DETROIT -- Former Red Wings left winger Luc Robitaille breathed a sigh of relief when he saw a Toronto area code flash on his cell phone Tuesday afternoon.
“I was actually here in my office and I did see the 416 area code,” he said. “And I called back right away because it said, ‘Please give us a call.’ I figured if they were calling me, it wasn’t to give me bad news so I was pretty excited.”
The former Red Wing was drafted in the ninth round (171st overall) by the Los Angeles Kings in 1984. Pundits at the time commented on his poor skating, but the remarks didn’t discourage Robitaille who went on to have a successful 19-season career.
“They (scouts) got it right, they drafted me,” Robitaille quipped after being asked if he proved the scouts wrong. “I think the biggest thing is I refused to listen to that. I just played the game and was trying to improve every day. I was trying to be better every day and I was always trying to help the team win so maybe sometimes it didn’t look good out there or it didn’t look fast, but I knew that no matter what I was always trying to give my best and that’s the reason I played so long.”
Two years after being drafted Robitaille burst onto the scene in 1987, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team. His career just went up from there. He holds a franchise record for most career goals (557) as well as an NHL record for most career goals (668) and points (1,394) by a left winger. He ranks 10th among NHL’s all-time goal scoring leaders. He posted eight 40-plus goal seasons in his 19-seasons, surpassed only by Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy.
Robitaille's impressive statistics led to numerous accolades, including five selections to the NHL First All-Star Team and invitations to play in eight NHL All-Star Games. Robitaille represented Canada in international play three times, scoring the championship-winning goal at the 1994 IIHF World Championship.
“My goal was always just to play in the NHL and I never dreamed of anything beyond that,” Robitaille said. “To be honored in the same room as The Rocket (Maurice Richard), Guy Lafleur and Wayne Gretzky is a tremendous honor.”
For Robitaille it was extra special to have his first NHL coach announce that he had been named to the 2009 induction class.
“Thanks Pat (Quinn),” Robitaille remarked as he acknowledged his selection. “Especially as you were my first coach so it certainly is great that we touched back again. I feel the same as Brian (Leetch) – certainly being with all of those great people, three of my teammates is certainly very special and it’s going to be a great day.”
Robitaille, along with his 2002 Stanley Cup-winning teammates Steve Yzerman and Brett Hull will be inducted on November 9 in Toronto. Leetch is also in the 2009 class.
While his heart lies with the Kings, Robitaille has a fond spot for his time with Detroit and the Stanley Cup he won. He became a free agent in the summer of 2001 and after a discussion with his wife, decided that he wanted to play for the team that he felt had the best shot at winning the Cup. His agent consequently contacted Wings’ general manager Ken Holland and the rest is history.
“To go there the next year and see the team that was put together was a great amount of good pressure. We were expected to win but it was a lot of fun,” Robitaille said. “Obviously winning the Cup in Detroit is something I will cherish forever.”
Robitaille recorded 41 goals and 40 assists over a span of two seasons with Detroit. He contributed in the postseason with five goals and five assists in 27 contests.
Robitaille returned to Los Angeles in 2003 and later joined the front office staff as president of business operations and alternate governor in 2006. The LA Kings honored Robitaille by retiring his No. 20 sweater in 2007.
“The team you start with is always the team that basically you feel you belong to,” Robitaille said about his career with the Kings. “Obviously when you play for another team, at the time it’s all about the logo and the team you represent.”