The Hockey Hall of Fame could probably see Teemu Selanne coming 24 years ago.
The Finnish Flash was among seven named to the hall on Monday afternoon, joined by long-time running mate Paul Kariya, Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi, women’s star Danielle Goyette, as well as Clare Drake and Jeremy Jacobs in the builders category.
Topping the class is Selanne, one of the NHL’s greatest goal-scorers, arguably the finest player ever from Finland and someone whose talent seemed to know no age.
The 10th overall pick in an 1988 draft topped by Mike Modano, Selanne started carving that path almost from the minute he stepped onto the ice for the Winnipeg Jets in 1992 — just under five minutes to be precise, when he registered an assist in his very first game on a goal from Keith Tkachuk.
Selanne went on to score 16 times himself in his first 20 NHL games and finished the year with 76 goals — the most ever for an NHL rookie. No other first-year player has managed even 60 and only four have cracked 50.
Selanne, who had a smooth stride and wicked shot coming down the right wing, had five hat tricks that year and scored 52 of the 76 at even-strength — another rookie record. The Rocket Richard trophy for the NHL’s top-scorer didn’t exist at that point, but Selanne would have shared it with Alexander Mogilny, who also had 76 goals for the Buffalo Sabres.
Only four players, period, have ever scored more than 76 in one season: Wayne Gretzky (twice), Brett Hull, and Mario Lemieux.
Selanne’s 132 points, meanwhile, trailed only Gretzky (137) for tops in one season by a rookie. He deservedly snatched the Calder trophy as the league’s top rookie, earning all 50 first-place votes.
He may have accomplished the feat in Calgary Flames colours had the Jets not matched their offer sheet to Selanne ahead of that splendid rookie year.
The Jets sold their Selanne stock in Feb. 1996, months before a move to Arizona, in a package from the newly-formed Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, which centred around Russian defenceman Oleg Tverdovsky.
Selanne’s career was defined by two separate stints with the Ducks, the latter lasting the last nine seasons of his NHL career. He and Kariya were a meddlesome offensive duo for Anaheim — one on each wing — and the two later teamed up for a disappointing single campaign with the Colorado Avalanche.
Kariya’s counting stats fall well short of Selanne because of concussion problems which ended his career. But he was every bit the Finn’s equal when he was on the ice, totalling 402 goals and 989 points in 989 games. A five-time all-star, Kariya was also runner-up for league MVP in only his third season, beaten out by Dominik Hasek at his peak for the Buffalo Sabres.
Selanne had a career-worst 32 points in that lone year in Colorado and returned to Orange County where he scored at least 40 goals and 90 points in back-to-back seasons. During the latter year, at age 36, Selanne posted 48 goals and 94 points during the regular season and then helped the Ducks to their first and only Stanley Cup in 2007.
He continued chugging along productively for years after that, even finishing eighth in league scoring with 80 points in 73 games in 2010-11 as a 40-year-old.
That sustained pattern of excellence is why Selanne’s career compares most closely — in terms of quality and shape — to Gordie Howe, according to Hockey-Reference.com. Only Howe and Jaromir Jagr scored more goals or points in the NHL past the age of 40 than Selanne, who finally retired at age 43.
Not all was rosy at the end for Selanne, who clashed with long-time Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. Selanne wasn’t pleased with his diminishing role under the now-Minnesota Wild head bench boss and even revealed in the authorized biography, “Teemu”, that he might have continued playing longer had Boudreau not remained in Anaheim.
Selanne played 21 NHL seasons in all and ranked 11th with 684 goals and 15th with 1,457 points.
Both marks are tops among all Finnish NHL players.
Selanne was marvellous internationally for Finland, too, standing as the most productive men’s Olympic hockey player ever with 43 points across six Olympics. At his final Games in Sochi, a 43-year-old Selanne scored four goals in six games, including a pair in a 5-0 bronze-medal win over the United States.
It was his third bronze with a silver medal captured at the 2006 Games in Turin.
Selanne was only nominated for the Hart trophy once in his NHL career, a good indicator of a career that was defined more by its excellence over time than outright dominance — save, of course, for that sparkling rookie season. Unlike Eric Lindros, the marquee inductee last year and someone who was briefly on top of the sport, Selanne was more about a long-term body of work.
Nobody amassed more goals when he was in the league and only Jagr totalled more points.
Recchi played even longer than Selanne — 1,652 games over 22 seasons — and stands as the NHL’s 12th highest scorer with 1,533 points. Andreychuk was another greybeard who played until he was 42, his best years coming with the Sabres and Maple Leafs during the 90’s.
Goyette won two Olympic golds for Canada, meanwhile, along with eight world championship crowns and Drake was a coaching legend, mostly on the Canadian university scene. Jacobs is the influential owner of the Boston Bruins.
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press