Most experts examining the 2011 Entry Draft pronounced Kitchener Rangers power forward Gabriel Landeskog
the most NHL-ready prospect.
General Manager Greg Sherman was among those who thought so, and used the second pick of June's draft to select the Swedish-born, 6-foot-1, 204-pound left wing.
From what Sherman saw during the preseason, nothing has changed his belief that Landeskog is ready to play -- and thrive -- in the NHL.
"I think in talking with our scouts in anticipation of what to expect from him, he's lived up to that," Sherman told NHL.com. "He does the little things on the ice. He's a smart hockey player, he's got good size, and he's the type of player that down the line will make his teammates better, his linemates better. He has a tremendous amount of character, make-up. For an 18-year-old he's very focused. I think when you look at not only the physical attributes, but the capabilities he has mentally, it's very impressive for an 18-year-old."
Landeskog had 36 goals in 53 games for Kitchener last season, but it's been his other attributes that have impressed Sherman.
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"He was tested early and often within camp, and as (preseason games) rolled out … he was a player who was engaged, was a person able to take the body, he was going into the dirty areas of the ice with no apprehension, and he's out there with men," Sherman said. "With his hockey sense and capabilities, early on he's proven he belongs here."
Part of that test was playing with different linemates. Landeskog spent most of camp playing with center Ryan O'Reilly
and right wing Daniel Winnik
, but he also saw time on the top line, with center Paul Stastny
and right wing David Jones
"It was a great experience for me," Landeskog told NHL.com of playing on the top line. "Maybe coach (Joe) Sacco wanted to try it out and see if we had some chemistry or see how we did as a line out there. It was a great experience to play with them. It makes hockey really easy when you play with players like that. It was just (one) game, I don't want to read too much into it. I'm just taking it day by day, don't want to take anything for granted. Don't want to be reading into any lines right now."
Despite posting just 1 assist in four games, Landeskog said the preseason has been a tremendous learning experience for him.
"I think there's been a lot of things, but mainly just acting like a pro and how professional everyone is around the rink," Landeskog said. "Once you step on the ice you have to take care of business and do your job. That’s the biggest difference coming from junior. Other than that, it's just trying to stay as consistent as possible, and at the same time having a level of fun in your game and having fun as you're doing your job."
Sherman said he didn't find it necessary for him or Sacco to tell Landeskog what they expected from him in training camp. Instead, they wanted to see if he could find his own way.
"Just coming in, everything they said was the same thing to all the players, go out and work hard and do your best out there," Landeskog said. "That's what I've been thinking about the last couple weeks here, just going out and doing what I do best."
That's just the response Sherman was expecting.
"He played his type of game," Sherman said. "He didn't try to do too much and he played his game. He played smart and hard and did all the little things you need to do to be successful. There's a good foundation for him to grow. In camp he showed he deserved to be with us."
Landeskog fits perfectly with a young team that only got younger over the summer with the retirement of 40-year-old captain Adam Foote
. The Avs will enter the season with three players older than 30, but eight 23 or younger.
"All the guys have done a great job helping me with little things, just kind of taking care of me," Landeskog said. "I've been asking a lot of questions and they've been more than willing to answer those questions. It really helps paying with O'Reilly and Winnik most of the time. I've had a lot of questions about the game and they've been more than willing to help me with that. I've been rooming with Erik Jonson on the road. It's been quite the experience so far. I'm really enjoying it."
O'Reilly should know exactly what Landeskog is going through. He, along with teammate Matt Duchene
, made the jump to the NHL as 18-year-olds in 2009. Sherman said Landeskog isn't that far removed at this point in his development as the two 20-year-olds about to enter their third seasons.
"These are three different types of players, but they bring a unique ability that they belong at this level at this time," Sherman said. "You rewind the tape two years, there's a lot of similarities. Gabriel has earned the right to start the season with us and grow with this young corps. We have such a young locker room, the fit and the timing of everything works to his advantage."
The next milestone for Landeskog is making sure that fit lasts all season. The Avs have nine games to make that determination and keep him or return him to junior hockey. The Avs' 10th game is Oct. 28 against the Edmonton Oilers
, where he could face the player picked before him in Minnesota, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
However, Landeskog won't allow himself to look that far ahead.
"My mindset is if I play well enough I don't have to worry about that 10-game mark," he said. "I think that's what everyone's mindset is as a rookie. I'm not trying to read into it too much. I'm going to go out there game-by-game, and if I'm on the roster I'll do my best to stick around. I'll be very happy and very fortunate to still be here. I'm just trying to do my best every day and have fun with it."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK