On Tuesday morning, history was made in the NHL.
At 19 years old, Gabriel Landeskog became the youngest player in NHL history to be named a permanent captain, as the Colorado Avalanche honored the young star with the “C” for his sweater.
Landeskog is 11 days younger than Sidney Crosby was when he was awarded the “C” by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007. The only other teenager to be named a permanent NHL captain was Vincent Lecavalier, but Landeskog is 29 days younger than the Lightning star was.
On July 18, 2008, following his successful rookie campaign, Jonathan Toews was named captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, at 20 years and 79 days. At the time, he was the third-youngest team captain in NHL history, but after Tuesday’s announcement in Colorado, he now is fourth.
The NHL’s trend to award young stars the enormous role to sport the “C” has been quite successful.
Crosby received the captain’s nod in 2007. Two years later in 2009, he led the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup, and at 21 years old became the youngest Captain to hoist the coveted Cup.
Similarly, two years after being named captain in Chicago, Jonathan Toews hoisted the Cup in 2010.
Lecavalier is a bit of a different story. After being named captain in 2000 at age 19, management decided the youngster wasn’t quite ready for such a role. He was stripped of the “C” before the 2001-2002 season, but later played a key role in the Lightning’s Stanley Cup victory in 2004 and was given back his title at the start of the 2008 campaign.
It’s not all fun and games, however, being so young and carrying the weight of the team on your shoulders. In fact, media pundits jump all over such announcements, criticizing both the player and the team for being too inexperienced and immature to handle such a title.
Such is not the case with any of these young stars, and they have the Stanley Cup to prove it. What better way to silence the critics?
I had the pleasure of meeting Gabriel Landeskog at the NHL Awards in June, where he was awarded the Calder Trophy as the League’s top rookie after collecting 52 points and a team-leading 22 goals while playing in all 82 games. He is poised, well spoken, confident, and respectful. He’s a leader on the ice and off. Why shouldn’t this star player, who made the Colorado Avalanche as an 18-year old last October after being taken as the second pick in the 2011 Draft, be heralded as the future of the franchise?
In no other sport do we see such a youth movement. Derek Jeter is the perennial captain who comes to mind when you think about sports and their leaders. A five-time World Series Champion, even Jeter had to wait for his “C”. In 2003 at the age of 29, after 8 seasons in the majors, legendary team owner George Steinbrenner honored Derek Jeter as Captain of the New York Yankees, following eight seasons without one after Don Mattingly retired in 1995.
Say what you will about young captains. At the end of the day, a leader is a leader. Teams recognize that. So do players. Milan Hejduk, a veteran in the Avs locker room at age 36 and the reigning captain, gave the captaincy to Landeskog himself. He said he felt his diminished role to the third and fourth lines last season didn’t warrant the title, and that the captain should be someone with a significant role.
It was a true gesture of teamwork by Hejduk, and the right decision by the Avs.
Now let’s sit back and see if Gabriel Landeskog can join the likes of Crosby and Toews.
Youth doesn’t always mean innocence, naivety, or lack of leadership. The NHL has proven that, and in turn has given us young stars to cheer for many years to come.
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