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100 Greatest Players

Chris Pronger: 100 Greatest NHL Players

Physically dominant defenseman won Stanley Cup with Ducks, two Olympic gold medals for Canada

by Bob Duff / Special to NHL.com

He could quarterback a power play. He could make a first pass out of the zone as efficiently as any defenseman who ever played. He was a powerful skater who could easily join the rush and seemingly had enough stamina to play all night long.

Yet of all the things that opponents remember about playing against Chris Pronger, there's one that stands out above all others:

You had to keep your head up. Because Pronger could change the momentum of a game with his physical skills, or his physical presence.

 

Video: Chris Pronger was Hart Trophy-winning defenseman

 

"Of course Pronger was a big force out on the ice, a real presence," Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Murphy said. "Very intimidating and single-handedly could strike fear into the opposition."

Pronger had a certain effect on players -- calming for teammates, unsettling for opponents.

"A guy like Chris Pronger, I don't know who you would compare him to," Murphy said. "I don't know if there's anybody in the league today that plays like he did -- such a force, so physical and intimidating."

 

CHRIS PRONGER CAREER TOTALS | View Full Stats
Games: 1,167 | Goals: 157 | Assists: 541 | Points: 698

 

Pronger (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) towered over most opponents. With a big wingspan, nasty temperament and finely honed skills, the native of Dryden, Ontario, brought a unique combination of qualities to the ice.

"With the edge that he had and the way he competed and how hard he was, you always had to know when he was on the ice," former Detroit Red Wings center Kris Draper said. "He was a guy that could impact the game."

In a variety of manners. As much as Pronger was dominant physically, as his 1,590 career penalty minutes indicate, he also moved the puck to create offense. His tremendous conditioning allowed him to frequently rank among the League leaders in ice time. And his skill with the puck made him capable of leading a power play.

"He had obviously a booming slap shot," Draper said. "He could score goals. He was a physical presence and you always had to know where he was.

"There were so many ways that Chris Pronger could impact a hockey game."

His trophy case shows how much of an impact was made by Pronger, who was captain of the St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks and Philadelphia Flyers. He won the Hart Trophy with the Blues in 1999-2000, the first defenseman to be League MVP since Bobby Orr in 1971-72.

"Obviously a huge presence, great stick," Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said of Pronger. "A playoff guy, could play the game mean and nasty, and had an absolute bomb on the power play.

"I think he's a model for not cleaning the puck off. He'd get it on his forehand and could move it up the ice as good as anybody."

Pronger played in the Stanley Cup Final with three teams -- the Flyers (2010), Edmonton Oilers (2005-06) and Ducks, winning the Cup with Anaheim in 2006-07. Pronger won an Olympic gold medal with Canada at Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010, and holds the Canadian record for most Olympic games played (25). He also won gold with Canada at the 1993 World Junior Championship and 1997 World Championship, the latter putting Pronger in the Triple Gold Club -- the exclusive group of players who have won the Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and a World Championship.

During Anaheim's run to the Cup in 2007, the Ducks defeated the Red Wings in a tightly fought Western Conference Final, with the defense pair of Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, each a Norris Trophy winner and future Hall of Famer, leading the way.

"For us '07 was a great year and a great run for us, and that was obviously the year that Pronger won the Stanley Cup," Draper said. "We felt in that series -- it did go six games -- but it was as even a series as it could be, and he was impactful in that series and went on to win the Stanley Cup."

Current Calgary Flames president Brian Burke, who was Anaheim's general manager then, said of the Ducks in 2006-07, "I think the biggest difference was we added a defenseman. His name was Pronger."

Burke acquired Pronger in a trade with the Oilers prior to that season. As the Hartford Whalers GM, Burke selected Pronger, the Canadian Hockey League Defenseman of the Year with Peterborough of the Ontario Hockey League in 1992-93, in the 1993 NHL Draft, but left to work in the League office before getting a chance to see him play in the NHL.

"That was a great draft," Burke said. "There were a lot of good players in that draft, but that was the only guy I was interested in."

And Burke made sure to trade up in the draft to get him. The Whalers traded newly acquired forward Sergei Makarov and the No. 6, 45 and 58 picks in the draft to the San Jose Sharks for the No. 2 pick, which they used on Pronger. Hartford also sent the No. 31 choice to the Florida Panthers, picking at No. 5, to guarantee that they wouldn't take forward Viktor Kozlov, allowing him to be available for San Jose to select at No. 6.

"We paid a high price to move up," Burke said. "I think our judgment was rewarded in the way he played, even though it took me 13 years to finally get him to play for me."

Initially, the process didn't go swimmingly. The teenage Pronger liked to have his fun, and sometimes that interfered with the work he needed to do at the rink. He can admit that some of his early struggles were self-inflicted, though he said of his reputation as a party animal, "I don't think it was as bad as it was played out to be. I think it got blown out of proportion because I got caught out [after curfew] a couple of times.

"I did the majority of my partying in the summer months, time that I should have been spending getting ready for the next season. I think that did have an effect on my play."

After two seasons in Hartford, Pronger was traded to the Blues for two-time 50-goal scorer Brendan Shanahan, a move that at first did not sit well with many Blues fans, who made their displeasure known when Pronger was on the ice.

"I have to admit, the first couple of years [in St. Louis] were tough," Pronger said. "Sometimes, I think maybe it's good to go through a little adversity like that. It makes you a better player and a better person."

Mike Keenan, then coach and GM of the Blues, was vilified for trading Shanahan for such an unproven young player, but naysayers came to discover that maybe Keenan wasn't so foolish after all. In 1997-98, Pronger led the NHL with a rating of plus-47, developing into a dominating physical presence on the blue line.

Pronger gives Keenan much of the credit for transforming him from a fun-loving young player into an All-Star and Hall of Famer.

"The big thing Mike stressed on was conditioning," Pronger said. "He's the one who showed me that, if I wanted to be an elite player, then keeping in top condition would have to be a year-round job.

"I kind of took my cue from that, and I kept it going."

All the way to the top.

The Blues named him captain in 1997. Pronger was selected to his first of five NHL All-Star Games in 1998. He was also voted to the Second All-Star Team in 1997-98, and would be so honored again after the 2003-04 and 2006-07 seasons.

His seminal season was 1999-2000. He helped lead the Blues to the Presidents, Trophy (they had 114 points), won the Hart Trophy and Norris Trophy and made the First All-Star Team. He had a League-best plus-52 rating and scored an NHL career-high 62 points.

After being traded to the Oilers in 2005, Pronger was a rock for Edmonton in 2005-06 as it made an unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final as a No. 8 seed. Pronger led the Oilers in the postseason with 21 points (five goals) in 24 games and a plus-10 rating. He also made history, scoring the first penalty-shot goal in a Stanley Cup Final, in Game 1. Edmonton lost in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes.

In each of his three Stanley Cup Final appearances, Pronger was with a team that had acquired him that season. The three teams that traded him -- St. Louis (2005), Edmonton (2006) and Anaheim (2009), all during the offseason -- missed the playoffs the following season.

Pronger's playing days ended in 2012 after 18 NHL seasons. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015, his first year of eligibility.

Today Pronger works in the NHL's Department of Player Safety, assisting another former player, Stephane Quintal, with on-ice disciplinary matters.

Of which he said jokingly, "I'm the NHL's hall monitor."

 

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