MONTREAL - From Gretzky to Crosby, and Lemieux to Lafleur, every NHLer has envied at least one aspect of another player's game over the course of their career. With that in mind, we asked assistant coach Luke Richardson to build his Ultimate Player based on a list of several highly-coveted hockey-related characteristics.
VISION: WAYNE GRETZKY
He had the ability to see not just the next play, but probably the next seven plays. Trying to be a defender, and a physical defender and trying to be fast at it, Wayne always made you cautious - which isn't good. It just gave him more time, and the more time he had, the more things he saw with his vision and his hockey intelligence. I got caught a couple of times trying to rush him and be physical on him just trying to eliminate him. That's a part of his game plan. He's so good that he just sucks you in and makes the plays behind you. That puts you at a disadvantage. As soon as you do that once or twice, you feel very unsafe and you start to back off. That plays into his game and gives him more time to use his unique ability to find people.
HANDS: RICK MIDDLETON
I was lucky enough to play in the league early at a young age and I got to play against Rick. Being with the Boston Bruins, he's probably not a fan favorite in Montreal. He had such quick-twitch muscles and good stickhandling ability. He probably didn't get enough recognition. That's a guy that I remember. The stickhandling ability that everybody talks about nowadays, with the skill and the speed, that was there back then.
SPEED: TODD MARCHANT
Todd was a teammate of mine and he had unique speed. It didn't look explosive. There was glide. It was graceful. The change of speed, there was a lot of deception there. Some guys really get the legs pumping and the arms pumping, but he had a certain glide where he could change gears without you knowing it. He was a defensive player, which was good. He used it more in a defensive capacity, killing penalties. But, he was always dangerous out there.
STRENGTH: DAVE ANDREYCHUK
One of the hardest guys I found to control in front of the net was Dave Andreychuk. It wasn't the speed, but you don't get that many goals in the league without having some ability. He had great hands in a small vicinity in front of the net. It took him a long time to get there, but once he was there, he really knew how to hold you off as a defender and use his ability to kind of create that little bit of room to score goals. It was a unique strength. He wasn't a mean guy or a really aggressive guy, but he wasn't afraid. He was always in there battling.
SHOT: AL MACINNIS / BRETT HULL
On the defensive side of things, Al had the bomb and he always got the puck through traffic, partly because people didn't want to block it and partly because he just had that ability. Up front, it had to be Brett Hull. He had a quick release from anywhere. People told me that when they passed him the puck, he would yell at them to pass it harder. There was never a hard enough pass that he could one-time or slingshot to the net.
HEART: JEAN-GABRIEL PAGEAU
I never played with him, but I did coach him. He was my favorite player to coach. He's not a big guy, but if you want to define heart, the way he plays is it. He fearlessly blocks shots and goes into the corners. Even when he gets knocked down, I have visions of him getting up and chasing the guy down himself to go right back at him. It's not just the physical part, though. It's the player that raises his ability in the playoffs to put himself in a position to score goals. He just does it every year. That's what I think heart is. Heart is creating that opportunity, but not taking that sigh of relief and thinking that you made it and then taking the foot off the pedal. He's honest and hard-working, which is the definition of heart.