TAMPA -- Steve Yzerman is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and someone many current NHL players look up to as one of the superstars of their youth.
Yzerman, the longtime Detroit Red Wings captain and current Tampa Bay Lightning general manager, said Tuesday at Stanley Cup Final Media Day that Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is a better player than he was.
"Well, we [each] wore No. 19," Yzerman said when asked about Toews. "The reality is Jonathan is bigger, stronger … better. He just is. Tremendous all-around player, great person. I got to meet him at the World Championships in person for the first time in 2007, in Moscow. He played for us right out of North Dakota. Fit in on the team, one of our best players.
"Over the course of my career, my play evolved and became, through (Red Wings coach) Scotty Bowman and the way he wanted our team to play, we became more defensive-minded players, more well-rounded players. And Jonathan's been that since Day One when he came into the League. Just a complete hockey player. So he's stronger than me. I don't think I could even take him in a race, so probably faster. Just a better hockey player."
Yzerman had 692 goals and 1,755 points in his career. He won the Stanley Cup three times. He won a Conn Smythe Trophy, a Selke Trophy and a Masterton Trophy while being recognized as one of the great leaders in the history of the sport.
Toews is four wins away from lifting the Cup for a third time. He's also won the Conn Smythe and Selke. He won two Olympic gold medals with Canada playing on teams that Yzerman put together as GM.
He is not likely to finish his career with similar offensive numbers because the early part of Yzerman's career was the most offensive era in NHL history. Despite that, Toews is, in many ways, the modern-day Yzerman.
"I want to call him Mr. Yzerman, but I know he'd probably get mad at me if I said that," Toews said. "But I think Steve is a very complimentary person and I don't think he'd say anything less than that. I just take that with a grain of salt. I think everyone here knows that's pretty much untrue, but it obviously means a lot to hear any sort of praise from a guy like that. Over the years I've gotten to know him a little bit -- obviously a tremendous person off the ice since his career. It's pretty special to hear something like that, for sure."
No. 19 has become one of the most popular to wear in the NHL because of Yzerman and former Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic. Toews is among the players who wear it because of them. Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos wears No. 91 because he wanted to wear No. 19 in the Ontario Hockey League but it was taken, so he flipped it around.
Soon, new NHL players will say they wanted to wear No. 19 because of Toews too. That makes sense, especially if he is a better player than an all-time great like Yzerman.
"I think that speaks for itself and how good of a career Jonny has had to date when a player of that magnitude says something like that about you. It says a lot," Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. "Obviously Steve had a great career. I think we all have a lot of respect for him and what's he done. We're at the point now where we are competing against him and trying to steal one from him. I think we are lucky and fortunate to have Jonny on our side."