Kitchener Rangers captain Gabriel Landeskog, the No. 1-rated North American skater according to NHL Central Scouting's mid-term report on Jan. 10, is cautiously optimistic he'll return to the lineup on Friday in an Ontario Hockey League matchup against the Plymouth Whalers.
"I really look forward to playing in front of the home crowd again," Landeskog told NHL.com. "Just that feeling to step out onto the ice is something that I really look forward to right now. So I'm going to have a good practice tomorrow and continue to do my rehab and hopefully I'll feel good to go on Friday."
A high ankle sprain forced Landeskog to miss all but one game for Team Sweden in the World Junior Championship and required him to relinquish his roster spot in the Top Prospects Game to Shane Prince of the Ottawa 67's. Landeskog has 25 goals, 45 points and a plus-24 rating in 32 OHL games. Despite not playing since Dec. 18, he still leads his team in goals and is third in points.
Central Scouting rated Landeskog the No. 1 skater in the Ontario Hockey League in its preliminary rankings release in November. Landeskog is the second European-born and -trained player to captain an OHL team -- New York Islanders prospect Tomas Marcinko, a native of Slovakia, captained the Barrie Colts in 2007-08.
Landeskog admitted being surprised with the No. 1 ranking last month.
"I was pretty surprised, to be honest," he said. "I wasn't expecting it at all but, to me, it was just something that showed me that I was doing good things on the ice. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing. At the same time, it's just a list and you want on be on the top of the rankings at the end of June and not in January, so you have to just stay on track and keep doing what your doing."
Carolina Hurricanes rookie forward Jeff Skinner, a former teammate of Landeskog in Kitchener, believes that team selecting the 6-foot, 207-pound left wing at the Entry Draft on June 24 will be getting one tough player. The effervescent Skinner was named the NHL Rookie of the Month for January after producing 9 goals and 14 points in 14 games.
"I think a team would be lucky to get him in a draft," Skinner told NHL.com. "If I had my choice, I'd pick Gabe 100 times because he's a special player. What makes him even more special is the leadership he brings along with all the other intangibles. He was my roommate last year so it was his first year in North America. I was surprised how well he adjusted. It takes a special person to do what he's doing and I think it speaks volumes."
When told of Skinner's remarks, Landeskog laughed.
"We're really close off the ice, too, and I think our personalities kind of complement each other. We had a lot of fun last year," Landeskog said. "Not many people know he was very interested in learning Swedish, so we had a bunch of Swedish classes in the room … it was funny. Jeff taught me a lot of things, just around road trips and how he stayed motivated. The mental grind is a long one, especially in the playoffs, so it was great for me to kind of watch him and to see what he was doing on and off the ice. It was a great experience, for sure."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale