Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog sees a much clearer path back to the ice even if he's not expected to play this season.
That's how encouraged he is 4 1/2 months removed from cartilage replacement surgery on his right knee. Coach Jared Bednar is just as optimistic, which is why he won't name a new captain for the upcoming season. The team will wait until Landeskog's return and in the meantime rely on the leadership of Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
"First and foremost, I feel really good," Landeskog said Wednesday on the eve of training camp. "It's been a really good process so far. It's been obviously hard at times and other times you make more progress than not."
Still, with hockey starting up, it's been a little difficult. He's yet to start skating, and may not get clearance until a visit with his surgeon in November.
"It sucks not being a part of it," Landeskog said. "But I think having digested that part of it for the last 4 1/2 months and knowing that I wasn't going to be a part of it, has made it a little bit easier. ... It's been really good and it's fun seeing everybody, especially the teammates."
The 30-year-old Landeskog missed all of last season as he dealt with his knee. He hasn't played since Game 6 on June 26, 2022, against Tampa Bay when the Avalanche hoisted the Stanley Cup.
"I'm going to continue supporting my teammates and being their biggest cheerleader," said Landeskog, a forward with 248 goals and 323 assists in 738 regular season games. "The only reason I'll be not here every single day of the season is because I need to focus on what I need to do and that's to get myself better, and put myself in the best spot to continue to progress physically. I'll be supporting my teammates from a distance at times and then, at some point or another, I'll be back here rocking and rolling with the guys."
Bednar gave careful consideration about what to do at captain - assign a new one or appoint a temporary one. In the end, he wanted to stick with Landeskog, who has been in the role since 2012 when he was 19.
"If we wouldn't have gotten good news from Landy that his rehab wasn't going well or that he didn't have a plan on returning to our team, then I would have really dug in on it," Bednar said. "But everything seems to be going really well. We have our leaders in our room whether they wear letters or not.
"I love the leadership of our team. I love the hunger that they played this last year under some difficult circumstances and I expect them to be able to lead us back to where we want to go."
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
for more features.