No team enjoys finishing near dead last in the league, as the Colorado Avalanche did in 2011. A laundry list of injuries and goaltending that would make Terry Sawchuk turn in his grave contributed to the Avs’ free fall. But, with the dubious honor of picking second overall in the 2012 draft, the Avs selected Gabriel Landeskog from the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL.
And as long as Landeskog is on board, the Avs will never finish near the cellar of the NHL again.
Gabriel Landeskog deserves to win the Calder Memorial trophy. His teammates know him as “Landy,” and they heaped compliments upon their youngest colleague throughout the course of the season. Avs fans developed the cult nickname of “Lando,” in reference to Lando Calrissian of Star Wars. Since the sci-fi protagonist dons a cape, the “Lando” moniker seems much more fitting.
The native of Sweden made a bold decision to take his talents to North America at the ripe age of 16, and he took the Ontario Hockey League by storm. Two years after the move, he made shockwaves across the NHL. He tied for the rookie scoring title and was second among fellow freshmen in game-winning goals and plus/minus. He led his own team in goals and hardly looked like a green 18-year old kid playing against men twice his age.
On several occasions, he was the best player on his team, and on a handful of occasions, he was the best player in the building.
Despite Landeskog’s impressive 52 point rookie campaign, his play extends far beyond the stat sheet. Landeskog is a flat-out menace. He forechecks like his hair is ablaze and angrily throws his weight around as if he lost money in the latest Manny Pacquiao fight. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and demonstrates an element of fearlessness.
Despite his physical play, “Lando” is surprisingly composed and always keeps his emotions in check.
Some hockey enthusiasts are enthralled by flashy offensive-minded players who are in contention for the scoring title every year. But the pride of the Avalanche fits in a different category. Skaters with Landeskog’s skill set are succinctly, yet honorably, tagged as players who win Stanley Cups.
He fits on the mold of Jonathan Toews and Dustin Brown, and he is already speculated as the possible captain successor of Milan Hejduk. Landeskog’s talent may not leap off the page, but his tireless work ethic and astounding hockey IQ can’t help you from respecting the teenager.
Landeskog does have some stiff competition for the Calder Trophy. Edmonton’s Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, the lone player selected before Landeskog in the previous draft, turned in a phenomenal season. He notched the same number of points as Landeskog, despite participating in 20 fewer games due to various injuries.
Nugent-Hopkins is a true offensive catalyst and uses his tremendous vision and hockey sense to full advantage. Nearly half of the hometown kid’s points came on the power play.
If he were able to play a full season like his divisional counterpart, RNH would likely run away with the award, but numerous shoulder problems may have derailed his chances.
Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils took a slightly different path to rookie stardom than his two respective Calder finalists. Henrique was a solid prospect in the Devils system, but nobody expected him to explode for 51 points in his first NHL season.
The 22 year old displayed tremendous versatility and was used in all special teams situations. He registered four shorthanded goals, tying for the league lead. He saw ample playing time on New Jersey’s top line alongside stars Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, performing admirably.
And while the postseason is exempt from Calder consideration, Henrique’s knack for late game heroics cannot be ignored. He slammed home three game winning goals in the playoffs, two of which advanced the Devils to the next round.
Many Devils fans allege a Stanley Cup Finals appearance would not have been possible without Adam Henrique.
But in the end, Gabriel Landeskog gets the edge for the Calder Memorial Trophy. Without his presence in the lineup, Colorado would have likely floundered to another high lottery pick finish. On several occasions, Lando literally willed the Avalanche to victory.
He displays leadership that cannot be taught. His discipline on all levels in the game is remarkable, and for a rookie, it’s simply amazing. The merit of the plus/minus statistic has become a widely debatable topic among NHL circles, but it delivers service in this sense. The average Colorado player finished in the minus category, and the second highest full-time forward (Ryan O’Reilly) posted a +/- of -1.
Landeskog led all teammates with a +20. If that isn’t a selling point, I’m not sure what is.
Lando Calderissian is worthy of 2012 NHL Rookie of the Year honors.
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