Pronger's evolution has made him one of the NHL's best
Last season, he helped the underdog Edmonton Oilers, the eighth seed in the West, to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final only to lose to Carolina. This season, Chris Pronger has been a driving force for the Anaheim Ducks. Has he ever changed as a player and person.
As a 19-year-old, Pronger was dripping in talent. Six-foot-six yet not strong, but did he ever have a mean streak and a willingness to compete.
I was not easy on him. I called Scotty Bowman and asked how he coached Larry Robinson in Montreal. Bowman told me that he never let Robinson relax, that he pushed Robinson each and every day. He shared with me that players with huge skill sets such as Pronger and Robinson have a tendency to relax too much and you had to make sure that they did not always rely on their pure talent and that they had to find a way to go deeper intensity wise so that their greatness would eventually come through.
I was hard on Pronger. He was so casual in those days that you wondered whether he even had a pulse. It is that calming quality that has helped him to become one of the best defensemen of his era.
I skated behind him in practice so that he would move his feet and not get comfortable. There were days when I am sure he wanted to smash me, but in the end he did not. Tuesday, before Game 6 of the Red Wings-Ducks series, I received two text messages from Pronger, and then we talked on the phone.
We talked about a ton of things. He is a highly cerebral person with an opinion on everything, and he is never afraid to share his thoughts. It is one of the many things that I admire about him. He takes a stand and is not a fence-sitter. That is one characteristic that makes him a great teammate. That, and his composure in key situations and his willingness to get angry when he feels anger and intensity must go to another level.
Has he been perfect throughout his career? No. Are there things he wishes that had done differently, especially early? Yes, of course. If you are a fan or management of an NHL team would you want him on your team? Yes, right now.
He has a penchant for making big plays. In Game 5 versus the Wings, Pronger kept the play alive at the offensive blue line when Johan Franzen didn't not get the puck out, which eventually led to Scott Niedermayer's game-tying goal.
In the deciding Game 6, Pronger set up the game's first goal (shorthanded no less) with a quick accurate shot that went in off Rob Niedermayer's leg. He is 6-6 but he has hands and feet that belong on a man 6-0. That is why he looks so fluid and not awkward and gangly.
There is a perception that because of the way he left Edmonton (asking for a trade) that he is anti-Canadian.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Pronger is proudly Canadian. He has represented his country three times at the Olympics, and barring an injury it will be four times when the 2010 Olympics take place in Vancouver.
The Ducks and Pronger are going to be in for a tough series against the Ottawa Senators. If the Ducks do win the Cup, you can bet that Pronger will have played a major role. With Chris, nothing is ever boring, and this Final will be no exception.
No matter what happens it is amazing to see how a young boy has grown over the many years since he turned pro in 1993. That boy is now the man many people hoped and wanted him to be. What a ride it has been. He is now a proud husband and a father. Number two in 1993 is clearly more important than No. 1, and Pronger is just scratching the surface.
Hey Chris, keep moving your feet, you will be tough to catch. Well done.
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