Monday, November 14, 2011

This Is Your Captain


On November 14th, 2011, the Colorado Avalanche named Milan Hejduk the third captain in team history and 10th if you count Nordiques captains.  Hejduk becomes the first European player to don the "C" in an Avs sweater and the first since Peter Stastny counting Quebec captains.  He is also the first right wing to be named captain.

Hejduk was drafted in the 4th round, 87th overall by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1994 NHL Draft.  He is currently in his 13th NHL season, all with the Avs and is also the Avs most senior player at the age of 35.  He had a very good rookie year in 1998-99 scoring 48 points and earning a nomination for the Calder Trophy, which was ultimately won by Avalanche teammate, Chris Drury.  Hejduk was an integral part of the 2001 Stanley Cup win, recording 23 points in as many games.  Hejduk is also the last remaining member on the Avs of the 2001 Stanley Cup winning team and only the 2nd current Avs player to have won a Cup along with J-S Giguere.  Statistically, his best regular season came in 2002-03, when he scored 50 goals, 98 points and won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal-scorer and the Bud Light Plus/Minus Award along with Peter Forsberg.  Hejduk has been a model of consistency, scoring at least 20 goals in every season since 1999-00.  Hejduk has also been a 3-time NHL All-Star, and Olympic Gold Medalist in 1998 with the Czech Republic, and a Bronze Medalist in the 2006 Olympics and 1998 World Championships.

Hejduk was previously a permanent alternate captain since 2008-09 and will bring a quiet, lead-by-example style to the captaincy, much like long-time captain, Joe Sakic.  More vocal, "rah rah" leaders would have been guys like previous captain Adam Foote and Erik Johnson.  Milan Hejduk is the right choice.  On a team full of young talent (Stats, Edge, Dutchy, Factor, and Landy) Hejduk has and will continue to provide veteran leadership and experience.  His resume speaks for itself and he has played alongside the great leaders like Sakic, Foote, Roy, Forsberg, Bourque, and Blake.  What Hejy learned from playing with those guys is invaluable and he is the right guy to impart his knowledge to the young Avs at this time.  The question that remains is who will wear the 2nd alternate captain's "A."  Paul Stastny will almost certainly continue to wear the "A" and my guess is that it will continue to rotate as it has all season thus far.  Erik Johnson, Cody McLeod, and Jay McClement have alternated, in that order, all season long, with the exception of Saturday's game vs. Calgary, in which McClement was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game.  If you would have asked me a week ago, I would have said Erik Johnson would be a slam dunk for the 2nd permanent alternate captain position, but now, I'm not so sure.  EJ did wear the "A" for the 2nd straight game on Saturday, but his play and ice time might indicate a trip to Sacco's doghouse.  Edge was a minus-2 (minus-9 on the season) and only recorded 17:40 TOI.  Kyle Quincey, conversely logged 25:15 and was out there at the very end during the Avs' 6-4, while EJ was on the bench.  Prior to the season starting, many people were calling for EJ to be the next captain, including Adrian Dater.  Edge has been maligned for his play thus far with his aforementioned minus-9, some costly turnovers, and the fact that he has yet to score a goal this season.  However, Johnson does have a team-high 8 power play assists (which don't help his +/-) and still has the best point shot since Rob Blake.  Now, has Johnson been the second coming of Blake that some, including Joe Sakic have predicted?  No, not to this point, but let's not throw this kid under the bus just yet.  Keep in mind, Johnson is still only 23-years-old.  They say it takes defensemen 4-5 years to fully develop their NHL game and EJ is only in his 4th NHL season.  Being a former #1 overall pick, Johnson has had tremendous expectations placed on his shoulders his entire career, and even since his trade to Colorado, he has been billed as the "anchor" on the Avs blue line.  Sure, the minus-9 is not good and he does need to work on cutting down the turnovers (Varly and Jiggy would appreciate that, I'm sure), but give Edge time and he can be the staple on the Avs' blue line.  Another silver lining for EJ is that Chris Stewart, the other big name in the trade, only has 2 goals, 3 assists, and minus-3 so far this season.

The next question will of course be who will succeed Milan Hejduk as captain.  At 35, Hejduk certainly will not have the captaincy tenure that Joe Sakic did.  Much like Adam Foote, Hejduk will enjoy wearing the "C" now until he retires.  Again, I expect the usual suspects to emerge when that time comes.  Stastny, Johnson, Duchene, and O'Reilly.  For the "veterans" Stastny and Johnson, their play and number will determine how much of a shot they have at the "C" when the time comes.  While they are certainly staples of the Avs forward corps and defense respectively, they have both come under criticism for their play.  If they step up though, they could be serious contenders for the captaincy.  Duchene and O'Reilly have yet to even wear an "A" in their NHL careers.  Duchene is the most talented and flashy scorer on the Avs roster and arguably the face of the franchise even today.  O'Reilly, a known rink-rat and workhorse, has shown veteran leadership and is often described as "wise beyond his years" at only the age of 20.  Both of these guys could emerge as contenders, depending on their maturity both on and off the ice.  Another candidate could very realistically be Gabriel LandeskogLandy's racked up 8 points, is a plus-2, and while rookies are often gun shy, Landeskog is 6th in the entire NHL in shots with 61 and is tied with Ryan O'Byrne for the team lead in hits with 42.  Gun shy, young Landeskog is not.  Landeskog was also the first European-born player to be named the captain of his junior team, the Kitchener Rangers, so he has the leadership abilities as well.  Do not be surprised to see the "C" on #92's sweater when Hejduk hangs them up.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself a big.  We are entering the era of a well-deserving, Captain Milan Hejduk.  May the Duke enjoy much success during his time with the "C"!

"I'm honored to be named Avalanche captain," Hejduk, 35, said in a statement. "From my rookie season here in Colorado, I have always felt a great sense of pride wearing this sweater and being a part of this organization. I am looking forward to this added responsibility."

Read more: Avalanche names Milan Hejduk captain - The Denver Post
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