Less than two weeks before the current collective bargaining agreement expires on September 15th, and with the dark prospect of another NHL lockout looming, Colorado Avalanche fans got some surprising news today.
Milan Hejduk has reportedly relinquished his role as Colorado Avalanche captain and management has subsequently named incumbent Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog the team's new captain.
Hejduk spent less than a full season as captain, being named on November 14th of last year. No real reason has been given for Hejduk's decision to step down from the role, but he did experience career lows in goals and points last year and it's certainly reasonable to surmise that Hejduk wanted to get back to just focusing on hockey at this point of his career and not have the added pressure of being the team's leader.
He along with Paul Stastny will remain alternate captains for the Avs.
Landeskog is now the youngest captain in NHL history. At 19 years, 286 days, 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. Not bad for Landy to be mentioned along with Crosby, who is unquestionably one of the game's most talented players today.
Even before he was drafted by the Avs second overall in 2011, phrases like "mature beyond his years," "NHL-ready," and "leader" were used to describe the young Swede. Less than two years ago, Landeskog became the first European-born player to be named captain of his OHL team, the Kitchener Rangers, so Landeskog's leadership abilities were certainly present before he entered the NHL.
Landeskog's rookie campaign was certainly a success. He led all rookies in scoring as well as finishing very high in other categories such as hits and plus/minus and earned himself the Calder Trophy for the NHL's rookie of the year. Although if you ask Landeskog about his rookie year, his answer would be that he would have preferred to make the playoffs.
No one can question the young 19-year-old's maturity, work ethic and talent that has already made him a success in the NHL and he has all the tools and abilities to propel himself and the team much further. Unlike Adam Foote and Milan Hejduk, who were placeholder captains, Landeskog has the potential to wear the "C" for the next two decades.
Landeskog is certainly a great choice to don the "C" and it is good that Sacco and company made the decision immediately rather than dragging it out for months like they did last year before finally giving it to Hejduk.
However, Landy was certainly not the only choice to succeed Hejduk. The Avs are full of young, talented, up-and-coming players. All of whom could have made a case to get the captaincy.
First and foremost is veteran center Paul Stastny. Like Landeskog, Stastny blossomed young and was thought by many to be the next leader and superstar of the Avs and he has already worn the "A" for several years. However, Stastny's best years have come when he was the second line center behind Joe Sakic and Stastny has shown that he is a solid No. 2 NHL center, but has not elevated his game to a No. 1 status.
Former No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson has worn the "A" with his former team, the St. Louis Blues as well as with Colorado. He is thought to be the defensive anchor of the team and will have to be a great leader of the defense on and off the ice. Johnson has yet to tap into his full potential which is why he was not given the "C," but his new $15 million extension proves that the Avs still believe he can and will succeed. Expect him to don the "A" in the event of an injury and eventually get it long-term.
Ryan O'Reilly is fast becoming legendary for his work ethic on and off the ice. He is always the first guy on and last guy off the ice. Last season, his hard work began to payoff on the stat sheet and he saw himself become the Avs' leading scorer. O'Reilly is just 21-years-old and has already shown tremendous leadership abilities. Many thought O'Reilly would naturally be Hejduk's successor. However, he currently remains the only player unsigned, but he will not holdout. If camps start on time next month, he will be there.
Until the Avs got Landeskog with the second overall pick, the team's highest selection to date had been Matt Duchene. The most offensively gifted player of the Avs roster, Duchene earned himself a Calder nomination his rookie year as well as an All-Star Game appearance and the team's leading scorer in his sophomore campaign. Injuries plagues his third season, but with a big hometown discount on his new contract, Duchene should be hungrier than ever to succeed. I have no doubt Duchene can earn himself an "A" in the future.
Hockey, more than any other sport, relies on its captains to lead the teams on and off the ice. If you look at any successful NHL club, its captain is an integral part of its success. Whether it's scoring big goals, making a big hit or just leading by example with all the intangibles of the game, Gabriel Landeskog will put a "C" on his sweater and lead the Colorado Avalanche for hopefully many, many years to come.