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Joe Nieuwendyk had it all: size, strength, skill

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

They are the best of the best in Calgary Flames history.

Over 24 days we will profile our All-Time All-Stars (listed alphabetically at each position). Make sure to check back daily to see who's getting the nod.

May 8 - Theoren Fleury (RW)

May 9 - Jarome Iginla (RW)

May 10 - Hakan Loob (RW)

May 11 - Lanny McDonald (RW)

May 12 - Joey Mullen (RW)

May 13 - Doug Gilmour (C)

May 14-17 - Centres

May 18-22 - Left-wingers

May 23-28 - Defencemen

May 29-31 - Goaltenders

Today, we cast the spotlight on Joe Nieuwendyk:

He was, for a generation in this town, that guy.

The guy every local kid smacking pucks around an outdoor box or stickhandling frozen tennis balls on ice-slicked driveways, from Bridgeland to Windsor Park, Edgemont to Inglewood, aspired to be.

Great wheels.

Great hands.

Great intuition.

Yet the single characteristic that best defined arguably the purest goal-scorer ever to grace Flaming C silks would be bravery.

During an era when the rules allowed sticks to be snapped over the backs of calves of loitering forwards like dry kindling, he stood in harm's way in order to use those nimble mitts - refined through years of lacrosse hand-eye practice - in the most lethal manner possible.

Joe Nieuwendyk absorbed a terrible beating to practice his art.

"Joe doesn't get enough credit for how tough he is," once lectured his Whitby, Ont., boyhood pal turned Flames' teammate Gary Roberts.

He arrived here, of course, a virtual unknown, some kid with an unpronounceable name out of Cornell University, that pick from the Kent Nilsson trade with the Minnesota North Stars.

If the general populace harboured initial misgivings, those on the ice, in the know, became converts rather quickly.

"All of us knew Joe was going to be special right away," said the sage Lanny McDonald, an early mentor. "First of all, he could fly. Absolutely fly. Great hands. Great lateral movement. 

"And he loved - absolutely loved - the game. That's a pretty good foundation to build on."

Nieuwendyk's 51-goal rookie season, chasing the record of 53 by NY Islanders' legend Mike Bossy right down to the wire, ranks among the finest ever by a Flame.

"I've got to admit I'd never heard of the guy, but he was really impressive right away," acknowledged former linemate Hakan Loob. "Immediately. He played like a European. Skill. Size. Smart. Great, great hands. Amazing touch. I can't begin to remember how many pucks he deflected into the net. I probably can't count that high.

"I do know that playing on a line with him helped boost my career. It's easy to with players that talented. How lucky was I? Here's a rookie, scoring 51 goals, chasing Mike Bossy, one of the best in league history, and I'm playing beside him."

Nieuwendyk opened with a grand flourish and by the time he departed for Dallas, his fingerprints were - and still are - plastered all over the franchise's record book:

Fourth in career points (616), third in goals (313), eighth in assists (302), tied for third in three-goal games (10), tied for second in multi-goal games (47) and four-goal games (2), owns the only five-goal regular-season outing in franchise history, second in career playoff goals (32) and fifth in post-season points (60).

He also has a Stanley Cup ring, the '88 Calder Trophy and two Molson Cup wins as cherished mementoes of his time spent down at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

In 2017, Nieuwendyk would be named among the Top 100 players of an NHL century.

"An ideal place to be a young player,'' he summed up of the eight formative seasons in his first big-league home. "It was a family atmosphere. People like Lanny and Pep and Timmy Hunter, they embraced me, made me feel so comfortable.

"It's a great environment. Great city. I was lucky."

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