Following a tremendously successful rookie campaign, Kitchener Rangers forward Gabriel Landeskog made history in his sophomore season. He was named team captain -- an honour that no European player had ever received in Kitchener prior to the 2010-11 season.
"It was such an amazing honour," Landeskog said of the distinction. "They had faith in me and I wanted to show them I would make the most of the opportunity. Being able to lead the team was very special and I’ve loved having the responsibility."
The captaincy was a relatively small addition to an already extensive list of to-do items for the talented Swedish prospect. Expectations were high as 2010-11 began, and the 18-year-old did not disappoint with another terrific season.
Having produced 36 goals and 66 points in 53 games, Landeskog had now vaulted to the second position in the NHL Central Scouting rankings; an impressive feat considering his abbreviated year was capped with a mid-season ailment that sidelined him for an extended period.
"My first half of the season was pretty good and then I caught a tough break with the ankle injury, and I missed out on the World Junior tournament," Landeskog said. "But I bounced back after that. The season ended a bit too quickly for our team. It was a bit disappointing, but looking back, it was a pretty good season."
Indeed it was. Landeskog developed his game into an NHL-ready style, which featured a stunning commitment to balanced play.
"I’m a two-way forward that can play both the skilled game and the gritty game," he explained. "I just try to be as good as I can out there and play in all situations."
It would be appropriate, then, to consider Landeskog’s role model, whose style is well known to the Rangers organization. Mike Richards, now with the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, spent four seasons in Kitchener where he amassed impressive offensive totals. His resume was highlighted in 2003 when he led his squad to a Memorial Cup championship.
"I've heard comparisons to Mike Richards and that kind of player, so that’s something I really cherish. He's a player that I really admire and look up to. I like that comparison and obviously I have a lot of work to do to earn that, but he's the type of player that I want to be."
Landeskog’s unrelenting desire to improve and achieve his dreams will help shoulder the load of an intense summer program. While areas of growth are expected for budding young prospects, Landeskog is already working to correct his issues en route to excellence.
"My foot speed for sure," he said. "That's something that I've been working on for a while, and to get to that next level you need to be pretty quick out of the gate. That's really something that I work on during the off-season and also during the season. It’s coming along well."
On-ice development is only part of the equation for Landeskog, whose grasp on the English language is most impressive. Although he has only spent two seasons in North America, the dynamic Swede has been learning English since the third grade.
"Listening to music was the biggest thing," Landeskog said. "You start with that, then there are movies and books. I’ve worked hard to learn the language."
"I don’t have an accent either. It’s a little strange, but I have fun with the fact that some people don’t know. They’re always surprised."
The learning curve continues, with another highlight event quickly approaching on the horizon.
With the Plymouth Whalers ending Kitchener’s hopes of an OHL Cup championship and a berth in the Memorial Cup later this spring, Landeskog has now had the opportunity to look ahead to June’s NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minnesota.
"It's hard not to [get excited]," said a smiling Landeskog.
"For any guy that has the opportunity to play in the NHL, you want to make the most out of that opportunity. That’s obviously something that I look forward to. I just want to take it day-by-day and get better here as the off-season progresses."
"I can only sit back now and enjoy the whole experience and with everything that's happening around me. It's a very exciting time. I can't be too sure of where I'm going until the 24th of June. It will be an exciting time for sure."
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com