ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Just a season ago, Gabriel Landeskog was a rookie trying to fit in.
Now, he's the youngest captain in NHL history and hoping to help the Colorado Avalanche snap a two-season playoff drought. The talented forward is following in some pretty big footsteps of Avalanche leaders before him, names like Joe Sakic, Adam Foote and current teammate Milan Hejduk.
But he's not too worried about that because, "all I can be is Gabe," he said.
Given the length of the lockout, Landeskog had extra time to prepare for his new responsibilities. Only, he really didn't do anything special. There were no leadership classes or seminars on how to manage people.
No, he realizes the only way his teammates will follow him is if he keeps working hard and scoring goals.
And there, the 20-year-old should have little trouble. He's always one of the last players off the ice at practice and that spills over to game day, where he won the Calder Trophy last season after a year in which he scored 22 goals and had 30 assists.
"I don't know if I've ever had a captain that young. I guess no one has," defenseman Erik Johnson said, chuckling. "But it doesn't change anything. Your captain is usually your best player. He doesn't have to be Mr. Vocal in the locker room; we have a lot of other guys for that.
"So (Landeskog) just has to do what he's been doing — being a good hockey player and one of our hardest workers and best players. When he does that, leadership takes care of itself."
The shortened season may actually be a benefit for the youthful Avalanche, especially since games will be so tightly packed together. Fatigue? Hardly a worry with this group, they could skate forever. A grind? Nah, they're just anxious to be back.
"We just have to play the right way," defenseman Shane O'Brien said. "When we play fast, from north-to-south, we can play with anyone. It's time for us to take the next step. There's no reason we can't be a playoff team. Anything less will be a huge failure."
Defenseman Greg Zanon, who is sporting a scruffy beard that began as somewhat of a protest against the lockdown, thinks this team has the makeup to be a contender. Then again, at this time of year — actually in October, when teams usually begin — everyone thinks this is the season. Especially after what happened with the Los Angeles Kings last season, when they barely squeezed into the playoffs and ended up hoisting the Stanley Cup.
"Once teams get in there, anything can happen," Johnson said.
It all starts with a reliable goaltender and the Avalanche feel like they have two in youngster Semyon Varlamov and the veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere.