STOCKHOLM – Gabriel Landeskog’s professional hockey career has been a series of firsts since he was a very young man.
At 16 he was the youngest player to ever perform for Djurgården and one of the youngest players in Swedish Elitserien history.
He was also the first European captain in Kitchener Rangers franchise history and this past season the youngest Swedish player to score a goal in the NHL.
Through it all, Landeskog, 19, is taking things in stride.
“I don’t get caught up in those things having to do with first,” he said. “I don’t want to look too far ahead or too far back. With everything I’ve done there learning that takes place every day and I’m trying improve as a player every day.”
It’s been a busy year for the Stockholm native. The Colorado Avalanche selected Landeskog with the second pick of the 2011 NHL entry draft.
Right out of the gate, Landeskog made the Avalanche after his first training camp and did not disappoint. He played all 82 games and scored 22 goals and 52 points; and is a finalist for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.
“It’s been a whirlwind year and I haven’t really had the time to sit down and take it all in,” said Landeskog of his initial NHL campaign. “It’s all gone by so fast starting with the draft and it’s been a blur ever since.”
Colorado finished 11th in the conference, out of playoff contention but saw a 20 point improvement over the 2010-11 season.
With so many talented young players, the youth movement in Colorado is making for an exciting time in Avalanche history.
“We have a bright future ahead of us and it can only get better from here,” said Landeskog. “Even though we missed the playoffs we’ve made some huge steps forward.”
Starting with Ryan O’Reilly, who is in Helsinki representing Team Canada, the Avalanche were indeed a much improved team.
Landeskog is enjoying his time performing in front of the hometown crowd with the impressive and established skaters on this team. Referring to this experience as “a lot of fun”, Landeskog likes the make up of Tre Kronor.
“There are so many great players on our team it feels like an all star team sometimes on the bench being out there with Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Alfredsson,” said Landeskog who was named an assistant captain for the Swedish national team alongside both players.
It’s easy to forget how young Landeskog is because he’s so mature for his age. When Sweden last won World Championship gold in 2006 Landeskog was 13 years old. Four members of that team, including Zetterberg, Johan Franzén and Niklas Kronwall are all here from that team.
“It’s surreal at first because you don’t really know at first what to expect going out there with them,” he said of these players. “They are such good players and have been in the NHL for a number of years. I grew up watching them at the same time I’ve worked hard to get where I am and I’m just enjoying being with these great players.”