Gabriel Landeskog Named Captain of the Colorado Avalanche

Yesterday, the Colorado Avalanche sent out a release stating that Milan Hejduk had relinquished his captaincy and Gabriel Landeskog would be taking over the role. With the news, not only does Landeskog become the 4th captain in the history of the Avalanche (following Joe Sakic, Adam Foote & Hejduk), but he also now becomes the youngest captain in NHL history.

From the official release:

According to available research, at 19 years, 286 days, Landeskog is the youngest captain in NHL history. He is 11 days younger than Sidney Crosby, who was 19 years, 297 days when he was named captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins on May 31, 2007.

Obviously this is quite the accomplishment for the young Avs forward, but perhaps it should come as no surprise. As pointed out in the Avs press release, during his Calder-winning rookie season, Landeskog led the Avalanche in games, goals, plus/minus, shots, hits and GWG (tied), and also became the youngest player in franchise history to lead the team in goal scoring. His TOI QualComp numbers reveal that Coach Sacco relied upon and trusted in Landeskog from the get go, and, as such, it was apparent that Landeskog was poised for continued success in year two and beyond.

Gabriel Landeskog
(Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE)

And while some (most notably Jeff Marek of Sportsnet) had Ryan O’Reilly penciled in to take Hejduk’s spot as team captain, Landeskog is certainly no stranger to leadership roles. As the press release reminds us, “Landeskog captained the Kitchener Rangers (OHL) during his final season of junior hockey in 2010-11, becoming the first European captain in the 48-year history of the Rangers franchise. He was named captain at the age of 17 on Oct. 24, 2010, becoming the youngest player in 30 years to be named captain of the Rangers.” Also, Landeskog served as an alternate captain for Team Sweden at the 2012 IIHF World Championship, and was an alternate captain for Sweden at the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y.

So while there’s no question that Landeskog is a worthy candidate for the position even at the tender age of 19, one can’t help but wonder “why now?”, especially with Hejduk back in the fold for at least another year. At the press conference yesterday afternoon, the former captain offered up the following explanation as to why he had decided to relinquish the captaincy (via The Denver Post):

(The captain) should be somebody with a significant role on the team, probably on the top two lines, which I was not last year. It kind of feels weird when you’re playing on the third and fourth lines and being captain. It didn’t feel right.

Based on this statement, it would appear as though Hejduk had specific expectations of what a captain should be and do, and that included offering up meaningful contributions both off and on the ice. Dressing room leadership ability aside, perhaps Hejduk felt as though he was not at the point in his career where he is able to lead by example on the ice, delivering the big hit or key goal on demand as so many successful captains are able to do. While Hejduk’s contributions to the team over the years can’t be understated, perhaps he just came to the role too late in his career, unable to meet the demands and expectations that it demands and that he himself appears to have attached to it.

Thus, Hejduk decided to pass the role to someone else, as seen in this video (courtesy of Mike Chambers of the Denver Post)

In terms of how he sees Landeskog fitting into the role, Hejduk spoke to David Puchovsky (editor of Eurolanche, the team’s European fan club) after the news broke and offered up the following assessment and advice:

He is great player, smart guy. I think he will handle it. He will be like me – he will be the example captain, he will not shout in the locker room. He will be captain for the long time, not for one-two years … Gabriel, stay the same person you were in the last season. Play your hockey. We will help you with everything what you will need. (via Eurolanche)

Along those lines of encouragement, several of Landeskog’s teammates took to twitter to offer up their congratulations.

Landeskog himself offered up the following statement, also via twitter:

While the news may seem to have come out of nowhere, it certainly provided a breath of fresh air in the midst of the current ‘doom & gloom” pre-lockout climate. When (if?) the Avs do take to the ice in 2012-13, it will mark the dawn of a new era, and based on what Landeskog demonstrated in his rookie year, there’s no reason to believe that he is incapable of leading this mile high team to old heights in the future.