Posted: Thursday September 6, 2012 6:59AM ; Updated: Thursday September 6, 2012 1:28PM
Adrian Dater
Adrian Dater>INSIDE THE NHL

Avalanche serve youth, name Gabriel Landeskog captain

Story Highlights

Gabriel Landeskog, 19, is now the youngest team captain in NHL history

The Avs hail their reigning Calder Trophy-winner as mature beyond his years

The NHL is trending toward giving younger players major leadership roles

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Gabriel Landeskog, the 2012 Calder Trophy winner, is now the NHL's youngest captain.
Gabriel Landeskog, the second overall pick in the 2011 draft, won the Calder Trophy and was the NHL's leading rookie scorer.
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According to Webster, the origin of the word "captain" dates to the 14th century. That's old. According to the Colorado Avalanche, their new captain is Gabriel Landeskog, who is 19. That's young.

Landeskog, in fact, is the youngest captain in NHL history. He'll be replacing 36-year-old Milan Hejduk. We can't help but view captains as the older, wiser and more seasoned among us. We picture weathered, shrunken caps on top of graying hair; gnarled faces barking commands at greenhorns who nod aye-aye and go to work.

So how is this going to work in Denver? How does someone who is not old enough to legally buy a beer get his teammates -- some of whom, like Hejduk, are nearly twice his age -- to buy into anything he has to say?

"Hey, Milan, let me tell you about my experience in this situation. ... Oh wait, I don't have any."

"Hey J-S Giguere -- we need a big game from you tonight. Wait, what, you played where your first year? Hartford? Where's that?"

Jokes aside, this may actually work well for the Avalanche because this is how the NHL is trending. It's becoming a younger man's game with every passing year.

In 2007 Sidney Crosby became Penguins captain at 19 years, 297 days -- just 11 days older than Landeskog at his coronation. Jonathan Toews was just past his 20th birthday when the Blackhawks gave him the captaincy. Alex Ovechkin was 24 when the Capitals gave him the C. Eric Staal of the Hurricanes was 25.

There are still a few 30-something NHL captains, including Jarome Iginla, Daniel Alfredsson, Shane Doan and Zdeno Chara. But Colorado may have accelerated the trend of teams putting not just their financial faith in very young players, but also giving those players a major role in the leadership department as well.

In Edmonton, there is already much debate about whether the team should go ahead now with the inevitable passing of the C from 34-year-old Shawn Horcoff to youngsters such as Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle. In Tampa Bay, some think Steven Stamkos should be captain instead of Vincent Lecavalier. Fans already know that their teams are led by kids these days, so why not give them the official designation on the top left of the sweaters?

Even old pros such as Hejduk, who wore the C for one year with the Avalanche, seem resigned to the notion. With his career winding down, and a possible third- or fourth-line role this coming season, Hejduk felt it was the right decision to turn the captaincy over to the poised, exceptionally mature Swede who is the league's Calder Trophy winner.

"Seeing what happened last year, I thought it was proper if somebody else be captain," Hejduk told The Denver Post. "(The captain) should be somebody with a significant role on the team, probably on the top two lines, which I was not last year. It kind of feels weird when you're playing on the third and fourth lines and being captain. It didn't feel right."

Still, one has to wonder just how this new dynamic will play out with the league's older players. Has the captaincy of NHL teams, such a sacred honor in its history, been cheapened by kids taking on the role even though they have little to no experience? What happened to paying your dues in the NHL?

"Don't let his age fool you," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said of Landeskog, whose plus-20 led the team during his rookie season. "He is way mature beyond his years. He has that natural leadership ability, something that just comes easy for him. I think he's going to be a great captain for a long time for this franchise."

Nobody has quibbled with the decisions by Pittsburgh or Chicago to hand the C over Crosby and Toews, respectively. And teams have named young captains before. Wayne Gretzky was 22 when the Oilers tapped him in 1983, and Detroit's Steve Yzerman was 21 in 1986.

On a buttoned-down team like the Avalanche, the move caught plenty of people by surprise. But to quote George Bernard-Shaw: "It is all that the young can do for the old, to shock them and keep them up to date."

 
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