As it turned out, Sacco and Hejduk informed Landeskog that he would succeed Hejduk as the Avalanche’s new team captain. At 19 years, 286 days, Landeskog became the youngest player in NHL history to be named a permanent captain -- he is 11 days younger than Sidney Crosby was when he was awarded the "C" by the Pittsburgh Penguins on May 31, 2007. The only other teenager to be named a permanent NHL captain was Vincent Lecavalier, who got the "C" from Tampa Bay on March 1, 2000, at 19 years and 315 days. Lecavalier served as captain through 2000-01, then gave up the captaincy. He was named captain of the Lightning again for 2008-09.
Landeskog said the decision came as a surprise to him.
Current NHL captains
|Team||Captain||1st Season as Captain|
"I had no clue. I didn't have any idea what [the meeting] was about," Landeskog said after Hejduk handed him a No. 92 jersey with a "C" stitched on the front during a brief ceremony Tuesday afternoon inside the Avalanche locker room. "I was a little bit shocked at first. I didn’t expect this at all, especially this early in my career. But I feel like I’m ready for it and this organization feels like I’m ready for it."
It's been quite the whirlwind for Landeskog, who was taken by the Avalanche with the second pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. He made the team as an 18-year-old last October and was awarded the Calder Trophy as the League’s top rookie in June after collecting 52 points and a team-leading 22 goals while playing in all 82 games.
Now he adds this to his burgeoning resume.
"It’s something you dream about as a kid, just being a part of an organization like the Avs and getting the honor to put the "C" on with the history that this club has – [former captains] Joe Sakic and Adam Foote and obviously Milan Hejduk," Landeskog said. "It's a pretty humbling experience. I’m really excited and I’m looking forward to the challenge."
Hejduk, 36, was named captain 17 games into last season, on Nov. 10, 2011. Once a 50-goal scorer and the last remaining player from the Avalanche’s 2001 Stanley Cup championship team, Hejduk spent much of last season on the third and fourth lines, and he finished with 14 goals and 37 points -- both career lows. Though he remains highly respected by Avalanche coaches and players, Hejduk felt it would be best to give up the captaincy because of his diminished role.
"It was a great experience," said Hejduk, who will return for a 14th NHL season, all with Colorado. "I really enjoyed it. It was such an honor. But my role changed a little bit on the team and I felt the captain should be someone with a significant role, someone who is on the top two lines, which I was not last year. It kind of feels weird when you’re playing on the third or fourth line and you’re captain. It didn’t feel right.
"I think Gabe is a great choice. He’s young, but the older guys on the team will help him. I believe he’s going to be here for a long time and he’s going to be captain for a long, long time. I feel really comfortable about this."
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Still, Hejduk caught Sacco by surprise when he informed him of his decision last week.
"Coming from him, knowing that if he didn’t feel comfortable doing it 100 percent, I wouldn’t expect anything less from him," Sacco said. "We had to respect what he was thinking. It’s never an easy decision for a player, especially one of Milan’s character."
Sacco said selecting Landeskog to succeed Hejduk wasn’t as difficult a decision after he met with team management and his coaches.
"To me, the logical choice kept coming back to Gabe," he said. "No. 1, his leadership ability comes very naturally. He doesn’t try to be somebody he’s not. He demonstrated in his first year at 19 – he started at 18 – strong leadership both on and off the ice. His play on the ice certainly was an example of how we want all our players to play. He played in every situation possible for us.
"His play speaks for itself on the ice and the way he conducts himself off the ice … don’t let his age fool you. He’s way mature beyond his years. The response of the other players to this has been overwhelmingly positive. I think he’s going to be a great captain for a long time."
A native of Stockholm, Sweden, Landeskog does have experience in this area. He was the first European-born captain in the Kitchener Rangers’ 48-year history in 2010-11, when he completed his junior hockey career by collecting 36 goals and 66 points in 53 games before adding six goals and 10 points in seven playoff games.
"I’m still going to be the same Gabriel, be the same guy," he said of his new role. "It doesn’t change the way I play the game or how I conduct myself. I’m going to be wearing the ‘C’ on my jersey, but other than that I’m still the same guy. I want to grow into this and learn from experience, just be myself. I’ll listen to Milan and to the older guys in the room and be respectful to the elders. It’s a little surreal, pretty special."