The Kitchener Rangers made it pretty clear just how important left winger Gabriel Landeskog was to their team when the Swedish import was named captain this season. He’s the first European to carry the ‘C’ in team history and a Canadian Hockey League rarity. The fact he’s only in his second season with the team compounds the honor.
“For me he’s in the Mike Richards territory with leadership and I fully believe he’ll be a captain in the NHL one day,” said Kitchener coach Steve Spott. “On the ice, he’s a powerful weapon every time he’s out there; he can score goals he can defend, he’s a 200-foot player, a complete player. At the same time, he’s our leader and deserving of being our captain.”
Not only was Landeskog one of the top scorers in the Ontario League through early December, but he was also consistently throwing stiff hits, blocking shots and even fighting when he felt a teammate had been wronged. “It’s about doing whatever it takes to win the game,” Landeskog said. “If I have to drop the gloves to protect a teammate, that’s what I’m going to do.
“Blocking shots, that’s a big part of our penalty kill.”
So, much like Richards, who helped Kitchener to a Memorial Cup in 2003 before turning into one of the top young leaders in the NHL with Philadelphia, passion runs deep with Landeskog. But how does the coach feel about his star offensive forward risking a broken hand by duking it out? “I don’t want him fighting,” Spott said. “I want him playing physical, but that’s an area I’d like him to tone down. But that’s what makes him special. He plays with a ton of emotion.”
At 6-foot-1, 207 pounds, Landeskog already has NHL size and his late birthday makes him older than most players available for the 2011 draft. Both Central Scouting and International Scouting Services ranked him as the top Ontario League player, which makes the Swede’s master plan of heading to North America as a 16-year-old look pretty smart.
“I felt that was the right thing to do for my development,” Landeskog said. “I had two years ahead of me for my draft, so I think it was a good thing for me: One year to adapt to the style of play and the life over here, then this year just keep it rolling.”
And adapt he has.
Landeskog speaks English with no perceptible accent, a trait he comes by humbly. He’s been studying English since Grade 3 in Sweden.
“It’s small things, like not using subtitles when you watch movies from America,” he said. “Obviously, music is a big part of it, too.”
Landeskog has diverse music tastes and has discovered country since joining Kitchener, something the other Rangers turned him on to.
As for his off-ice demeanor, Spott had big praise for his young captain.
“He speaks English better than some of the guys in our dressing room, I can tell you that,” Spott said. “He’s well-versed and he’s a vocal leader. Mike Richards led by example, Derek Roy led by example…Gabriel’s a guy who not only leads by example, but he’s also vocal.”
The Rangers are getting the message, loud and clear.
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