The evolution of Jonathan Toews from smile-less teenager to cold-blooded, two-way No. 1 center has been fascinating to behold both on and off the ice.
Few players have fulfilled their promise to the extent that Captain Serious has, and he'll only continue to improve as he enters his prime—something he is just now doing at the tender age of 25.
Since he was drafted in 2006 by the Chicago Blackhawks, Toews has been a quietly whispered secret into the ear of the opposition that it just can't shake or forget.
From the age of 15, the 'Hawks scouted Toews relentlessly. According to Chicago's official website, they had people in attendance for more than 60 of his games as he went through the ranks—from the time he was a kid at Shattuck-St. Mary's until he was a freshman at the University of North Dakota.
"Pretty complete package for his age and should only get better as he gets stronger...He skates well, handles the puck comfortably, makes plays and can finish," wrote one scout on December 9, 2004.
Throughout 2004 and 2005, those who watched Toews play raved about his vision and ability to use his teammates and make them better. That's unsurprising considering what we've seen from him in the NHL over the years.
Yet it was in 2006 that he seemed to develop his most outstanding and special trait. Things like this started to pop up in scouting reports: "Toews is strong on the puck and always well-positioned on defense. He also has a strong sense for the net."
He was rounding out in all three zones just in time for the 2006 NHL draft.
The St. Louis Blues selected Erik Johnson first overall, while the Pittsburgh Penguins picked up Jordan Staal at No. 2. While both Johnson and Staal have had strong NHL careers, if there was an official re-draft, Toews would be the consensus top pick by a landslide.
Chicago stole him at No. 3, though, and he jumped into the best professional league in the world a year later and made an impact. He scored 24 goals and added 30 assists, as the 'Hawks finished 31-42.
Patrick Kane made his NHL debut alongside Toews in 2007-08 as well, and that would be the last season that the 'Hawks would miss the playoffs since picking Toews.
Franchise Savior and a Pair of Cup Rings
It's no coincidence that Chicago's rise from basement dwellers to borderline dynasty has coincided with the growth of Toews.
In his second year with the team, the 'Hawks made it all the way to the Western Conference Final before buckling to the super-powered Detroit Red Wings.
Then, in his third year in the league, he helped the Blackhawks win their first Stanley Cup since 1961. Kane received most of the attention after scoring the Cup-clinching overtime goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, but it was Toews who had led the way throughout the entire postseason.
He was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy after scoring a whopping 29 points during Chicago's Cup run.
Lost under the radar that year was how outstanding Toews had been in all three zones. He was responsible for shutting down the opposition's top players on a nightly basis and still managed to crank out a ridiculous point total.
Continued Growth and 2-Way Dominance
This was the player that had been described back in the scouting reports from 2006. Toews was coming into his own and adding dimensions to his game as he matured and grew. He wasn't satisfied to just be a force in the offensive zone.
In Steve Yzerman-like fashion, Toews sacrificed offensive output for defensive acumen and has never been a minus player as a professional.
Not counting the injury-shortened 2011-12 campaign, Toews has improved his plus/minus rating in every season, which is remarkable considering the quality of competition he faces on a nightly basis.
No. 19 continued to evolve as an offensive threat as well, however, and was a point-per-game player as the 'Hawks were more or less unstoppable throughout 2013 as a whole. They won their second Stanley Cup in four years and Toews won his first Selke Trophy has the league's top defensive forward.
All the pieces that were there when Chicago scouted Toews eight years ago had fallen into place.
The offensive output hasn't dried up one bit as he's become more and more responsible defensively. He's now one of the five or six best players in the world and has at least six or seven more years' worth of good hockey in him before age even has a chance of slowing him down.
That should excite fans of the 'Hawks to the point of giggling and put fear into the hearts of the other 29 teams in the NHL.
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