Avs' elder statesman and top rookie ready to go

Friday, 10.07.2011 / 5:51 PM
Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent
CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Milan Hejduk, the Colorado Avalanche's elder statesman, is 35 and he's about to suit up for his 13th NHL season-opener. Gabriel Landeskog, team's youngest player at 18, is preparing for his NHL debut.

Yet the feelings will be similar for veteran and rookie Saturday night when the Avalanche faces off against the Detroit Red Wings at the Pepsi Center in the Avs' first game of the new season.

"It seems like every time you feel a little nervous," Hejduk said after practice Friday. "You don't know what to expect and you're a little nervous the first few shifts. And then things settle down and you're fine. It's always that way, every year.

"It's going to be an awesome night. All the games against the Red Wings are really good."

The evening will be extra special for Landeskog, who was selected second in the Entry Draft in June. The Stockholm native idolized fellow Swede Peter Forsberg while growing up, and the Avalanche icon's No. 21 jersey will be retired in a pregame ceremony.

"He was definitely my No. 1 idol," Landeskog said. "Growing up (and) watching him, (he was) a lot of Swedish kids' boyhood idol. (I'm) very excited for this night to come. It's going to be a special one for sure."

Landeskog, who is expected to skate at left wing on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and Daniel Winnik, will have quite a cheering section on hand.

"I do have my dad, brother and sister already here," he said. "My mom is flying in (Friday). It's a big night for them, too. It's been a lot of hard work for them through the years. I think it's fitting they're here.

"But our main focus is to get the season going in the right way. For me playing my first NHL game, I'm obviously very excited. I'm going to go out and play my best. I'll probably be a little nervous at first, but it's going to be a lot of fun."

Hejduk remembers his NHL debut well. He collected a goal and an assist in an Oct. 10, 1998 game against the Ottawa Senators at McNichols Sports Arena, the Avalanche's first home after arriving in Denver three years earlier.

"Unfortunately, we lost the game (4-3)," said Hejduk, who displays the puck from his initial goal in his home office.

Hejduk, who is expected to skate at right wing on a line with Matt Duchene and Peter Mueller against the Red Wings, finished his first season with 14 goals and an NHL rookie-high 48 points; then-teammate Chris Drury won the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie.

Hejduk has since scored 20 or more goals in 11 consecutive seasons to tie Joe Sakic's franchise record. He had 22 goals and 56 points a year ago to move into fourth place in franchise history for goals (357) and points (757) in 910 career games.

The Avalanche will open the season without a designated team captain, with Hejduk, Stastny and a player to be named wearing an "A" on Saturday.
"Milan actually seems like he has a little more step in his stride, a little more jump in his stride right now," coach Joe Sacco said. "Milan's always been a guy since I've been here, he's always fit, he takes care of himself and is very professional in how he goes about his business. As long as we do a good job of managing his practices and his game time and all that -- making sure we keep him fresh -- he's going to play a big part in our team again."

Sacco also expects big things from Landeskog, a 6-foot-1, 204-pounder and the only rookie to make the Avalanche roster. Landeskog had 36 goals and 66 points in 53 games last season as captain of the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League.

"He seems he's mature beyond his 18 years," Sacco said. "He brings a level of professionalism for such a young kid. I think that's kind of made the difference from what I've seen from him, being able to make the jump (from junior) a little easier."

Landeskog moved in Thursday with a local family with whom he'll spend his first NHL season.

"I feel really good about that," he said. "It's been good. The team here has been great taking care of me, treating me like one of the boys."

One player who won't be in uniform is defenseman Kyle Cumiskey, who was placed on waivers Friday. If he clears, the Avalanche will assign him to Lake Erie in the American Hockey League. Cumiskey, 24, was on injured reserve with a groin injury. He is on a two-way contract that pays him $708,000 this season if he plays in the NHL and $105,000 in the minors.

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