By Sam Laskaris /
Though he’s been wrong before, Kitchener Rangers’ head coach Steve Spott believes he will no longer see one of his star players sporting a Junior uniform again.
Spott is confident Sweden’s Gabriel Landeskog, who wore the ‘C’ as captain for the Ontario Hockey League’s Rangers this past season, is ready to make the jump to the National Hockey League.
But Spott admits it was just a year ago that one of his predictions failed to come through.
“I did expect to see Jeff Skinner playing for us again,” he said.
Skinner, who spent two seasons in Kitchener, was selected in the first round – seventh overall – by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2010 draft. But instead of returning to the Junior ranks, Skinner stuck with the Hurricanes as an 18-year-old.
And the teenager shone with the Carolina squad this past year, earning 63 points (31G, 32A) while appearing in all 82 of the Hurricanes’ regular season matches.
Skinner even represented the Carolina squad at the 2011 NHL All-Star match, which the Hurricanes hosted in January.
As for Landeskog, he’s expected to be an early first-round pick at the upcoming NHL Draft, set for June 24 and 25 in Minnesota.
Regardless of which team selects him, Spott believes Landeskog, often compared to countryman Peter Forsberg, will be able to step right in and play for that franchise.
“He’s got the mental and physical maturity to play in the NHL,” Spott said of the 6-0, 196-pound forward.
Kitchener’s bench boss has been raving about Landeskog’s abilities since the spring of 2009. That’s when Spott, a coach for the Canadian squad, saw the Swedish teen competing at the world Under-18 championships in Fargo, North Dakota.
“He was an under-age player at that tournament,” Spott recalled.
Landeskog though impressed Spott so much so that the Rangers soon invited the teen and his father Tony, a former professional hockey player in Sweden, to Kitchener. Later that summer, the Rangers selected Landeskog in the Canadian Hockey League’s Import Draft.
Landeskog has shone during his two years in Kitchener. Following a 46-point rookie season, Landeskog followed that up with 66 points, including 36 goals, in 53 games, this past year.
No doubt his point totals would have been higher but he missed some action while recovering from an ankle sprain he sustained representing his country at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo.
Landeskog was the first European to be the captain of the storied Rangers’ franchise. Though he was just 17 when he was presented with Kitchener’s captaincy, Spott knew he was a worthy recipient.
“He speaks English better than some of the boys born here in North America,” Spott said, adding he knew because of Landeskog’s maturity he would not have any pressures dealing with the media.
As for his on-ice efforts, Landeskog is certainly a player his teammates look up to.
“He’s a 200-foot player,” Spott said, in reference to Landeskog’s efforts in both the offensive and defensive zones.
Though he doesn’t expect Landeskog to return to Kitchener, Spott thinks it won’t be long before he is named a captain again - but this time for an NHL franchise.