Gabriel Landeskog on the Avalanche hype — and his golf rivalry with Nathan MacKinnon

NHL

It has been seven years since Gabriel Landeskog was named captain of the Colorado Avalanche. He was 19 years, 286 days old, which made him the league’s youngest captain at the time. Since then, the Swedish-born left wing has done a lot of growing, and he has seen a lot of change: three head coaches, two general managers and more teammates than he can count.

When those changes happen, it’s on the captain to smooth the transition and figure out the formula for the right chemistry. That was true when Landeskog first wore the “C,” and it was true this summer, when the Avalanche added Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and others in a depth-building offseason.

“You want to make them feel comfortable as fast as possible. You send a couple of text messages. Let them know where the good restaurants are,” he said. “The new guys are awesome. We really enjoy them.”

What’s not to enjoy? Colorado is off to a 7-0-1 start. The Avalanche have the league’s top offense, at 4.38 goals per game. They’ve defeated Stanley Cup contenders such as the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning. After making the playoffs in two straight seasons under head coach Jared Bednar and advancing to the second round last postseason, the Avalanche were viewed as a team on a championship path, to the point that they had the third-best odds to win the Cup this preseason, according to Caesars sportsbook.

So far, Colorado has met the hype. Can the Avs keep it up? We spoke with Landeskog about how they can, his incredible line with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, and other hockey topics. But first, we leave the ice for the greens:


ESPN: As one of the team’s golf aficionados, please tell us the best and worst golfers on the Avalanche.

Gabriel Landeskog: I mean, even though he’s taken a lot of lessons, I’d have to give it to Nate [MacKinnon]. If you had asked me five years ago, I wouldn’t have said Nate. But he’s a real good golfer. He’s got a beautiful swing and some really good putts around the greens as well. He’s been a lot of fun to play with and to see him become a constant mid-70s golfer.

ESPN: And the worst?

Landeskog: You could pick one of the Russian guys probably. [Nikita] Zadorov doesn’t play a lot of golf, but he likes to get out and have fun with it. So I’d have to pick him.

ESPN: You mentioned MacKinnon taking lessons. I’ve seen you throw shade at him a bit for this. Does it break some kind of hockey player golfer code?

Landeskog: [laughs] Once you have a swing coach and you see your swing coach once a week … you know, we play golf as a hobby. We don’t play it as a “job.” So I don’t know: If I was to take lessons, I’d probably keep it on the down low and not let people know. But it’s all good. To be honest, I’m just jealous of his swing.

ESPN: From 2011 to 2017, you appeared in seven playoff games. Given where the team is now, does that feel like a century ago?

Landeskog: Yeah. Now, after making the playoffs, getting a taste of it, I can’t imagine not making them again. You don’t realize what you’ve been missing out on until you’ve been there. We did get there in 2013-14, lost to Minnesota in Game 7 at home. And then you always expect you’re going to be there and get a kick at the can every time, but you realize pretty fast that it’s not like that, that it’s pretty hard making it. It’s not a guarantee. You gotta earn it. And that’s what you’re trying to do.

ESPN: How did you keep the faith during that time and through all of those changes with the organization: coaches, GMs, the whole thing?

Landeskog: That’s just kind of in my nature. I try to see the positives in everything. But I also try to do my part, stay in my lane and help the team any way I can. Focus on my job, first and foremost, and hope that other people are going to take care of theirs. But for me, I’m a positive guy. That’s how I’m going to live my life.

ESPN: Is it good or bad to have everyone hyping you to the moon at the start of the season?

Landeskog: To be honest with you, I don’t think we put much effort into thinking about if it’s good or bad. We’ve been told that we wouldn’t make the playoffs in the past, and it didn’t change our outlook or our goals for the season. Now just because people have us being a team up at the top, it doesn’t make a difference for our expectations. We block out the noise from the outside. We focus on our thing, which is to get better throughout the season and win that last game of the year. But I guess it’s good. It’s fun.

ESPN: As you’ve gotten older, what part of your game do you think has improved the most?

Landeskog: I wasn’t as strong on the puck coming into the league as I am now — or as I’d like to be, as I still have a lot of work left. It was a lot of one-and-done scoring chances when I first entered the league. I wasn’t able to control the puck in the offensive zone. I feel like I’ve gotten better at it and everything. When you start feeling like you’re the player you want to be and stop developing, you’re going to start declining. You have to constantly work on it.

ESPN: MacKinnon can’t give you “strong on the puck” lessons?

Landeskog: [laughs] He’s a step above a lot of guys. You can take a lot of inspiration from a guy like that, but once I start trying to stick handle like he does, I think I’m in trouble.

ESPN: Lines are a funny thing in the NHL. They get hot for a little bit, and then they fade, and then they aren’t a line anymore. Are you shocked by how long and how well you, Nathan and Mikko have played together?

Landeskog: I think we were put together on Nov. 1, 2017. So we’re coming up on two full years. We’ve played a lot of hockey together. Some guys you play with, you have that chemistry, right from the get-go. Other guys, you have to develop it. We had it right away, and once you start finding that success, you realize what you gotta do to produce offense in this league and be reliable defensively.

We’re three guys that each bring something different to the table, but we all work hard. They’re two guys I really enjoy playing with.

ESPN: Have you guys become closer away from the rink during that time?

Landeskog: I’d say so. We’re all close to the same age. A lot of common interests. When we were put together, it was Mikko’s second year. That’s a guy that’s come out of his shell. He’s an awesome guy to be around. Nate and I knew each other for years and played together quite a bit. Finding success on the ice helps those relationships off the ice.

ESPN: Off-ice question: What was the last show you binged on the road?

Landeskog: I’m into “Billions” right now. It’s really good. Just started Season 3. I was late to the party on that one, but it’s an awesome show, and that’s what I’m crushing right now.

ESPN: Are you Team Bobby Axelrod, or are you Team Chuck Rhodes?

Landeskog: Team Axe, all the way. Maybe there’s a point where I should be Team Chuck, but I’m not there yet. I’ll keep you posted.

ESPN: We spoke to Mika Zibanejad recently on our podcast, and he talked about his support of the Swedish women’s national team and their battle for equality. This was a campaign you supported in the summer. What does that mean to you?

Landeskog: It’s common sense, right? For me, it’s important that they get the same foundation to stand on to be successful. They’re not asking for much. They’re asking to be respected and to be taken care of. We’re proud of our women’s team, and we’re proud of our hockey federation. It’s an easy one to stand behind, for sure.

ESPN: This is part of a larger trend with you, in the sense that you’ve been active with local charities in the NHL. You’re a star player. You’ve got some influence. How important is it for you to use that for charities and other efforts?

Landeskog: I’ve always seen it as a duty to give back when you’re a public figure and you’ve got the platform that we have. It’s a privilege to be in the position that we’re in. I was able to bring an anti-bullying campaign [called “Friends Colorado”] from Sweden to Denver. I’ve been doing some work with local hockey teams and talking with players and coaches and parents about how to treat one another. That’s important now, with social media and all the cyberbullying going on. You have to be educated.

My wife, Melissa, has worked with [local charity] A Precious Child and has helped them out with leveling the playing field for families in need. I dive into all kinds of different things. The Kroenke family set the standard for giving back to the community, and the players have a duty to do our part.

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