Great leaders come through no matter what the odds are.
They fight in the trenches, both during the season and into the playoffs. Wars in the corners and in front of the net is where these leaders make their mark on hockey history. That is where they are remembered forever.
In this second segment, we take a look at Detroit's all-time great, Steve Yzerman.
Steve Yzerman (Detroit Red Wings 1983-84 - 2005-06)
Born in British Columbia, Steve Yzerman grew up in the town of Nepean, now within the limits of the city of Ottawa. The scrawny Yzerman played for the Nepean Raiders Junior A hockey team for a season before being drafted by the OHL's Peterborough Petes in the 1981 CHL Draft.
In Peterborough, Yzerman found his game netting 155 points (63 goals and 92 assists) in 114 games during two seasons centering the Petes top line. He accomplished this despite his small stature at 5'11 and 160 pounds.
At the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, the newest NHL owners Mike and Marian Illitch, who had purchased the Red Wings in the summer of 1982 along with then general manager Jim Devellano were looking to revive the once powerful franchise with the fourth overall pick.
Despite the Red Wings hopes of acquiring American phenom Pat Lafointaine (taken third overall by the New York Islanders), the Red Wings settled with the scrawny Yzerman with their pick. The Red Wings were prepared to send Yzerman back down to Peterborough before he put on a great performance during training camp.
"After one (training camp) session, you knew he was a tremendous hockey player," commented then minor league Red Wings goalie Ken Holland.
Yzerman would not disappoint when in his rookie campaign, he finished with 87 points (39 goals, 48 assists) in 80 games only to come in 2nd in Calder Trophy voting. That same season, Yzerman became the youngest player to participate in an All-Star Game at the young age of 18.
Yzerman's first few seasons were very productive, as he put up two consecutive 30+ goal seasons in his rookie and sophomore campaigns. Despite an injury-plagued 1985-86 seasons, Yzerman managed to score 42 points in 51 games. In his first two seasons, Yzerman also cemented himself as a playoff performer, yet the Red Wings would be eliminated in the first round in both his first two years.
At the beginning of the 1986 season, Detroit coach Jacques Demers named the young Yzerman the captain, making him the youngest captain in franchise history. Demers would not be disappointed with his decision as Yzerman led the Red Wings to their first division title in 23 years. That season, the Red Wings made a deep charge in the playoffs, losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion juggernaut in the Edmonton Oilers.
Yet, Yzerman's 18 points in 16 playoff games was only the start of his leadership legacy in the NHL and Detroit.
As the years went on in Detroit, Yzerman continued to put up impressive numbers. During the 1988-89 season, he posted a career high 155 points (65 goals and 90 assists), which was only surpassed by Mario Lemieux (199 points) and Wayne Gretzky (168 points). Finishing third in NHL scoring earned Yzerman the Lester B. Pearson award (MVP as voted by the NHLPA) and was a finalist for the Hart Trophy.
Despite Yzerman putting up 100+ point seasons from 1987-88 to 1992-93, there was still something missing in Yzerman's career. In 1991-92, the Red Wings ousted the defending Clarence Campbell Conference Champion Minnesota North Stars in seven games before beings swept by the eventual Clarence Campbell Conference Champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Despite early playoff exits, the Red Wings were building themselves into a Western powerhouse bringing in many Russian superstars in Sergei Fedorov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Slava Kozlov, Vladimir Konstantinov as well as Swedish defenseman Niklas Lidstrom and veteran goalie Mike Vernon.
Fed up with a lack of playoff success, the Red Wings brought in coaching mastermind Scotty Bowman to bring the franchise back into winning ways. When Bowman first arrived, both he and Yzerman seemed to butt heads. Bowman expected his players to play a two-way game, basically to be able to back-check. In Bowman's opinion, Yzerman wasn't playing defense.
The relationship became so strained, that the Red Wings considered trading Yzerman to the expansion Ottawa Senators. However, Yzerman gradually became a better two-way forward and is, to this day, one of the best two-way forwards to play.
In 1995, Yzerman led the Red Wings to its first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1966 during the lock-out season of 1994-95. The heavily favoured Red Wings were pitted against the upstart New Jersey Devils led by hard-hitting captain Scott Stevens and a young Martin Brodeur. Despite having tremendous firepower in Yzerman, Fedorov, Kozlov, Lidstrom and Paul Coffey, the Wings were swept by the young Devils in four straight.
Despite the setback in Finals the previous season, the Red Wings surged through the 1995-96 season setting an NHL record with 62 regular season wins and placing second all-time with 131 regular season points.
Once again, Yzerman's offensive prowess would help his Red Wings win. In double overtime in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals in Detroit against Wayne Gretzky and the St. Louis Blues, Yzerman stepped over the blue-line and put a slapshot top corner for the Wings to advance.
It would be one of the most defining moments of Yzerman's career. And still, the best was yet to come.
