landeskog. But this product of Djurgården’s system is indisputably the most complete, all-around player to enter the NHL this season.
Even though Colorado will miss the playoffs for the second straight year, statistics confirm Landeskog’s prowess. He’s played close to 20 minutes a game nearly every night for Avs coach Joe Sacco, taking advantage of prime opportunities at even strength, on the power play, and shorthanded. Remarkably, he became the first and only rookie since Dion Phaneuf in 2005-06 to top both 20 goals and 200 hits.
“He’s been a very consistent player and he’s played in every situation possible for us,” said Sacco. “He does it with a strong work ethic. That’s the foundation of his success.”
Landeskog also brings a never-say-die attitude that turned heads during the fitness testing at last June’s NHL scouting combine and has evoked memories of his childhood hero, Peter Forsberg.
After suffering a devastating 1-0 road loss versus the Vancouver Canucks on March 28, Landeskog said of his club: “Nothing changes for us. We’re not going to quit in any way, shape, or form. We’re just going to keep going and play for pride and our organization.”
While Landeskog could well match Forsberg’s Calder Trophy exploits of 1995, it’s unlikely that he’ll get to win the Stanley Cup next season, as “Foppa” did with the Avs in ‘96. Colorado is far removed from its glory days when Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy made it a Cup contender every year.
The team is still building for the future. There is youthful potential aplenty, from Landeskog’s linemate Ryan O’Reilly (the Avalanche’s points leader) to Paul Stastny (a 2010 U.S. Olympian who’s the son of legendary Slovak attacker Peter Stastny) to Matt Duchene (a two-time Canadian World Championship participant who’s struggled after a career-high 67 points last year).
Yet while this group is still learning and growing together, Landeskog’s best chances of winning something will likely come with the Swedish national team. He could bring several important elements to coach Pär Mårts’s squad.
At 185 centimetres and 92.5 kilograms, the teenager already has a man’s size and conditioning. Landeskog plays a hard-nosed game that many have described as more typically Canadian than Swedish. (Perhaps that’s why he was able to thrive for two seasons with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, where he became the youngest-ever player – at 17 – and the first European to receive the captaincy in franchise history.) His style is almost the polar opposite of Mikael Nylander’s, a funny coincidence considering that he has the same #92 jersey number.
His experience in IIHF competition is admittedly limited – he scored four goals for Sweden at the 2009 IIHF World U18 Championship and had to pull out of the 2011 World Juniors with a high ankle sprain after debuting with a goal and an assist in a 7-1 win over Norway. But being a versatile, reliable left wing should favour Landeskog when it comes to IIHF World Championship consideration.
After he plays his first Worlds game, he’ll already have gone one better than his father Tony, who patrolled the blueline solidly for Division I club Hammarby in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
When you start projecting rosters for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, it’s hard to overlook that only three Swedish left wings have outscored Landeskog this season: Loui Eriksson, Daniel Sedin, and Henrik Zetterberg. And the dynamic rookie has more upside than left-side veterans like 28-year-old Alexander Steen and 39-year-old Tomas Holmström.
There is, of course, still time for budding Elitserien talents like Jakob Silfverberg (Brynäs) and Max Friberg (Timrå) to take their games to the next level before the Winter Games. But right now, whichever way you slice it, the Olympic odds are promising for Landeskog.
He demonstrates a maturity and poise that have already sparked whispers he’ll be the next captain of the Avalanche after veteran Milan Hejduk’s tenure ends.
“Definitely, confidence is a huge part of hockey,” said Landeskog. “It’s about believing in yourself and not losing that swagger. Always go out there and show what you can do.”
Landeskog knows how to have fun, too, whether he’s tweeting a photo of roommate Erik Johnson’s false teeth or chuckling with CBC broadcasters about the time he was offered a modeling contract while browsing through racks of clothing at an H&M store in Toronto.
He even briefly sparked a “Landeskoging” fad, where fans took photos of themselves falling flat on their faces, mimicking his celebration after scoring the 3-2 OT winner against the Anaheim Ducks on March 12. The nickname put a twist on the “Tebowing” craze in the National Football League last season, where then-Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow would kneel and pray during games.
Now, both Colorado Avalanche fans and Swedish supporters will be praying that Landeskog continues his ascent toward superstardom.