DENVER -- Colorado Avalanche coach Joe Sacco doesn't have a vote for the Calder Trophy, but if he did, it would take him about five seconds to pencil in his blossoming left wing, Gabriel Landeskog, into the top spot.
"To me, he's Rookie of the Year right now," Sacco said. "We use him in so many situations -- even strength, power play and on the penalty kill. He plays on what is arguably our top line. He plays late in games when we are up a goal or when we are down a goal. He does everything well."
Landeskog, 19, has been one of the Avalanche's most consistent players since the season started, and he leads the team and all NHL rookies in several statistical categories: goals (18), plus/minus (plus-22), shots (204) and hits (167).
Landeskog also leads all rookies in average ice time per game (18:24) and takeaways (49). His 40 points are one behind New Jersey rookie Adam Henrique; the two are tied for the most game-winning goals (three) among first-year players.
He also just finished a tremendous month of February that saw him total 7 goals, 6 assists and a plus-9 rating in 12 games. It was enough to earn him NHL Rookie of the Month honors on Friday.
SOG: 208 | +/-: 21
"Oh, I don't know," Landeskog said. "There's a lot of ups and downs. It's been a lot of fun. Like I said before the season, as long as I keep learning every day and making progress, I'm going to be fine in the end. But I don't want to sit down right now and think about how things have been going. I just want to keep playing, and maybe after the season sit down and look back at the positives and the negatives."
There haven't been many negatives for Landeskog, a 6-foot-1, 204-pound power forward who figures to get even bigger and stronger as his body matures. Selected with the second pick in the 2011 Entry Draft, he became just the third 18-year-old in Avalanche history to win an opening-night roster spot, joining Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly, both of whom did it in 2009-10.
"I don't have a crystal ball, but there's no reason why he's not going to be a superstar in this League," Avalanche captain Milan Hejduk said. "I couldn't have played here at his age, but these kids are so mature. It's a whole different era now."
Landeskog has spent most of the season on a line with O'Reilly, who turned 21 last month and is enjoying his best season with 16 goals and a team-leading 50 points. Hejduk skated on the line for a while, as did Daniel Winnik, who was traded to San Jose on Monday. Steve Downie joined the unit after his acquisition from Tampa Bay on Feb. 21.
"Just fantastic to play with," O'Reilly said of Landeskog. "He's been playing great and is just so easy to play with. He's definitely one of the big reasons why we are pushing to get into the playoffs."
"To me, he's Rookie of the Year right now. We use him in so many situations -- even strength, power play and on the penalty kill. He plays on what is arguably our top line. He plays late in games when we are up a goal or when we are down a goal. He does everything well."
-- Avalanche coach Joe Sacco
"I didn't know what to expect coming in," he said. "There were so many things I didn't know. I didn't even know if I was going to stick with the team or not."
It turned out he had little to worry about. Sacco said that Landeskog made a positive impression early in training camp.
"We thought that we probably had a keeper," he said.
Landeskog gives a great deal of credit for his ability to make the Avalanche so quickly to his decision to leave Sweden at age 16 to play junior hockey in Canada. The two seasons he spent with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League enabled him to get acclimated to the North American style of play -- and on a personal level, to mature and improve his English.
He became the Rangers' first European-born captain last season and collected 36 goals and 66 points in 53 games, when he missed significant time because of an ankle injury.
"It was important for my game, but also for my maturity," he said of leaving home so young. "Being away from home and my family and friends and that sort of thing, it just makes it so much easier this time around."
Landeskog's family attended the draft last summer in St. Paul, Minn., and was at the Pepsi Center for the Avalanche's season-opener when he made his NHL debut against Detroit. He stays in touch on a regular basis, saying, "Family is a big part of my life."
Who knows, next time Landeskog gets to see them, he could be showing off an impressive piece of hardware.