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After 17 years, Flyers' Pronger still trying to get better

by Mike G. Morreale /
PHILADELPHIA -- Chris Pronger fondly recalls the days when old was considered young.

"The League was a lot older when I joined (as a 19 year old in 1993-94)," Pronger told "There were very few young guys. If you were 24 or 25 years old, you were considered young. Now you're already a vet at that age, so from that perspective, the game has changed a lot."

Pronger was 18 when the Hartford Whalers selected him with the second pick of the 1993 Entry Draft. Despite being four years younger than the next oldest defenseman on the Whalers' roster in 1993-94, he played 81 games and produced 5 goals, 30 points and 113 penalty minutes.

Looking back, he's kind of grateful most NHL GM's took a bigger-is-better approach to choosing future talent back then -- although then-Hartford GM Paul Holmgren certainly is no stranger to favoring more intimidating players. Not that Pronger wouldn't have gone early in the draft had he not possessed the brawn many GM's crave along the blue line, but the 17-year veteran admits the evolution of the game has made drafting a lot harder than it looks these days.

"The players today are lot more mobile, bigger, faster and stronger," Pronger said. "Every five to 10 years, you see that process continue, and every year you see it with the guys who are drafted. For a while there, it was a bigger-was-better. Then it was, we want the small, mobile guys. Every year or two there seems to be a change in what teams are looking for and what the top guys will look like."

"Each year your game must evolve and your game should be getting better. You're going to learn something new every year simply because you're going to work on something new every year. There are always things you can improve. You strive for perfection and you strive to be the best you can be."
-- Chris Pronger

For Pronger, who certainly has had his share of ups and downs, consistency only can be achieved by tweaking your own style and improving every day. It's something the former Hart and Norris Trophy-winning defenseman has perfected, actually.

"Each year your game must evolve and your game should be getting better," he said. "You're going to learn something new every year simply because you're going to work on something new every year. There are always things you can improve. You strive for perfection and you strive to be the best you can be. You're never going to be the perfect player, but it doesn't mean you can't strive to be that type of player, so I think if you looked at me in Year 3, and then Year 6, Year 9 and so forth, you'd see that evolution and the implementation of different things I've learned throughout the years."

Of course, Year 3 for Pronger was an emotional roller-coaster. It was the summer of 1995, when Pronger was dealt to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for fan-favorite Brendan Shanahan.

"You get traded for a real popular player like Shanny was in St. Louis and you hear the boo-birds early on," Pronger said. "It's not an easy thing to overcome, but those tough times help you appreciate the good ones and help you understand what you're all about … your makeup and character. I think that was a big part of my learning curve as a player."

So no matter how big or strong, tall or short, overcoming adversity at an early stage in anyone's career is critical by Pronger's standards.

There are also the off-season workouts that surely pay dividends down the road.

"I think training is a big part of the game now," Pronger said. "When I first came into the League, training was just starting to become a bigger part of the game. How you trained in the offseason and prepared was key and it took me a couple of years to kind of learn that part of the game. Once I did, the maturity as a 21- or 22-year-old at the time starts to take over. You start to feel more comfortable in the League and more comfortable with the way you're playing.

"You're able to use that new-found training to accelerate your game and your level of play to continue to develop and become a better player."

But there's one other side to Pronger's off-ice routine that might not be in the hockey manual -- a sense of humor. Those in the media covering Pronger over the years, or even during last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, gained a sense of his dry humor almost daily. Whether it be poking fun at a local reporter or downplaying a big matchup, Pronger usually kept it light and refreshing.

"I probably get my dry sense of humor from my dad and my passion from mom," Pronger said. "I'm not a prankster, but I just kind of go about my business. I like to have my fun with you guys (the media) more than anyone else.

"Good banter loosens things up a little bit and keeps you guys on your toes and keeps me sharp."

But is taking a light-hearted approach to pressure-filled situations for everyone?

"Everybody will be different because everyone has their own way of feeling comfortable and relieving tension or so-called stressful situations," Pronger said. "In the Final last year, there's only two teams standing and there's a lot to be happy about at that point. There are 28 other teams who wish to be in our spot. So while there may be a lot of pressure, you have to break it down and look at it other ways as well."

Pronger's advice to any aspiring prospect looking to make it big is simple.

"Enjoy every moment and make sure you put the time and effort in," he said. "Prepare properly but enjoy the moment and take it all in. Enjoy it because you never know when it'll be taken from you. Whether your career is shortened by injury or if you don't pan out -- you just never know what will happen. A lot of things have happened to careers that, at first, were thought to be great. I think you just have to enjoy every moment."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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