CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- It was hard to tell Friday who was more excited about Gabriel Landeskog's return to the Colorado Avalanche lineup, the 20-year-old left wing and team captain or his teammates. They seemed to have a little more jump than usual in what otherwise would have been a routine practice.
"I'm finally back," Landeskog said. "It feels good. Today was the first [full] practice with the guys. Finally I get out of that pumpkin [orange non-contact] jersey. I haven't been out this long in a few years, so I'm extremely excited to get back."
Landeskog had been wearing the orange jersey while skating with the team for several days this week, but he donned a gray sweater Friday while practicing on a line with center Paul Stastny and right wing David Jones. That's where he'll be Saturday at the Staples Center when the Avalanche open a three-game California trip against the Los Angeles Kings.
Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog will be back in the lineup Saturday for the Avalanche, and both he and his teammates are quite excited about it. (Photo: Getty Images)
"A guy like [Landeskog] will definitely make us better -- way better," said right wing Milan Hejduk, who also practiced Friday and will play Saturday after sustaining a torso injury Wednesday in the Avalanche's 1-0 overtime win against St. Louis. "He's a complete player whether he's in the offensive or defensive zone. He can score big goals. He is probably the heart and soul of this team right now. Having him back is a big confidence booster in the locker room and on the bench, and you can see what he does on the ice."
Landeskog, who won the Calder Trophy last season, missed 11 games after sustaining head and leg injuries in a Jan. 26 game in San Jose on a hard hit by Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart. Coincidentally, they'll meet again Tuesday when the Avalanche closes the trip in San Jose.
Landeskog said he doesn't plan to treat that game any differently than any other. He returned to the ice after the Stuart hit, which is when Stuart told him there was no intent to injure. Landeskog said he didn't begin to feel concussion-like symptoms until after the game.
"I don't have any grief toward him," Landeskog said of Stuart. "It was a good hit. I'm going to try and play my game and do what I can. We had a few words when I came back. He said he didn't intend to hurt me at all. I told him I wasn't aware he was coming, so no hard feelings there. It's a game and there are no friends out there and we're going to do anything we can to get all the points on this trip."
"I'm finally back. It feels good. Today was the first [full] practice with the guys. Finally I get out of that pumpkin [orange non-contact] jersey. I haven't been out this long in a few years, so I'm extremely excited to get back." -- Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog
Landeskog spent a good chunk of last season on a line with Ryan O'Reilly and Steve Downie when he had a team-high 22 goals to go along with 30 assists in 82 games. O'Reilly, a restricted free agent, remains unsigned and Downie is out for the season after injuring his knee in the Avalanche's Jan. 22 home opener against the Kings.
"I think it'll be my first time playing with Stastny and Jonesy for more than a period or so," Landeskog said. "I'm excited to do that. Stastny likes to dish the puck and Jonesy is explosive and takes the puck to the net. I'm excited to bring what I can to the table."
Landeskog averaged 18:36 in ice time as a rookie and 18:34 in the first four games this season, but Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said he will keep close tabs on his minutes during this weekend's back-to-back games in Los Angeles and Anaheim.
"It's something I'll monitor a little more closely than usual," Sacco said. "We have to do a good job of making sure we're not overly using him. We want to make sure that he's fresh and that he can play at a high level. It's going to be difficult the first few games, especially with back-to-back games. Right now I don't plan to use him killing penalties, so that should save some of his energy. Everyone is excited to have him back. It's going to be a big boost for our lineup."