Gabriel Landeskog arrived at the NHL draft Friday knowing his name would be one of the first called by Commissioner Gary Bettman.
But that did not erase the anxiety the 18-year-old from Stockholm felt as he sat in the stands at Xcel Energy Center with his family. Landeskog's father, Tony, was a standout in the Swedish Elite League from 1977 to '85, and Gabriel had dreamed of the moment that was about to occur.
A 6-foot, 207-pound left winger, Landeskog came to Canada two years ago in order to hone his game and spent the past two seasons with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. He had long prepared for the move to North America, studying English since the third grade.
Landeskog was attractive to NHL teams for a variety of reasons. He led Kitchener last season with 36 goals and a plus-27 rating despite an ankle injury that shortened his season to 53 games. He also became the youngest player in 30 years to be named captain of the Rangers when he was given that title at 17.
One of Landeskog's greatest attributes is his willingness to use his size to play a physical and feisty game, something not all Europeans are willing to do. He has gone so far as to tell the NHL website that he does not want to be considered a "soft European player," and his hockey idol growing up was fellow Swede Peter Forsberg, who mixed top-end skill with a physical style.
Landeskog's next step toward delivering on his goal of duplicating Forsberg's success came Friday night. Star Tribune reporter Judd Zulgad and photographer Jeff Wheeler were given behind-the-scenes access to see what one of the biggest nights in Landeskog's young life was like for him.
6:21 p.m.: The Edmonton Oilers begin the draft by taking center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL.
6:29 p.m.: Landeskog, projected to go anywhere from second to fourth, doesn't have to wait long. Sitting in the third row of Section 102, he jumps to his feet as Colorado announces it is taking a player from the Kitchener Rangers. Landeskog's father, however, waits, knowing that his son's junior teammate, defenseman Ryan Murphy, also played for Kitchener. Any confusion is cleared up as Landeskog's name is given as the pick. A beaming Landeskog hugs his father, and his mother, Cecilia, and receives congratulations from his twin sister, Beatrice; his older brother, Adam, and his girlfriend, Rachel Jones.
6:31 p.m.: Landeskog pulls on a road white Avalanche No. 11 (for the year 2011) jersey over his dress shirt and tie and puts on a blue Colorado hat as he is greeted and takes photos with team executives standing on the stage.
6:33 p.m.: Let the interviews begin. Landeskog's first stop is TSN's broadcast area that is off to the side of the stage. He then is led down the stairs to do interviews with RDS of Canada and the NHL Network.
6:40 p.m.: Landeskog is escorted to the Avalanche's table on the arena floor where one team executive says, "Welcome to the fold." The meeting takes all of a minute as Landeskog is quickly ushered into the bowels of the arena to begin a whirlwind of interviews and autographs. Landeskog takes a minute to congratulate third overall pick Jonathan Huberdeau, who was taken by Florida. Landeskog checks his text messages as he makes the walk. "That's great," he said after reading one.
6:43 p.m.: Landeskog takes one of his few breaks of the night to tie his right shoe before heading into the media room. The interviews come fast and furious as Landeskog sits down with NHL Radio and then heads over to one of seven tables set up for a nearly 11-minute news conference. Speaking perfect English, Landeskog makes it clear he has his sights set on making the Avalanche next season.
6:57 p.m.: A reporter from the Denver paper and regional sports affiliate need time with Landeskog, who seems to have a constant smile on his face. One Minnesota fan, seeing Landeskog walk past the stands above, tells the rookie what the Wild is going to do to him next season. He doesn't break stride.
7:07 p.m.: Landeskog is told to head back to the media interview room and on his way sees Nugent-Hopkins wearing his Oilers jersey. The two hug. "I'm so excited for you, buddy," Landeskog says.
7:17 p.m.: Back in the hallway, he sees fellow Stockholm native Mika Zibanejad, who was taken sixth by Ottawa. Landeskog slaps Zibanejad on the back. Later the two will have a brief conversation in their native language.
7:18 p.m.: Landeskog, Nugent-Hopkins and Huberdeau take a lengthy walk down the hallway chatting before heading onto the arena floor and having their picture taken in front of the stage.
7:20 p.m.: The interviews might be (almost) complete, but Landeskog is far from finished. He goes into a side room in the area where the locker rooms are located in Xcel Energy Center and signs a number of pucks that carry the NHL draft logo, as well as NHL draft and Avalanche hats. Following Landeskog are two volunteers who have a list of what he is supposed to be doing.
7:26 p.m.: Next up is the picture round. A TSN personality grabs him for what would qualify as a fun interview in which Landeskog is shown various rookie cards from guys who made their mark in the NHL. Landeskog is asked his opinion of all the hair former Penguins star Jaromir Jagr had back in the day. "I used to have long hair," said Landeskog, who got it cut short in order to look more professional.
7:29 p.m.: NHL Images wants photos of Landeskog with the other top picks. There is little time for a breather, but as he waits on a bench for his turn, Landeskog appears to allow himself a moment to soak it all in. A reporter points out they have him running around pretty good. "It's crazy," he said. An interview with a Denver radio station will follow, as will two more photo shoots and one more round of autographs to sign. Sometime around 8:30 p.m., Landeskog will be reunited with his family in the upper reaches of Xcel Energy Center.
See more of Star Tribune photographer Jeff Wheeler's pictures of Gabriel Landeskog's big night at startribune.com/wild.