DENVER – Gabriel Landeskog admitted to being a little star-struck upon entering the Colorado Avalanche locker room at the Pepsi Center for the first time.
Landeskog and Duncan Siemens, selected by the Avalanche with the second and 11th overall picks in last weekend's Entry Draft, were introduced to the local media in the room on Tuesday.
The Swedish-born Landeskog, an 18-year-old left wing, was thrilled to see Joe Sakic's retired locker in the corner – it's encased in plexiglass and includes a No. 19 jersey and equipment – and he was especially excited when a reporter pointed to where former star Peter Forsberg's old locker was.
"Maybe I'll go and stand in front of that locker for a bit," Landeskog said. "I'm very thrilled to be a part of this, not only because of Peter Forsberg – one of the best players to ever play the game – but obviously (because of) Joe Sakic, Ray Bourque, Patrick Roy and Adam Foote. I'm very excited to be wearing this jersey. It's a tremendous honor and I'm looking forward to making an impact."
Landeskog, a 6-foot-1, 207-pounder, usually isn't lost for words. But he was tongue-tied after fielding a telephone call from Forsberg, his idol while growing up in Stockholm, while sitting at the Avalanche's draft table Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"I was stuttering at first, to say the least," he said. "I didn't really know what to say. But we had a good talk there. He wished me good luck. It was very exciting. He was a real big role model for me. I'd always seen him on TV, so it was really special to talk to him first hand."
Forsberg retired in February following an unsuccessful comeback attempt and the Avalanche believe that Landeskog has the right stuff to become their next Swedish star.
"Just the way he approaches the game, we think he's special," said Rick Pracey, the Avalanche's director of amateur scouting. "Gabriel is an extremely focused individual."
Landeskog left home for Canada at age 16 to hone his game and improve his English. He played two seasons with the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League and was named the franchise's first European-born captain this past season. He finished with 36 goals, 30 assists and 61 penalty minutes in 53 games, missing some time because of an ankle injury.
"He was 13 or 14 when he decided to make lifestyle changes to improve himself, to get over here and to learn the language," Pracey said. "It's truly impressive. He has a presence to him. We think he's a professional now. His level of maturity and his ability to make decisions are for the long term and with the right things in mind."
Landeskog said it wasn't easy to leave family and friends behind, but he felt compelled to do so in order to improve his chances of fulfilling his dream to play in the NHL.
"I felt it was the right thing to do for my development," he said. "I'd been over three or four times for tournaments, but it was the first time I was by myself. I lived with a billet family that really took care of me. I loved it there."
Landeskog's father, Tony, played professionally in Sweden and is in the insurance business. He made the trip across the Atlantic three times a year to visit with his son. Landeskog's mother, Cecelia, is a chef and teaches a food nutrition class. He has a twin sister, Beatrice, and his brother Adam turned 21 on Tuesday. His mom and siblings were able to visit once a year during hockey season and the entire family attended the draft.
The Landeskogs became quite proficient at using Skype to keep in touch between visits.
"Today's technology is pretty amazing," he said. "I also talked to my friends that way. At the same time, I lived my life over here. You have to get used to that, too. You can't just sit at the computer all the time and talk to your friends and family back home."
Landeskog was heading back to his billet family in Toronto on Tuesday night to work out with a trainer for two weeks before flying back to Denver to attend the Avalanche's development camp in mid-July. He'll return to Sweden after that to prepare for a September rookie camp in Colorado.
"I'm just racking up the air miles right now and living out of a suitcase pretty much, but it's fun," he said. "I'm very fortunate to be a part of this. Not a lot of 18-year-olds get to do this on a daily basis."
Siemens, a physical 6-3, 197-pound defenseman, doesn't even turn 18 until Sept. 7. The Sherwood Park, Alberta, native collected five goals, 38 assists and 121 penalty minutes in 72 games with the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League. He'll attend Canada's world junior development camp in August after taking part in the Avalanche's development camp.
"Duncan is very outgoing, very engaging, and he has a clear idea of the type of player that he is," Pracey said. "We were joking when we were in the hallway today looking at all the (NHL) awards on our walls that our players have won. He was looking at the Lady Byng Award (won by Sakic in 2001) and he said, 'That's one I'm never going to get.'"
Siemens called it "an honor" just to be inside the Avalanche locker room and is hopeful of makingenough of an impression in training camp to have a crack at making the opening night roster.
"I describe myself as the type of player who is willing to go to battle for one of my teammates," he said. "Sometimes that requires getting in there and scrapping. That comes from being a hard, physical guy and some guys on other teams take exception to that. There are times you have to answer the bell and it's something I'm not afraid to do."