Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Landeskog: Nothing Was Lost in Translation to Stardom

By Larry Wigge

Nothing was lost in the translation. Nothing.

Most Euro-trained players have a language barrier to overcome. There's a culture shock with playing in North America, from the size of the rink to every other little thing possible. It's more than just how you like your steak cooked.

But Gabriel Landekog made the globetrotting trek of his lifetime -- 3,983 miles from his home in Stockholm, Sweden, to Kitchener, Ontario -- with a stereotype-smashing dream in mind. He made that trip to be more NHL ready, if possible. He wasn't going to let anything get in the way of his dream to play in the NHL.

And, to think, he was only 16 when he got started. It took two seasons of hard work at Kitchener.

It didn't take long for him to gain all the intangibles to be the most ready to play player in the 2011 NHL Entry draft. The perfect pick.

Ladeskog was big, rugged, but has skill too. Everything you'd want in a power forward. And he had all the intangibles, too, character, skill, smart and makes good decisions with the puck -- and especially strong. One added benefit, he became the captain at Kitchener -- not bad for a Euro-player.

"He's got great character, first and foremost. He exudes it," said Rick Pracey, chief scout for the Colorado Avalanche, used the second pick overall too select Landeskog. "This is a skilled hockey player, a competitive hockey player and strong." 

Landeskog and the Avalanche was the perfect fit -- with Gabriel's love of another Colorado favorite Peter Forsberg.

"I remember having Peter Forsberg posters up on my wall when I was a little kid," the 6-1, 207-pound power forward recalling the 2001 Stanley Cup winning team. "He too was a power forward and played with skills and character.

"That's my goal to be in that picture one day ... and to be there with the Colorado Avalanche. I'm very excited."

From posters on his wall to getting a chance at playing in the NHL.

It all began in 2009, when Landeskog moved to Kitchener.

"Moving over to Canada when I was 16 ... no family to fall back on ... got to learn to face challenges by myself ... grow up on my own ... forcing myself to grow up," Landeskog exclaimed. 

But ... 

"I started paying attention in English class pretty early back home," continued Landeskog. 

Landeskog didn't fall into the mix of a Euro-trained player who didn't understand the language, from following orders -- NHL teams want to know whether he can take advice and follow the coach's instructions to a 'T'.

Everyone in his family -- from his father, Tony Landeskog, who works in the insurance business, is a former defenseman in the Swedish Elite League and was accustomed to the life of an athlete, to his mother, Cecelia is a chef and cooking instructor -- they all had a hand in his decision. And his brother, Adam, who sent his him countless hours of 'Friends,' to study and learn the North American culture.

"My brother downloaded all 10 seasons for me," Landeskog says.

To his roommate with Kitchener, Jeff Skinner, who one year earlier was the seventh pick in the 2010 draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, taught him a lot about how to handle himself like a professional off the ice.

"It's all about priorities. I treat my body like a racing car, I can't fuel my race car with alcohol. If I treat it well, everything will work out for me," said Landeskog. "Like a Porsche or a Ferrari."

Does a Porsche or a Ferrari come into the NHL and score 21 goals and 26 assists in 74 games and put up a plus-20 rating as a rookie like Landeskog.

Even today, in the midst of a wonderful rookie season, Landeskog

"I have to get better with little things. Stickhandling in traffic, tips and get quicker and stronger," Gabriel said. "It's a big difference, especially playing against men. You really have to battle for your ice. I know there's always room to have to work in the summer getting quicker and stronger."

The plaudits have already begun.
"It's not just one thing that sticks out that makes him better than everybody else," said Avalanche center Paul Stastny. "It's everything. He seems a complete player, whether it's in the d-zone or the offensive zone, moving the puck, shooting the puck, blocking the puck, being physical... He does it all."

"He's a better skater than Peter was," teammate Milan Hejduk said with a grin. "He's a different type of player but could have the same impact on the game Peter (Forsberg) did. I don't have a crystal ball, but he's really talented and has lots of years ahead of him."

Coach Joe Sacco said "We use him in so many situations -- even strength, power play and on the penalty kill. He plays on what is arguably our top line. He plays late in games when we are up a goal or when we are down a goal. He does everything well."

Ken Hitchcock, now coaching St. Louis, had see Landeskog twice earlier in the season as a consultant to the Blue Jacks, "He reminds me so much of Forsberg in his ability to maneuver in small spaces. His strength and quickness in small spaces -- I'm very impressed."

And you know Gabriel Landeskog is going to get stronger and stronger. It's in his genes.

"The sky is the limit," said Skinner. "He definitely has the mentality to do whatever he wants."

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