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Teemu Selanne began Hall of Fame career with legendary season

Set NHL rookie records for goals, points in 1992-93 with Jets

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

Easily forgotten in the legend of an NHL record-breaking, 76-goal, 132-point season by Teemu Selanne was that uncertainty surrounding him was high and expectations for him only mixed before his debut with the Winnipeg Jets in the 1992-93 season.

The Finnish Flash had ability and character that erased all doubt.

In the face of the unknown, Selanne's start was good, and important; it provided relief after his controversial signing and a public debate over his worth.

 

[RELATED: See the moment Teemu Selanne found out he made the Hockey Hall of FameSeven elected to Hockey Hall of Fame]

 

Selanne's first NHL goal, against Jeff Hackett of the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 8, 1992, alleviated some of the worry over whether the four-year wait would be worth it after the Jets selected him at No. 10 in the 1988 NHL Draft.

In the summer of 1992, Selanne decided he was finally ready to leave Finland and try the NHL. As a 22-year-old, and a restricted free agent, he signed an offer sheet from the Calgary Flames that the Jets matched with a certain amount of displeasure over the three years and $2.7 million value.

They got over it in a hurry, as did skeptical fans, their doubt neutralized by Selanne's skill and personality. 

Video: Teemu Selanne on his Hockey Hall of Fame selection

On a Jets team that had five rookies (Selanne, Alexei Zhamnov, Keith Tkachuk, Sergei Bautin and Evgeny Davydov), Selanne played with flair and confidence from the beginning.

"I was so hungry to prove myself," he said in 2015. "It was like a snowball going down a hill. I had more and more confidence and I just wanted to score and enjoy every day."

After 11 games, Selanne had 11 goals. After 20 games, 16 goals.

At the midway point of the season, he had 34 goals in 42 games.

And amazingly, it got better from there as the memorable nights just kept piling up. An eight-game goal streak, during which he scored nine times, carried into the second half.

There was a four-game drought in January and another of three games in February, with talk increasing of matching the rookie record of 53 goals, set by Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders in 1977-78.

But Selanne was inspired by the talk and the pressure. He scored 11 goals in five games between Feb. 23 and March 4, breaking Bossy's mark and bringing down the house at Winnipeg Arena with his 54th goal on March 2, 1993, against the Quebec Nordiques. (He also went on to break the rookie record for points in a season, set by Peter Stastny of the Nordiques in 1980-81.)

Video: Memories: Selanne sets new rookie record for goals

On March 9 at the Tampa Bay Lightning, Selanne scored his fifth hat trick of the season, including one of his best-ever goals - a penalty-shot goal against Wendell Young that was a wonder of speed and multiple shoulder shifts, finished with a backhand flip into the top of the net.

His 20 goals in March remain the NHL record for one month. Selanne scored at least one goal in 53 games that season, finishing his rookie year by with a 17-game point streak in which he scored 34 points (20 goals, 14 assists).

Part of the joyride was defenseman Phil Housley's career-best, 97-point season (18 goals, 79 assists), his uncanny playmaking and silky skating helping him forge instant chemistry with Selanne. And the key to the improved second half may well have been the Dec. 28 trade that brought tough guys Kris King and Tie Domi to the Jets from the New York Rangers.

As the legendary season progressed, Selanne autographs, photos, smiles and waves grew in lockstep. When the Jets' wives held their carnival fundraiser on the second floor of the Winnipeg Convention Centre on a Sunday afternoon in February, fans lined up down the stairs then outside and around the block, waiting as long as three hours, to get an autograph or photo.

And Selanne stayed until there was nobody left in line.

"The whole time (in Winnipeg), almost four years, was special," Selanne, who was traded to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on Feb. 7, 1996, said Monday. "The rest is the fans -- the whole city was special.

"You treat people well, they treat you like a king there. As a player when you realize that, there's a lot of respect for the fans."

Video: Selanne gets the most important call of his career

When the season of magic was over, Selanne received 50 of 50 first-place votes for the Calder Trophy as the best rookie in the NHL, capping a season never to be forgotten.

By a player never to be forgotten.

Selanne continues to be revered and adored in Winnipeg. After all this time, he has finally begun to appreciate the magnitude of his accomplishment in 1992-93.

"In that time, I didn't really realize what happened," said Selanne, 46. "Now the number is so big. I didn't really know how that happened but what a great memory that whole year was.

"And the people of Winnipeg, they lived that with me. It was something special I'm never going to forget."

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