Once upon a time, Denver had a real shot at the holy trinity: championships in three major professional sports in the same year. Instead, all we’ve been getting lately is a sorrowful trifecta of shoulda-woulda-couldas, with each team making a graceless early exit from the playoffs (if they even make the postseason). This year, though, things look to be different. While Peyton and the boys have a quasi monopoly on SportsCenter minutes, the Colorado Avalanche is quietly building a case as Denver’s golden-ticket team; the squad’s 14-3 start generated early whispers of returning to Stanley Cup glory. And if they do, it’ll be thanks, in no small part, to a powerful Swedish left winger named Gabriel Landeskog.
At just 21 years old—and in his third pro season—Landy’s metaphorical trophy case is already full. He won rookie of the year in June 2012 and, less than three months later, became the youngest player in NHL history to be named permanent captain. This summer, the Avs gave him a $39 million, seven-year contract extension. Yes, he’s getting some help from new head coach Patrick Roy, who knows a thing or two about winning, and the addition of this year’s number one draft pick, wunderkind forward Nathan MacKinnon, but Landeskog still bears the weight of fans’ expectations. (His jersey is consistently among the team’s top sellers.)
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So Landy could be forgiven for getting caught up in the hype, but No. 92—his birth year—possesses a maturity that belies his youth. “I just want to get off to a good start,” Landeskog says. “I try not to set any personal goals. With team success comes personal success.”
The forward’s humility is borne of hard work. Although hockey is in his genes—his dad played for the Swedish Elite League (now the Swedish Hockey League)—Landy put in a lot of ice time to build from fundamentals to all-star, first in his hometown of Stockholm, Sweden, and then later, in 2009, as a member of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers. In a bit of foreshadowing, it took Landeskog just one season to don the “C” for Kitchener—at 17, he was the youngest player in 30 years to receive the honor. “For as pleasant and laid-back as he is off the ice, on the ice, he’s intense and works hard every single day,” says Rangers then-assistant coach Troy Smith. “He’s well-rounded and a natural leader. Players like that don’t come along often.”
The pros, consequently, took notice. “The team that gets him…is going to get a player that helps them win the Stanley Cup,” said NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards in an interview before the 2011 draft. Colorado took Landy second overall. Here’s hoping that prophecy is fulfilled soon.
Weight: 204 pounds
Drafted: 2nd overall (2011)
Viral moment: “Landeskoging” (laying facedown on the ice, legs bent, fists clenched next to the head) became the pose du jour after Landeskog scored a game-winning goal in 2012.
Currently active hockey idols: Henrik Zetterberg, Sidney Crosby, and Jarome Iginla
Guilty pleasure: Vanilla ice cream
Favorite Denver restaurant: Vesta Dipping Grill
Local Golf Course of Choice: The Ridge at Castle Pines North
The Avalanche took an idea out of the Broncos’ (and Rockies’ and Nuggets’) playbook: hiring former pros to call the shots. We break down the Avs’ front office—and its combined eight Stanley Cups.