Wayne Gretzky is, undoubtedly, a major part of the NHL's success both past and present. As the NHL's Centennial Ambassador, Gretzky is in Los Angeles for the NHL 100 celebrations and NHL All-Star Weekend.
It's fitting that he serves such a role in a city in which he helped grow the game years ago following his game-changing trade from the Oilers to the Kings. Gretzky was asked about receiving credit for the success of the League and hockey out west, and answered with the following:
"I came at the right time," said Gretzky. "We had guys like Luc Robitaille and Kelly Hrudey and Marty McSorley and Tony Granato and Rob Blake. Everyone understood their scenario in a sense that we had to do more than just play the game, and that we had to push and promote youth hockey and high school hockey.
"I think in '88 there was four high school teams, and by '95 there was 120 high school teams. Everybody had a hand in it, and timing in life is everything, and when I came to LA, Mario was doing his thing in Pittsburgh; Brett Hull was recreating the St. Louis Blues; Yzerman was in Detroit and Mark Messier went to New York; and I think each and every guy understood that not only were they hockey players but they had to help sell and promote the sport of hockey, and we rode a wave together."
Gretzky said the growth was a group effort amongst the stars of the game. He also commented on the future of the sport and the League, and how bright he believes it is.
"The game is in better shape today than it's ever been," said Gretzky. "These players from Auston Matthews to Connor McDavid, they're just tremendous players. Everybody has a hand in it, and we all feel very privileged that we're a part of the National Hockey League."