On June 24, 2011, Gabriel Landeskog pulled a Colorado Avalanche jersey over his head, becoming the team’s first-round selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
On September 4, 2012, the Avalanche decided to stitch an extra letter onto that jersey: a "C."
Landeskog became the youngest player to ever be named captain of a franchise at 19 years, 286 days old, 11 days younger than Pittsburgh superstar Sidney Crosby (USA Today).
The move is one that many people might consider risky, but the Avalanche seem unafraid of entrusting their team’s future to a sophomore whose leadership skills have already made him the focal point of the once-proud franchise.
This trail of young leadership has been blazed heavily in the last 12 years, beginning with Vincent Lecavalier in 2000. Lecavalier was named captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning at age 19, at the time the youngest captain in NHL history.
In 2007, immediately following the conclusion of his sophomore season, Crosby became the youngest captain in league history. Crosby, of course, was seen as a natural leader going back long before he was drafted into the NHL, and neither the decision nor its unprecedented timing surprised anyone in the hockey world, especially since the captaincy had been vacant since Mario Lemieux’s retirement 16 months prior while Crosby matured.
More quietly in 2008, Jonathan Toews was named the third-youngest captain in NHL history when he accepted the “C” on his Chicago Blackhawks jersey. Toews was just over 20 years old at the time.
Landeskog is not only in a very exclusive class of young captains, he joins an incredibly successful one. Each team appears to have made the right choice putting its faith in their respective young leaders.
Toews would lead his team to the Stanley Cup in 2010 and capture the Conn Smythe Trophy as the best playoff performer, a run that would end a 49-year championship drought for the Blackhawks.
Crosby would likewise only need two years as captain to lead his Penguins to a championship. The Pens lost to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, but defeated those same Red Wings in 2009 as Crosby became the youngest captain in history to hoist the Stanley Cup.
Lecavalier’s Lightning would likewise win a Stanley Cup within a few years of appointing their baby-faced captain. The team would capture the Cup in 2004, just over four years after Lecavalier was given the “C.”
It is worth noting that, in the case of Lecavalier, he was not captain at the time the team won the Cup. Head coach John Tortorella stripped Lecavalier of the role during a contract holdout.
Still, Landeskog’s company cannot be described as anything but successful: three young captains, three Stanley Cups within four seasons of the decision.
For fans and analysts nervous about the decision to put a 19-year-old in a role once occupied by Joe Sakic and Adam Foote, the precedent seems to work in Landeskog’s favor.
No 19-year-old would ever be given the reins to the team flippantly; if the Avalanche see Landeskog as the best leader in their locker room, there is no doubt that head coach Joe Sacco has a good reason to do it.
The initial suggestion was even made by the reigning captain himself, Milan Hejduk (source: NHL.com). For a 14-year veteran to unilaterally decide to hand the “C” over to a 19-year-old speaks volumes about Landeskog’s character and capabilities.
No team would ever make this move to grab a quick headline. The Avalanche are committed to turning their young roster into a lineup of champions as quickly as possible.
The selection of Landeskog may be unexpected and unorthodox, but it is not unwarranted and success after the fact is not unprecedented.
Avalanche fans can rejoice in the new face of their franchise, and fans everywhere else can watch the Avalanche’s return to glory begin.
Landeskog will have to prove why he deserves to be captain of the franchise, and he will have to prove that he can lead the team to a championship. But critics of the decision to anoint him so young are blind to everything that he has already proven to the Colorado Avalanche.