Landeskog's early play earned him full-time NHL job
Mike G. Morreale
Of all the players selected in the opening round of the 2011 NHL Draft, Gabriel Landeskog was considered a leading candidate to remain in the League from the outset.
Not surprisingly, the 18-year-old Stockholm native hasn't disappointed, and has shown enough in the first month of his NHL career to spend all season with the Colorado Avalanche.
In nine games, the second pick of the draft is second on the team -- and among all NHL rookies -- with 4 goals, and is tied for the lead among rookie forwards in ice time at 16:51 per game.
Avalanche General Manager Greg Sherman had until Landeskog's 10th game to decide if the young power forward was going to remain in the NHL all season or go back to junior hockey, but told NHL.com it didn't take him near that long to make his decision.
"Right in that first week there," Sherman said, "we had things set up for him. He would be with us.
SWEDE SUCCESS STORY
Ten years ago, Sweden revamped its hockey development model. Today, the NHL is reaping the fruits of that labor, with more talent to come.
"His play dictated (him staying). You have to weigh a lot of variables with an 18-year-old player, and I drew on the past with Matt (Duchene) and Ryan (O'Reilly) handling the rigors of an NHL season (as 18-year-olds) … we think that with Gabriel so far, things are all very positive. It's a good situation."
"He continues to impress; he continues to develop in the right way," added Avs coach Joe Sacco, who has played Landeskog at left wing on a line centered by O'Reilly and with Daniel Winnik at right wing.
Landeskog, whose maturity and physical ability were unrivaled in the 2011 Draft class. He had 36 goals, 30 assists, a plus-27 rating and 61 penalty minutes last season with the Kitchener Rangers, and was the second European-born and -trained player to captain an Ontario Hockey League team since New York Islanders prospect Tomas Marcinko, a native of Slovakia, captained the Barrie Colts in 2007-08.
Landeskog credits his time in Kitchener for making the transition to the NHL a relatively smooth one.
"I don't think I would have been in this position if it weren't for the Kitchener Rangers," Landeskog told NHL.com. "I mean, they allowed me to develop at my own pace and give me the opportunity to develop into my own mind and body and into the player and person I am today. I think playing the junior schedule is sort of like the NHL schedule, and playing the North American style of hockey is obviously something that was beneficial for me entering this season."
It's become apparent Landeskog has no desire to shy away from the contact that's associated with the NHL. He is second on the team with 23 hits.
"It's the NHL, but at the same time, I'm still the same player and I want to play the same game, so I'll do what I do best out there," he said. "I think if I didn't do the things I'm good at, I wouldn't be a successful hockey player. So you have to remember what makes you successful, and for me, it's hard work. That's what it comes down to."
Columbus Blue Jackets consultant and former Stanley Cup-winning coach Ken Hitchcock recently told the Denver Post that Landeskog reminded him of another legendary Swedish forward, Peter Forsberg.
"I've seen (Landeskog) play twice," Hitchcock told the paper. "He reminds me so much of Forsberg in his ability to maneuver in small spaces. His strength and quickness in small spaces -- I'm very impressed."
Landeskog said he currently lives with a family in Denver.
"It's like a billet situation and it's a great family," he said. "I got the basement pretty much to myself. It's good because there are a lot of distractions in your first year, but I just focus on the hockey, go out there and do my job."
The 6-foot-1, 204-pound Landeskog said he needed to adjust rather quickly to the strength of NHL players, particularly on the back end.
"I think I learned early that everyone else is so much stronger on this level," Landeskog said. "As a forward, you find out pretty quickly that all the defensemen are so much stronger in their own end. That's something you have to get better at … making sure you're smart in those situations and really thinking about who you're up against."
Landeskog said he also was mentally prepared for the grind of the North American game due in large part to the good coaching he received in Sweden. What was so unique about Landeskog was the fact he arrived in North America as an underage player, something most Swedes wouldn't consider.
Prior to being named Kitchener's Rookie of the Year, he was the youngest player to suit up for Djurgarden in the Swedish Elite League, at 16 years, 90 days old.
"The coaches taught me that if you're not mentally prepared or don't have the mental edge during a game, it's going to be tough," Landeskog said. "You want to be respectful, but at the same time show no mercy and go out there and show what you can do. Swedish teams have done that in the past and we want to stay on top of things; having that mental edge is a key."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale