There were moments in such a sour season a year ago when Gabriel Landeskog doubted himself as a player. It just wore on him that much.
Never once did he ever question this: His ability to lead the Colorado Avalanche.
The longtime captain who’s still just 25 galvanized a youthful squad this season through dinners Cheap Carlton Davis Jersey , pingpong games, stepping into the role of mentor, assisting on one of the best lines in hockey, getting feedback from fellow veterans and even being a tour guide. His teammates have followed Landeskog’s lead straight into the postseason.
”Sometimes, you can doubt the things you’re doing as a captain or if you’re doing it right, but never if I wanted to be a captain,” explained Landeskog, whose team opens the first round Thursday night in Nashville against the top-seeded Predators. ”That’s an honor. That’s a privilege.”
Naturally, there have been growing pains along the way for Landeskog, who was appointed captain on Sept. 4, 2012, at the tender age of 19 years, 286 days.
But last season took a toll on him and everyone else. The team had a league-worst 48 points in 2016-17 – the lowest in a full season since 1999-2000, when the expansion Atlanta Thrashers had 39.
”When it’s going that bad, when you’re that bad of a team, no doubt you start doubting yourself, as a player and as a person,” said Landeskog John Ross Youth Jersey , a Swedish winger who was drafted by Colorado with the second overall pick in 2011. ”At the end of the day, you have to believe in yourself and find that inner confidence and believe that you can do it and you are good and that you are doing the right things and stick with it.”
It set the stage for a major turnaround. Their 47-point improvement this season is the tied for the fourth-highest year-to-year improvement in NHL history for a full season.
”I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a group with such team chemistry,” said Landeskog, who helped seal the playoff appearance with a goal and two assists in a 5-2 win over St. Louis last weekend during a winner-take-all, regular-season finale.
That chemistry began in training camp. It escalated even more nearly 5,000 miles away in Stockholm, Landeskog’s hometown. Colorado took a trip there in November to play two games against Ottawa. Right before that, the Avs made a three-team trade that sent Matt Duchene to the Senators and got them such players as defenseman Samuel Girard from Nashville in return.
While in Sweden, Landeskog became a tour guide. He set up museum excursions and organized dinners at his favorite spots. Although the Avalanche dropped both games, they found something greater – cohesion.
”We really came together as a team,” Landeskog said. ”There’s something about spending five or six days with the team and nobody has family or friends or other obligations. It’s just team, team, team and that’s it.”
Team dinners on the road have been frequent. Pingpong games began happening (Landeskog keeps a paddle with a picture of himself taped on it in his locker). And lines of communication that have always been open are even more open.
”He’s very selfless. He doesn’t care about his own personal numbers,” standout Nathan MacKinnon said. ”He’s definitely the perfect captain for this team.”
He’s just trying to be his even-keeled self.
”I have a support staff – my fiance, my dad and my family and things like that to support me and try to bring me up when I’m down,” Landeskog said. ”It’s just something that’s always been engrained, to keep working and keep doing the right things, keep being a good teammate Calvin Ridley Youth Jersey , to be a good example for other guys, and guys will follow.”
He’s had a solid season with 25 goals and 37 assists. Then again, it doesn’t hurt to play on a line that includes MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
”He leads the way on the ice and rarely does any mistakes,” Rantanen said. ”The way he speaks to the team is so calm. He’s a role model for young guys.”
Landeskog already is in full playoff mode with his beard game. He started growing it months ago, with the Avalanche trying to claw their way into the postseason. It’s a contrast to, say, defenseman Nikita Zadorov, who hardly even has a whisker.
”Zadorov brought me over close to him before practice and was like, `Look I got some (whiskers). I got some,”’ Landeskog recounted. ”I walked up there close to him, and there wasn’t a whole lot to brag about.”
A light-hearted mood – that’s where the team is at heading into a playoff series as a decided underdog.
”Standing here after a season like this, I think you can look around the room and say everybody had a bounce-back season,” Landeskog said. ”Ultimately, everybody in this room helped this team get to the playoffs.”
More NHL hockey: Denver Broncos fans have pretty much given up on Paxton Lynch.
No longer do they fill the airwaves and social media posts with debates about how Denver’s 2016 first-round draft pick should be learning on the job even though he hasn’t earned the Broncos’ starting quarterback job.
They’re wearing Case Keenum No. 4 jerseys now, ready to move on from the crisp No. 12s that have gotten about as much wear and tear as Lynch’s own game-day jersey.
Two men who aren’t quite ready to label Lynch a blunder are general manager John Elway and coach Vance Joseph.
While that might seem predictable, both men are adamant that the ex-Memphis QB is just a late bloomer, not a bust.
Even after signing Keenum in free agency to a two-year deal and declaring the sixth-year veteran the team’s starter, Elway has stuck by Lynch.
To the surprise of many Vita Vea Youth Jersey , he bypassed a bevy of quarterback prospects in the NFL draft. After using all 10 of his picks on other positions, he declared that Lynch is still young and hasn’t run out of chances in Denver.
”We are not kicking him to the curb,” Elway said. ”He can still develop. When we drafted him two years ago, we knew it was going to take some time.”
Elway added this caveat, however: Lynch will compete with Chad Kelly , ”Mr. Irrelevant” as the final selection of the 2017 NFL draft out of Ole Miss, for the backup job this summer.
The buzz around Broncos headquarters is that Lynch is a more dedicated pro this year. His performances on the field, at least those open to the media, have looked a lot like his first two years: flashes of jaw-dropping brilliance but still some head-scratching poor plays and bad decisions.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave saluted Lynch’s red zone play Wednesday and said, ”We want those decisions, those habits, to become part of his fabric so they can become natural, reactive.”
Joseph praised Lynch in an interview with The Associated Press, saying, ”I think Paxton is really motivated to show everyone that he can be a No. 1 quarterback in this league and watching him work this entire offseason he is different because I’ve seen him a lot more up in the halls here.
”And that takes time to find your comfort zone with coaches, with your organization.”
Joseph noted that Lynch has had three offensive coordinators in Denver so far, something that reminds him of another QB he worked with early in his career.
”I was with Alex Smith his first three or four years and it kind of looked like Paxton because Alex had four coordinators in his first four years in the league,”’ Joseph said. ”How can a guy comfortably get better as a quarterback in a system that is brand new every year Blake Martinez Packers Jersey , right?
”These guys need time to develop as quarterbacks. We want them to walk in and play. Now some guys do. Russell Wilson walked in and did it. But most guys don’t do it.”
What Lynch needs, Joseph said, is ”time to be in a system for a two-year period and you will see real growth.”
Joseph said he saw improvement last year even though Lynch was hurt most of the season and only started twice.
Like Elway, Joseph was impressed with Lynch’s performance in the season finale, when he went 21 for 31 for 254 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 27-24 loss to Kansas City.
”He played that position very, very naturally in that game,” Joseph said. ”Now, from that point to now, he’s a different guy. He’s 10 percent better. Now, when it comes time for him to play for us this year and win a football game, he’s going to be 20 percent better because he’s been with Billy for a year and a-half now in the same system. That makes a difference.”
First things first, Joseph insisted that Lynch still has to beat out Kelly in training camp to win the backup spot.
Yet, Joseph’s effusive praise of Lynch reveals the degree to which the Broncos’ brain trust still believes it didn’t whiff by moving up to select him with the 26th overall pick two years ago.
Joseph said Lynch deserves such patience ”because he does have rare talent.”
”Who wants to throw out rare talent before you give him a chance to develop?” Joseph asked. ”I don’t want to. John doesn’t want to.”
Notes: DeMarcus Ware, who retired last year, has been brought back to Denver as a part-time pass-rushing consultant. He’ll visit the team a few times every month and work a selection of home games, Joseph said.
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