After a painful Conference Finals exit to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche, the Red Wings would once again place atop the standings, finishing third in the West. Bolstered by mid-season arrival Brendan Shanahan and led by the goaltending tandem of Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood, the Red Wings marched through the playoffs without much of a challenge, taking out St. Louis in 6, Anaheim in 4, Colorado in 6, and sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers to capture their first Stanley Cup Championship since 1955.
Again, Steve Yzerman had another career defining moment as he lifted Lord Stanley's Cup for the first time in his career.
And it wouldn't be his last.
During the 1998 playoffs, Steve Yzerman went on a tear, netting 6 goals and 18 assists in 22 playoff games to lead all scorers with 24 points and captured the Red Wings second consecutive Stanley Cup and for Yzerman, the Conn Smythe Trophy. Not only did Yzerman lead the playoffs in scoring, seven of the top nine playoff scorers were Detroit teammates. The Red Wings of the late 1990s were likened to being the next NHL dynasty.
Despite it being the Red Wings second Cup in as many years, it was another career-defining moment for Yzerman as he handed the Cup over to wheelchair-bound Vladimir Konstantinov at centre ice as the Red Wings celebrated another Stanley Cup championship.
However, the moment would not last. Despite putting up decent numbers towards the end of the 90s, Yzerman began to succumb to earlier knee injuries during his career. He was forced to miss 30 regular season games during the 2001-02 season, yet still managed to play all 23 playoff games and finish with 23 points to lead the Red Wings to their tenth Stanley Cup in franchise history.
During the 2002 season, Yzerman was also able to take his leadership to the global stage with Team Canada during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, where he would help Canada attain their first Gold Medal in over 50 years. Yzerman would notch 2 goals and 4 assists in 6 tournament games en route to a Canadian gold medal. All the while, Yzerman was an intrinsic part of the Team Canada leadership.
During the summer of 2002-03, Yzerman underwent knee realignment surgery that was normally reserved for the elderly. The surgery would force him to miss 66 games of the season. More injuries kept Yzerman's playing time limited. During the 2004 playoffs, a deflected slapshot of teammate Mathieu Schnieder hit Yzerman in the eye. He underwent eye surgery, missing the remainder of the playoffs.
The lock-out seemed to hurt many experienced players than it helped and Yzerman was one of them. After the lock-out of 2003-04, Yzerman returned to Detroit on a one-year deal and managed to score 34 points in 61 games, a far cry from his normal self. After an early round exit to the upstart Edmonton Oilers, Yzerman announced his retirement on July 3, 2006.
Despite late-career injuries, Yzerman's numbers speak volumes to his success and to his leadership. Yzerman ranks 11th on the all-times games played list with 1,514 games. He is sixth all-time in points with 1,755 points (1.16 PPG), 8th all-time in goals with 692 goals and 7th all-time in assists with 1063 assists.
Yzerman's playoff prowess speaks numbers of his leadership as he is 8th all-time in playoff points with 185 and is 10th all-time in playoff assists with 115 in 196 playoff games.
During his career, Yzerman notched four 20+ goals seasons, five 30+ goal seasons, one 40+ goal season, three 50+ goal seasons, and two 60+ goal seasons. He also eclipsed the 100 point plateau six straight seasons, with his career year being the 1988-89 seasons with 155 points.
Yzerman currently sits first in Red Wings history in assists, second in points and goals, and third in games played. Truly, one of the all-time greatest Red Wing players.
And Yzerman did it all with one team: the Detroit Red Wings. The numbers speak for themselves. His championships speak for his leadership. Steve Yzerman: "The Captain".
Steve Yzerman's Career Stats: 1514 GP, 692 Goals, 1063 Assists, 1755 Points
Steve Yzerman's Playoff Stats: 196 GP, 70 Goals, 115 Assists, 185 Points
6th All-Time Points (1755)
7th All-Time Assists (1063)
8th All-Time Goals (692)
8th All-Time Playoff Points (185)
10th All-Time Playoff Assists (115)
Awards & Accomplishments:
Stanley Cup Championships - 1997, 1998, 2002
Conn Smythe Trophy Winner - 2002
Amassed 55 Points (25 Goals, 30 Assists) in 57 Senior International Games from Olympics to World Championships
10 NHL All-Star Game Appearances - 1984, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2000
NHL First-Team All-Star, Centre - 2000
Lester B. Pearson Award Winner - 1989
Frank J. Selke Award Winner - 2000
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy Winner - 2003
Lester Patrick Trophy - 2006
Number #19 Retired by the Detroit Red Wings - 2007
Number #19 Retired by Canadian National Team - 2005
Was Ranked #6 in The Hockey News' Top 60 Since 1967 - Best Players of the Post Expansion Era
Inducted into the Ottawa, Michigan, and Canadian Sports Hall of Fame - 2008