Wednesday, 5 September 2012

A New Mountain High

If you're a younger player in the NHL looking to build on some early success, it's a pretty good feeling when you know that the veterans - some high-scoring veterans, in particular - have faith in your abilities. Confidence plays a large role in the NHL, and having the confidence of your teammates can carry a player a long way. Gabriel Landeskog, who won't turn 20 years of age until late-November, is now the captain of the Colorado Avalanche as the torch was passed from 36 year-old veteran Milan Hujduk to the 2012 Calder Trophy winner.

Landeskog could be the captain of the next team to take serious steps forward. Of all of the roster players, only five are over the age of 30 (including former captain Hejduk), and the potential for this squad is extremely high with names like Matt Duchene, P.A. Parenteau, Paul Stastny, Eric Johnson, and Semyon Varlamov expected to make a serious impact. While he may have set the record for the youngest captain by 11 days over Sidney Crosby, Landeskog and the Avalanche could be on the verge of something bigger.

Avalanche coach Joe Sacco, a former NHL player himself, feels that Landeskog's maturity is big factor in giving the young man the captaincy. While no longer a veteran player, it is telling that a former player also has his back.

"Don't let his age fool you," Sacco told reporters on Tuesday. "He's certainly quite mature... more beyond his years. Not only by the way he conducts himself, but by the way he plays on the ice. He's the future of this franchise starting now."

Much like Crosby's captaincy, this captaincy will involve some on-the-job training. However, Landeskog has shown that he can lead off the ice, getting involved with the NHLPA as he attended the player's meeting in Europe last month. It's not that he just went to listen - he wants to be involved. He wants to go and get a deal that will not only benefit himself, but for the guys in the locker room with him. That, readers, is leadership.

The one thing that a young captain has to be aware of is the ebb and flow of a season. Landeskog has one under his belt, but he'll rely on assistant captains Hejduk and Paul Stastny if things hit a rough patch. Losing streaks can kill the confidence of any young player, especially if the bounces aren't going in, so Landeskog will have to be aware of how to manage the ups and downs in an NHL season. Both Hejduk and Stastny have played in the league long enough to know how to overcome a losing streak.

Landeskog may also need to find his voice when it comes to motivating teammates to work harder. As of today, Landeskog is the youngest player on the Avalanche roster, and veterans will occasionally tune out the "motivational" words by a coach or player if he's struggling. It's up to the captains of the team to get through to a distracted teammate, so having veterans Hejduk and Stastny as his wingmen should help Landeskog find that voice.

Overall, though, I think that the Avalanche franchise is making a very bold statement in giving Gabriel Landeskog the captaincy. Without committing long-term dollars at this point, the Avalanche are saying that they believe in Landeskog's ability to carry this team with his skill, and are giving him unquestioned backing in terms of his own hockey career. For a young player, this kind of belief in one's abilities can and should do wonders as long as the stress of a season doesn't weight too heavily on the young captain's shoulders.

Gabriel Landeskog is the captain of the 2012-13 Colorado Avalanche. A new era in the Mile High City begins.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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