VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - When Markus Naslund came to Vancouver in 1996, he had such a tough time just getting into the Canucks' lineup that he never could have expected to have his No. 19 retired by the team.
That's what made Saturday night so much sweeter for the Swedish forward.
Naslund's number was raised to the rafters during an elaborate 50-minute ceremony before the Canucks faced the Tampa Bay Lightning. The No. 19 joined those of fellow former Vancouver captains Stan Smyl (12) and Trevor Linden (16) as the only ones so honored in the team's 40-year NHL history.
"To go from being up in that press box as a healthy scratch to being here tonight is amazing," Naslund told the crowd. "There's only one way something like that can happen and that's to have support from a lot of great people."
A smooth skating left winger with a wicked wrist shot, Naslund spent his first three seasons in Pittsburgh before being traded to the Canucks for Alek Stojanov.
After a rough start, that included approaching general Manager Brian Burke about a trade, Naslund played 12 seasons in Vancouver. He was captain from 2000 until leaving as a free agent in 2008, and remains the team's leading scorer with 346 goals and 756 points in 884 career games.
Naslund was greeted by chants of "Nazzy, Nazzy" as he made his way to center ice in front of a near-capacity crowd.
It wasn't always easy for Naslund in Vancouver. He was a healthy scratch early in his Canucks career and contemplated going back to Sweden several times before breaking through as an offensive force.
"To feel the energy and love from the fans is incredible," Naslund said after the ceremony. "I expected it to be a memorable night, but this is way beyond. I was trying not to be nervous, and just take it all in."
Naslund kept his composure while surrounded by family, friends, and the current Canucks, who all wore Naslund's No. 19. They were joined on the ice by former teammates, including a pair still playing in the NHL.
Former linemate Brendan Morrison, now with rival Calgary, left the Flames' road trip in California to fly up for the ceremony. Tampa Bay defenseman Mattias Ohlund, who played his first 11 seasons in Vancouver, also took part while wearing a suit.
Todd Bertuzzi, now playing for the Detroit Red Wings, sent a video tribute in which he raised a beer and put on a Canucks' Naslund jersey.
A three-time first team NHL All-Star, Naslund had his best season in 2002-03. He scored 48 goals and 104 points and won the Lester B. Pearson Award - now known as the Ted Lindsay Award - as the league MVP as voted on by fellow players.
That season, he combined with Bertuzzi and Morrison to form one of the NHL's most dominant lines. The trio combined for 119 goals and 272 points.
"The years we played together was the most fun I had playing this game," Naslund said of Morrison and Bertuzzi. "Your talent, creativity and most importantly friendship made it exciting to come to the rink every night."
Naslund retired from the NHL in 2009, one year after leaving the Canucks to sign a two-year, $8 million-contract with the New York Rangers.
None of it might have happened if not for Burke, who is now the president and general manager of the Maple Leafs. Burke came from Toronto to join the ceremony at center ice.
"I went up to Brian and just said, 'I am frustrated not playing here. I think I can help this team, but it doesn't seem like there is a fit for me here,"' Naslund recalled. "He said, 'Bear with me. I believe in you, and I think things are going to work out for you."'
Naslund just never imagined it would work out this well.