Robitaille: from 9th-round pick to superstar

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:15 AM ET

Wayne Gretzky was not the only hockey superstar in Los Angeles, which now has three Hall of Famers in The Great One, Marcel Dionne and the newest member, Luc Robitaille.

"Lucky" Luc is not only the franchise goal leader, but is still a King today, running the team's business operations and using his eternal good looks to land some acting bits.

While Dionne and Gretzky came west with some fanfare in major trades, Robitaille was an unheralded ninth-round draft choice, whose first-year junior numbers in Quebec were not taken seriously because of a perceived skating deficiency.

Future baseball star Tom Glavine was chosen ahead of him (69th) and the Kings' first pick that year, sixth overall, was defenceman Craig Redmond, who lasted 191 NHL games.

"Someone was going to have to give me a chance or watch me one time," Robitaille said of keeping his spirits up at the 1984 draft. "I remember thinking at the time 'I want to make sure I'm ready for that.'

"I wanted to play in the NHL and was fortunate that they put me on the same line with Marcel. Marcel just basically said 'Go to the net, kid, I'll find you.'"

Robitaille did learn to get himself into prime scoring position, starting with 84 points and winning the Calder Trophy.

He played in some great company through the years with Dionne, Gretzky, the high octane Pittsburgh Penguins, Mark Messier and the Rangers and on a star-studded 2002 Cup champion team with Detroit.

His junior coach was Pat Burns, his first NHL headmaster was Pat Quinn and the Cup came under Scotty Bowman's watch.

"I was trying to improve every day and always trying to help the team win," Robitaille said. "Maybe sometimes it didn't look good out there, or it didn't look fast, but I was always trying to give my best and that's the reason I played so long. On the lighter side, the good thing about me is I never had a (skating) step, so I never lost it, so that's why maybe I was able to play 19 years."

Many of those seasons were in the league's so-called dead-puck era when players of Robitaille's calibre were under wraps from overbearing checkers.

Yet his production stayed relatively stable.

"As time went on, there were always teams that were playing real tight, the good teams and so forth, but the biggest difference was the goaltending got so much better," he said. "It was just like it took a lot more shots to score. I always felt good players find ways to make plays. As I got older in my career, as my scoring slowed down, I just (tried to be) a better defensive player."

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LUC ROBITAILLE

- Played 19 seasons (Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, NY Rangers, Detroit)

- Won Stanley Cup with the 2001-02 Red Wings

- In three different stints with the Kings, became their career scoring leader and retired as the highest-scoring left winger in NHL history

- At start of this season, Robitaille still ranked 10th in NHL career goals with 668 and 20th in games played 1,431.

- In 1994, Robitaille was dealt from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh for Rick Tocchet. The Kings had just been in the Cup final and Tocchet was a buddy of Kings' icon Wayne Gretzky, prompting Robitaille to blame No. 99 for arranging the deal, at a time when criticizing Gretzky was simply not done. The two wound up together a few years later in New York and made peace.


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