(CNN) – Gabriel Landeskog’s first exposure to the National Hockey League came through VHS tapes.
His dad having played professionally in Sweden, Landeskog grew up around the game, a love for it springing from his admiration for his father. As soon as he could he took the ice, his father first teaching him how to skate then how to handle a stick.
Soon, he began playing competitively, attending professional games whenever he could, determined to make his hockey dreams a reality.
While his time spent observing the professionals in his hometown of Stockholm had an obvious impact on him, it was his love of NHL games, infrequently available on Swedish television, that fed into a desire to one day make it in the North American league.
“I always made my grandma record the NHL games that were being shown because there are only certain number of channels that would show it, and we didn’t have any of them at my house,” Landeskog told CNN Sport.
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“So, I’d always get the VHS tapes from her and I watch some NHL hockey and that’s when you really start dreaming of the NHL. And at that point, you just tell yourself that I’m going to make it, there isn’t any other option.”
Landeskog fully committed to his NHL dreams, enrolling in English classes at an early age to prepare himself for his eventual emigration to the US.
His dedication started to pay off when, at 16, he became the youngest player to play for Swedish hockey club Djurgårdens IF, one of the country’s most successful clubs.
Two seasons with Djurgårdens paved the way for two years with the Ontario League’s Kitchner Rangers, an opportunity for Landeskog to showcase his abilities in front of a North American audience that would culminate in being selected with the second overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.
‘All of sudden you’re making an NHL debut’
He’d go on to be named Avalanche’s captain in his second season, the youngest ever at 19 years old and 286 days, to receive the honor.
“You don’t dream of being the youngest at something, you just dream to be a part of it and then things just happened so quickly and all of a sudden you’re there,” the 25-year-old said.
“When I came up and I was 16 and I got to play the men’s team here, it was just like, ‘Alright, well let’s make an impression now. Let’s try to establish myself in this team’ and then an opportunity came for me to move over to Canada, play junior hockey there, and after two years, all of the sudden, I got drafted.”
“And all of sudden you’re making an NHL debut.”
As a child, he remembers mimicking the actions and mannerisms of his hockey idols, down to the way they’d put on pads and taped their sticks as well as hanging around after the game in the hope that he’d be blessed with a high five.
Though he dismisses the idea of anybody clamoring for his attention, he’s not blind to the idea that some children look up to him with adoration.
“I mean even just a high-five, getting a high five from some of the guys walking in and out of the rink was a highlight [for me].”
“Now that you are in the NHL and you’re in that position, it’s easy to overlook and sort of just, you know, walk through it and go through the motions of giving high fives, but I try to be very generous with both high fives and throwing pucks over the glass and giving out sticks and things like that.”
While Landeskog, modest and deferential, downplays his success, he’s also acutely aware of his status as a role model for aspirational NHLers.
“I’m a nobody, really,” he asserts. “I just do this for a living and I love what I do and if accomplishments come with it, then so be it.”
“But [they aren’t] something that I measure my [personal] qualities because of what I do on the ice. I mean, I’d like to think that there’s more to me than just what I do on the ice. I think that’s important.”
Return to Sweden
Sitting in the arena that helped serve as the catalyst for his career, it’s easy for Landeskog to transport himself back to those early days, and reflect on the journey that, while not done, had effectively come full circle.
In 2017, Landeskog and the rest of the Avalanche faced off against the Ottawa Senators in two regular season games played in Sweden’s capital city.
Achieving the goal of playing in the NHL was one thing, but to be given the opportunity to be part of a game staged in the building where Landeskog took his proverbial first hockey steps is a monumental occasion not lost on him.
“You dream about playing in the NHL as a kid,” he says, “but you never dream about playing an NHL game in your hometown in front of family and friends.”
Seven years into his NHL career, Landeskog has lived out more than a couple of of his childhood dreams, manifested through each of his years on the ice in Stockholm.
The future, he hopes, still holds a few more to come.
By Perry Kostidakis & Rhiannon Jones, CNN
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