With an elevated heart rate, heightened senses and sweaty palms, Gillis, alongside 29 other GMs aligned on the dock of NHL free agency, waited.
Rod and reel in hand, the new leader of the Canucks baited his line and waited…and waited…and waited.
Day one of free agency flew by, so did day two, day three followed suit. Each day of the next week was a carbon copy of the first, Gillis had a few nibbles, but no one took the bait.
Then, out of nowhere, Gillis reeled in a keeper. Name:
Pavol Demitra Size:
6-feet, 200-pounds Skill:
Without question Gillis landed a prize catch.
It’s now been over a month since the Canucks signed Demitra to a two-year contract; his time as a member of the Minnesota Wild is behind him, Vancouver is now his home and the organization and city alike couldn’t be happier to have him.
His stats – 699 points (281-418) in 750 career regular-season games with Minnesota, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Ottawa – speak for themselves so there’s no need to revisit them. WHO’S THAT GUY?
But other than a hard-nosed scorer who was drafted in the ninth round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators, just who is this 14-year NHL veteran from Dubnica, Slovak Republic?
Luckily, we’ve got the answer.
He’s an offensive minded guy who started playing hockey at the age of four under the tutelage of his father. He’s always had a knack for the game and at 6-feet and 200 pounds, his frame was practically custom built for it.
He’s a smart player who is never lacking effort; Demitra is a born leader who may not be overly vocal, instead leaving his talking to the ice. His time with the St. Louis Blues is proof of that, he left the organization fifth on the team’s all-time scoring list and he picked up the Lady Byng trophy once while there.
The Canucks were keen on landing the talent and experience of this sniper in the off-season, but Demitra was also ardent on coming to Vancouver, he’s always been intrigued by the city’s hockey market.
Don’t forget that Vancouver boasts one of the most impressive fan bases in the NHL, who wouldn’t want to play in front of them on a regular basis?
“When I played with Minnesota and L.A., we played many games in Vancouver and I always loved the atmosphere and everything else about the fans and the city,” Demitra said via-phone earlier this summer from his off-season home in Slovakia. GOOD FRIENDS
Gillis himself also played a major role in Demitra bringing his bag of tricks to town, not only because he was the one swaying the 33-year-old to join the Canucks, but also because the pair have worked together before and they are very familiar with one another.
Gillis was formally Demitra’s agent and the pair see eye-to-eye in terms of how hockey should be played.
“I’ve known him for many years and obviously I know what kind of hockey he likes,” said Demitra. “He definitely likes offensive hockey and that’s what I like too.
“We are very close friends and I always like to play hockey for a guy like that.”
Demitra will factor into Vancouver’s offensive equation nicely as his talents allow him to move between left wing, centre and right wing. Put him between the Sedins or alongside Taylor Pyatt, Steve Bernier or Mason Raymond
, it doesn’t matter to him. All Demitra cares about is that he’s given the opportunity to make plays.
“I just like to have freedom on the ice,” said Demitra, adding that his numbers dipped last season in Minnesota because he was bogged down as a result of their defensive minded offence.
“I played my best hockey when I was in St. Louis and I played with guys like Keith Tkachuk and Scott Mellanby. Those guys always want to be the best and I like guys that drive to the net and who work hard and I like guys who give me the puck as soon as possible so I can make a play.” FAMILY MAN
Not to be overlooked in Demitra’s persona is the fact that he’s a family man who enjoys spending time with his wife and kids in the great outdoors.
British Columbia resembles Demitra’s homeland in its mountainous nature and spectacular scenery, which his wife Maria, five-year-old son Lukas and three-year-old daughter Zara are excited to take advantage of it.
“My family is very happy that we can join the Canucks and enjoy the city and everything around it,” said Demitra.
He and his family are especially fond of the ski hills in and around Vancouver as Lukas is as athletic as kids come and he’s becoming an avid skier.
“My boy, he’s more into soccer, skiing and swimming, he’s a good skater and he’s starting to play a little hockey. He loves soccer and he loves skiing, skiing is one of the sports he really enjoys.”
With his family comfortable with his decision to join the Canucks, Demitra didn’t need to hear much from Gillis about the team, they’ve got a world class netminder in Roberto Luongo
, a solid defence, plenty of weapons on offence and a coach who knows the game inside out.
Gillis reeled in a keeper in Demitra, one that certainly won’t be a fish out of water in Vancouver.
We don’t know everything about this free-agent catch quite yet, but the journey to get to know him promises to be an exciting one.