Hawerchuk was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets with the first selection in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft. He went on to play nine seasons (1981-1990) with Winnipeg, appearing in 713 games and recording 379 goals, 550 assists and 929 points with the Jets. He ranks as the Jets/Coyotes all-time leader in goals (379) and points (929) and ranks 2nd in assists (550) and 4th in games played (713). He also ranks 1st in power play goals (122), 1st in hat tricks (12), T-3rd in shorthanded goals (12) and T-5th in game-winning goals (29). He was the Jets most prolific scorer in franchise history.
Hawerchuk also played five seasons with the Buffalo Sabres (1990-1995), one season with the St. Louis Blues (1995-96) and two seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers (1995-97). In 16 NHL seasons, he registered 518 goals and 891 assists for 1,409 points in 1,188 games. He also played 97 career playoff games, recording 30-69-99. Hawerchuk ranks 30th on the NHL's all-time goal-scoring leaders list, 19th on the NHL's all-time assist leaders list and 17th on the league's all-time point leaders list.
In his rookie season in the NHL, Hawerchuk took Winnipeg and the league by storm, smashing team records along the way. By season's end, "Ducky" as he was called by teammates, had led the Jets to the largest single season turn-around by one team in NHL history, a 48-point improvement. He shattered 17 club records in the process and became the youngest NHL player in history to reach the 100-point plateau, finishing with 103 points - the second best total by a rookie in NHL history. For his efforts, he captured the Calder Memorial Trophy as Rookie-of-the-Year (the youngest to win that award) and played in his first NHL All-Star Game.
After recording 91 points in his sophomore season, Hawerchuk reached the 100-point mark the next five consecutive years, including a career-high 53 goals and 130 points in 1984-85, becoming the third youngest player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season. He was named a Second Team All-Star behind Wayne Gretzky and was runner-up for the Hart Trophy. By the 1989-90 season, after three more All-Star Game appearances and representing Canada at Rendez-vous '87, Hawerchuk had re-written the Jets record book.
During the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, Hawerchuk was traded to the Buffalo Sabres. Over the next five years he led the Sabres in scoring three times, recording no fewer than 86 points (with the exception of an injury plagued 1994-95 season). Included in his totals was a 98-point season in 1991-92 in which he was also a member of Team Canada at the Canada Cup tournament.
Throughout his career, Hawerchuk was always proud to represent Canada in international competition. Following a disappointing first round exit from the playoffs during his first year in Winnipeg, he joined Team Canada at the 1982 World Championships and helped Canada win a bronze medal. He also represented Canada in 1986 and 1989, winning another bronze and a silver medal, respectively. His greatest hockey thrill (along with his two Memorial Cup wins) was playing for Team Canada at Rendez-vous '87. Hawerchuk played a checking role on the team behind Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Mark Messier, yet was instrumental in the team's success, winning the face-off that led to Canada's second-most famous goal. He was again a key cog in Canada's 1991 victory, moving to center following an injury to Gretzky.
As an unrestricted free agent during the summer of 1995, Hawerchuk signed with the St. Louis Blues, recording 41 points in 66 games before a trade to the Philadelphia Flyers. He finished the season by collecting 20 points in the season's final 16 games and adding 12 points in the playoffs. The next season, he was again plagued by injuries but still managed 34 points and was selected by the Commissioner to play in his fifth and final NHL All-Star Game, scoring two goals. Following a strong playoff run and a final shot at the Stanley Cup, Hawerchuk announced his retirement from the game following the 1996-97 season at age 34.
Despite playing most of his career in Winnipeg during an era dominated by Edmonton and Calgary, Hawerchuk missed the playoffs only once during his 16-year career. During an era dominated by Gretzky and Lemieux, Hawerchuk recorded more than a point-per-game for 13 consecutive seasons. In a poll of NHL general managers during the mid-1980's asking them to select the player they would start a franchise with, Hawerchuk was voted third behind only Gretzky and Paul Coffey. He was the 23rd player to reach the 500-goal plateau in 1995-96 and the 31st player to record 1,000 points in 1990-91. He is also the youngest player in NHL history to play in 1,000 NHL games (30 years, 306 days).