By Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer
Twenty-eight years after he was selected in the ninth round of the 1984 NHL Draft, Luc Robitaille is still the face of the Los Angeles Kings after a career spent defying expectations.
After all, who could have thought that a player taken with the 171st pick would have scored 45 goals as a rookie or 668 in a career that earned him a berth in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Six years after retiring and ultimately becoming the team's president of business operations, Robitaille and his Kings are again defying expectations -- and the face of the franchise couldn't be happier.
"What's really cool is to see all the people who have been working with this organization for so long," Robitaille told NHL.com. "Some of the fans have been around since the '70s and '80s. To see them get rewarded for their patience and passion all those years is great."
In 1986, as a rookie still working on his English while getting used to his new Hollywood surroundings, Robitaille moved in with teammate and future Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne, who made the transition easier for the young Montreal native. Before long, "Lucky Luc" was enjoying a kinship with the city he would play in for the majority of a 19-year career.
"I didn't care where I played at the time. I just wanted to play in the NHL. I clearly remember being in L.A. and thinking 'this is awesome. There's no snow here.' I thought it was great," Robitaille said. "I kind of made that organization mine, part of my life."
That relationship was temporarily severed in 1994, when Robitaille was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins; in turn, they dealt him to the New York Rangers a year later. But all the while, Robitaille was still most commonly associated with the Kings. So when former Kings great Dave Taylor became the team's general manager in 1997, his first move was to bring Robitaille home.
"I had watched Luc come in with the Kings and development as a player. I wasn't part of the management team when he was traded away, but I knew what type of person he was and what type of player he was," Taylor said. "I knew that he could help our team and I always felt he was an L.A. King. When I had an opportunity to acquire Luc and bring him back, it made a lot of sense."
Robitaille also played two seasons in Detroit, where he was a member of the 2002 Stanley Cup champions, before returning to Los Angeles for his final two seasons. Through it all, there was always an understanding that the all-time goal-scoring leader among left wings was part of the fabric of the Kings.
"I always felt this was my team," Robitaille said. "I was treated unbelievably in Detroit. I was treated amazingly in New York. But I've always felt the Kings were my team."
So it seemed like a natural fit for Robitaille to transition into the Kings' front office when he retired in 2006. The moment Robitaille ended his playing career, team governor Tim Leiweke transitioned him into the front office. It's been a nonstop learning process ever since.
"Every single day was something new, but I enjoyed it because I'm passionate about it," Robitaille said. "It's been fun to have an opportunity to make this franchise as great as I believe it can be."
After coming into his new role with the Kings in the midst of a rebuilding process, the player-turned-executive has spearheaded the team's turnaround, remaining the face of the franchise he led in so many on-ice battles. It's all paid off in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as a Kings team that refashioned its roster in the offseason and fired its coach in December has steamrolled through the postseason.
"I clearly remember being in L.A. and thinking 'this is awesome. There's no snow here.' I thought it was great. I kind of made that organization mine, part of my life." -- Luc Robitaille
For Robitaille, who played on the Wayne Gretzky-led 1993 team -- the only previous squad in franchise history to make the Final -- it's been a spring he'll never forget.
"Obviously 1993 was an incredible run. But so far, nothing compares to the way it's been these playoffs," Robitaille said. "It's been pretty amazing to see how this team has come along."
If the Kings can get those last four victories and earn the franchise's first Stanley Cup, it might be Robitaille who relishes the win most. More than 25 years after arriving in Hollywood, he remains the adopted son of a team that has helped build hockey on the West Coast.
"He's been tremendous. Luc is very important in that role," longtime teammate Rob Blake said. "Being a King as long as he was, he understands the feelings of the players that have played there."
Not bad for a ninth-round pick from Montreal.