It’s unlikely that the Colorado Avalanche will hoist the Stanley Cup in June, though one of its core players could be taking home some hardware this summer.
Gabriel Landeskog is one of the frontrunners for the Calder Trophy, given to the league’s rookie of the year. He was recently named rookie of the month for February.
“It’s kind of flattering, but at the same time my focus and our focus is just trying to get into that playoff spot and winning hockey games,” he said on NHL Live last week. “After the season we’ll see where things are at with points or whatever it might be.”
In 12 February games, Landeskog scored seven goals and added six assists while teaming with Ryan O’Reilly and newly acquired Steve Downie to arguably become Colorado’s most dangerous trio in the offensive end. Landeskog closed the month on a six-game points streak, ranked third in the league with 55 shots last month, led all rookies with a plus-9 and was held without a point in just three games.
“He should be talked about for that award. I think he’s going to be a future captain in this league. He’s been a bright young guy for us," goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere told the Denver Post. "Their line (Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly and Steve Downie) right now is the best line on our team. They’re carrying our team. They play as well offensively as defensively.
"They set the tone for us all night, and they play in all three zones. Quite frankly, I think our other line (Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and TJ Galiardi) needs to step up and get to the level those other guys are playing."
Landeskog, the unassuming 19-year-old Swede, is taking everything in stride as he keeps the individual award in perspective.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Landeskog said. “I’ve been playing with some great players in Ryan O’Reilly, Milan Hejduk and also Downie here at the end. It’s been a lot of fun and our team’s been doing well too, so it’s fun to get awarded for that. … We’ve had a pretty good month for our team here, and I’ve been playing some pretty solid hockey and to get awarded for that is fun.”
After a 7-1 win over Minnesota on Tuesday in which Landeskog registered two assists, the Avs are 7-3 in their past 10 games and are in a three-way tie with San Jose and Los Angeles for the eighth and final playoff spot in in the Western Conference standings.
"Everyone ahead of us is winning right now, so we have to stay in the hunt. It’s going to be an interesting final stretch here, and we want to be a part of it too,” said Jamie McGinn.
Landeskog — the second overall pick in the 2011 draft — has 18 goals and 25 assists through his first 68 games. With 227 shots, Landeskog is tops among NHL rookies by a large margin. He also leads first-year players in plus/minus (plus-22), is tied with Philadelphia’s Matt Read for the lead in goals (18) and is tied for first in points (43) with the Devils’ Adam Henrique. He’s second in assists (25), fourth in power-play goals (4), and is tied for second with three game-winning tallies.
Coach Joe Sacco thinks Landeskog’s biggest asset has been his versatility.
“He plays in every situation on our team: he plays on our top power play, he plays on arguably our top line, he plays in four-on-four situations, he kills penalties, he plays when we’re up a goal late in games, he plays when we’re down a goal late in games,” Sacco said. “The attention he’s getting right now is well deserved. … He works for what he gets, so he’s going to have a bright future in this league for a long time.”
Among the biggest things Landeskog has learned in his freshman campaign is to work hard every day, stay patient and keep himself in shape off the ice with proper rest and nutrition.
But will it all pay off with a playoff berth? Landeskog thinks so.
“We’re young and fresh and I think we’ve got some good legs coming into the last month of the season so it might be an advantage for us. We’ve got a lot of energy in the room I think we’ve got a good mix of young and older guys,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to this next month. It’s going to be a lot of fun and a tight month, that’s for sure.”