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Avs rookie Landeskog set to make his debut Saturday with hero Forsberg on hand

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Avs rookie Landeskog set to make his debut Saturday with hero Forsberg on hand

The Canadian Press
By:

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - For his NHL debut, Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog has a few family members flying in from Sweden.

Oh, and his boyhood idol, too. Only that's just a coincidence.

On the night when Landeskog launches his career, former Avalanche great Peter Forsberg will be in the building to have his sweater retired.

That's why the butterflies are already brewing for Landeskog. He's nervous enough about taking the ice for his inaugural faceoff against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.

Throw in meeting his fellow countryman, the player he in part patterned his game after, and it only heightens the anxiety.

Landeskog spoke with Forsberg soon after Colorado drafted Landeskog with the second overall pick last June, but that was just a brief welcome-to-the-franchise chat.

Landeskog isn't exactly sure what to say to Forsberg when they meet in person after the game, or if it's acceptable to ask Forsberg for an autograph.

So, he's going to stick with a simple game plan.

"I'm just going to be respectful and congratulate him on a tremendous career," Landeskog said Friday. "It's his night. It's a big night for him. I don't want to take anything away from him."

Forsberg may take centre stage before the game, but after that the ice belongs to the 18-year-old from Stockholm.

It's difficult not to draw comparisons between Forsberg and talented youngster.

Like Forsberg, Landeskog is strong and hard to knock off the puck.

And also like Forsberg, he can find a way to score. Landeskog had 36 goals and 30 assists in 53 games for the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League last season.

Just don't mention the similarities to Landeskog because it only makes him blush.

"I don't feel like I'm up to those standards at all," he said. "I do try to take the little things away from his game—the way he uses the physical game to his advantage, the way he can hold onto the puck for a very long time. It's something I try to get better at."

Forsberg was one of the best two-way players in the NHL in his prime, helping Colorado to Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001. He attempted a comeback with the Avalanche last season, but pulled the plug after a two-game audition because of a chronic foot ailment, one that's hampered him since 2003 and robbed him of chunks of his career.

In a pre-game ceremony Saturday, Forsberg will have his familiar No. 21 officially retired and placed up in the rafters at Pepsi Center alongside those of Patrick Roy (33), Joe Sakic (19) and Ray Bourque (77).

A worthy tribute to a fan favourite.

"Peter was such a flashy player," said former teammate Milan Hejduk, who will be taking part in his 13th NHL season opener on Saturday. "I would have gone and bought a ticket to watch him. You never knew what he was going to do. He was something special. I was just fortunate enough to play with him for a number of years."

And now Hejduk gets to break in yet another dazzling rookie after helping tutor Matt Duchene, who's blossomed into an All-Star.

Landeskog will likely play left wing on the line that includes Ryan O'Reilly and Daniel Winnik.

"Definitely, (Landeskog) is going to be a little nervous early in the game," Hejduk chuckled.

That's to be expected, of course.

To combat that, Landeskog is going to try to keep things simple and take the emotions out of the situation.

Or so he pledges.

"I'm just going to have to try to remember what makes me successful, what makes my game successful," said Landeskog, who will have his mom, dad, brother and sister in the stands for the game. "I'm just going to try to do the little things right—use my speed, use my size and try to get some pucks on net and make the game simple that way."

It's an approach that Forsberg certainly would appreciate.

"He was definitely my No. 1 idol," Landeskog said. "He meant a lot for the game back home, going over here—he won the scoring title, won Stanley Cups, that sort of thing.

"His will to win was tremendous. I'm very excited for this night to come. It's going to be a special one, for sure."

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Avs rookie Landeskog set to make his debut Saturday with hero Forsberg on hand