Steve Yzerman had all the flashy adjectives applied to him as a young, slick center when he entered the NHL. He could score the beautiful goal and his flair translated into some remarkable statistical seasons. But Yzerman's team, the Detroit Red Wings, had struggled before he arrived, and he didn't set the world on fire during his early years. Since then, though, Yzerman has become the longest serving captain in league history and dedicated himself to an all-around game, finally leading the Wings to the Stanley Cup in 1997 after 42 years of futility.
At the age of 16, Yzerman moved to Peterborough to play with the OHL's Petes. He had 91 points in 56 games with Peterborough in his second year, but his numbers weren't the usual stratospheric kind registered by young phenomena in the OHL because of the team concept ingrained in the Petes by Dick Todd, the team's no-nonsense coach. Along with Pat LaFontaine and Sylvain Turgeon, Yzerman was still considered one of the top prospects as his draft year approached. He enriched that reputation with a strong performance on Canada's bronze medal team in the World Junior Championship in 1983.
The year before the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, the Detroit Red Wings were bought by Mike Ilitch, who entrusted general manager Jim Devellano with the job of rebuilding the failing franchise. The Red Wings had the fourth overall pick, and Devellano's first choice was LaFontaine, a hometown boy who would surely revive the interest of the Detroit fans. But LaFontaine was picked third and Devellano selected Yzerman to be the cornerstone of the new Wings.
Still only 18, Yzerman immediately established himself as an impact player with the Red Wings. In his first year, 1983-84, he set Detroit records for goals by a rookie with 39 and for points with 87. He finished second behind goalie Tom Barrasso in the Calder Trophy voting and also made the NHL's All-Rookie Team. He played in the All-Star Game after half a season in the league, making him the youngest player ever to don an All-Star sweater. His success carried over into training camp for the 1984 Canada Cup. Yzerman played so well in the camp that he couldn't be left off the team. Canada won the tournament, though Yzerman missed most of the action due to recurring tonsillitis.
Yzerman continued to record impressive numbers. He had a knack for the pretty goal and began to draw fans back to the beleaguered team. He was named Red Wings captain as a 21-year-old in 1986, the youngest player ever to earn that honor.
Between 1987 and 1993, he never failed to top 100 points, and five times he scored 50 goals or more while winning the Lester B. Pearson Trophy in 1988-89. He set all-time marks for Detroit when he had 65 goals, 90 assists and 155 points in 1988-89, placing third in the league scoring race behind Gretzky and Lemieux, just as he would in voting for the Hart Trophy that season.
In 1994-95, the Wings ended the lockout-shortened season atop the standings, winning the Presidents' Trophy. The team coasted through the first three rounds of the playoffs undefeated on home ice. For the first time in his 11th year in the league, Yzerman was in the Stanley Cup finals. The joy didn't last long. New Jersey's stifling defense shut down Yzerman and the Wings and he had to watch Devils captain Scott Stevens hoist the Stanley Cup after a four-game sweep. Still, after so many seasons of struggling even to make the playoffs, Yzerman was being talked about as the quiet but effective leader of a surging team.
Yzerman's high status was evident when his name began to surface in trade rumors in 1995. The Red Wings were a contending team, four games away from the Cup the previous season, an enviable position for which Yzerman had worked hard and sacrificed years of his career.
Yzerman was a standout player on Team Canada for the 1996 World Cup, scoring an important early round goal against Slovakia to keep the Canadian team on track and notching another in overtime in the first game of the final series against the United States. When Canada fell in the final game, however, Yzerman was once again forced to watch another team celebrate.
In the 1997 playoffs, everything came together for the hard-working captain. He was a solid player at both ends of the ice as Detroit faced the Philadelphia Flyers for the Stanley Cup. In four consecutive games, the Wings were too much for the Flyers. At the end of the final game, Yzerman was the first to embrace goalie Mike Vernon. Moments later, in front of his home fans chanting "Stevie" over and over, Yzerman raised the Cup above his head, the first Red Wing to do so since 1955.
The next season, Yzerman's name was engraved on another award, this time the Conn Smythe Trophy, after the Red Wings repeated as Cup champions. Yzerman was an effective checker and became a player Detroit coach Scotty Bowman could use in all situations. Yzerman's strong play continued over the next two years capturing the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 1999-00 before injuries limited the talented forward to a mere 54 games in 2000-01 and 52 games in 2001-02. Although his regular season was limited in 2001-02, Yzerman was healthy enough to take part in the Wings Stanley Cup run which landed Yzerman the third Stanley Cup ring of his career. An off-season knee operation limited Yzerman to a mere 16 games in 2002-03 and early exit in the post season. His brave efforts landed him the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
In 2003-04, the Red Wing captain returned to the lineup and was instrumental in helping his team capture the Presidents' Trophy as the top team during the regular season and would surpass the 1,700 point plateau.
Following a lockout year, Yzerman would return in 2005-06 to lead the Detroit Red Wings to yet another Presidents Trophy after the club compiled the top regular-season record in the league. Following the NHL's regular season, the Edmonton Oilers would eliminate the Red Wings unexpectedly in the first round of the Western Conference Quarter Finals in a game many thought could be the last for Yzerman.
On July 3, 2006, Yzerman confirmed his retirement and was shortly after named Vice President of the Detroit Red Wings. To honour 'Stevey Y' the Red Wings retired Yzerman's jersey number, 19 in a pre-game ceremony on January 2, 2007.
On the international stage, Yzerman has represented his country on numerous occasions, the first being at the 1983 World Junior Championships. In 1984, he played for Canada at the Canada Cup and in 1985, he went on to make his first of three appearances at the Worlds, the other two being in 1989 and 1990. After an appearance at the 1996 World Cup, Yzerman went on to become a two-time Olympian, representing his homeland at the 1998 Nagano Olympics and the 2002 Salt Lake City Games - where he helped Canada capture its first gold medal in more than 50 years.
With his playing days behind him, Yzerman took on the role a vice-president with the Red Wings. In just his third season at the post, his Red Wings captured the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in eleven years. Internationally, Yzerman took on the role as General Manager of Team Canada for the 2007 and 2008 World Championships. Canada recorded a 17-1 record throughout the two tournaments and captured a Gold and Silver Medal. As a result, in October 2008 Yzerman was named the executive director of Canada's 2010 Winter Olympic hockey team. That squad went on to win the Olympic gold medal at the tournament played in Vancouver. He returned as executive director again in 2014, and that team also went on to collect the gold medal at the Winter Olympic Games.
His legacy as both a player and an executive intact, Steve Yzerman was lured away from the Red Wings organization to join the Tampa Bay Lightning as vice-president and general manager during the summer of 2010. Following the 2014-15 season, he was awarded the NHL's General Manager of the Year Award.