John Davidson recognized Brendan Shanahan's best weapon before Shanahan even realized he had it.
It was Nov. 10, 1987. Davidson and Sam Rosen were calling the game between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden. Shanahan, 18 years old at the time, had just scored his first career goal in his 15th NHL game with a quick wrist shot from the top of the right circle.
He received the puck from Claude Loiselle and saw Rangers defenseman Michel Petit closing on him. Shanahan had no choice but to snap the puck off his stick blade in one quick, short motion.
"I don't know if this is an indication of what kind of shot Shanahan has, but he took that pass and released that shot about as quick as anybody can," Davidson said seconds after the puck came off Shanahan's blade and whizzed past Rangers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck.
Up until that shot Shanahan didn't have a clue how he could score in the league. He was the No. 2 pick in the 1987 NHL draft, and while he was known as a prolific scorer with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, Shanahan never had to work on his quick release as a junior player because he always had time and space to make a move to get to the net.
But now he was in the NHL and that time and space didn't exist.
"When I got to the NHL I noticed that all my shots were either getting blocked or the goalies were just too good, they were set up and square," Shanahan told NHL.com.
That changed after he scored his first goal, one he now refers to as "a bit of a fluke."
"In my mind I just thought I would get a shot on net for the guy who was going to the net, but it went in," Shanahan said. "I realized that was the way I had to shoot in every practice so that I was comfortable shooting that way in the game. I had a lot of silly looking shots in practice where I had more time but I refused to take the time in order to shoot the puck. It got to the point where in a game I was comfortable shooting that way."
The wrist shot soon became Shanahan's calling card, his most lethal weapon and a major reason why he went on to score 656 goals and 1,354 points in a 22-year career that will be honored Monday when he is enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame along with Scott Niedermayer, Chris Chelios, Geraldine Heaney and the late Fred Shero.
"He's a really big guy, almost 220 (pounds), and he really leaned hard on his stick," Hall of Fame center Steve Yzerman told NHL.com. "He was kind of an old-timer, took a shot off the right angle, the correct foot, but he put a lot of weight behind it, his whole body into his shot. I'd watch him blow it by goalies from the blue line. Very few guys had the ability to do that with a wrist shot."
Shanahan, though, could do that and so much more. He crafted a Hall of Fame career because he used his raw, natural ability as a foundation and built himself into a complete player, a leader on and off the ice, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Red Wings, an Olympic gold medalist with Canada, and a visionary who helped create changes that would go on to influence the way the game is played.
After four seasons of learning what the NHL is all about while with the Devils, Shanahan began constructing himself into the player and person he eventually would become once he got to the St. Louis Blues and started playing with Brett Hull.
Learning from 'The Golden Brett'
"I really watched Brett Hull and how he got the puck away so quickly," Shanahan said. "He had the ability to either catch and release or one-time passes that were on his back foot, passes that were tipped, passes that were on his front foot. Brett refused to shoot the puck in practice, but in games Brett could shoot the puck from anywhere in his stance."
Hull told NHL.com he admired Shanahan because he was willing to "look, listen and learn" from other great players.
"He could have gone about his career and been a very valuable power forward, but he really studied the game and learned from players around him how to get better, how to score, where to go on the ice," Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch told NHL.com. "To his credit he worked at that and became the goal scorer he was. He became that complete player."
But Shanahan was unique because he could score from anywhere on the ice and fight anyone as well. He played with an edge because it was the only way he knew how, but it afforded him benefits he likely wouldn't have received had he been more easygoing.
"I think it gave me a little bit more room," Shanahan said. "The side benefit to having a bit of a temper was it gave me more space to get into the scoring areas."
Shanahan's edge, or temper, didn't make much of a difference early in his career with New Jersey because he was a bottom-six player going against other players who had to have the same type of edge and temper in order to survive in the NHL.
"I was on the fourth line and I was playing physically against fourth-liners who weren't afraid of me," Shanahan said, "but two years later I was playing against second-liners and that's where I got the room."
Shanahan's most prolific offensive seasons (1992-93 and 1993-94) also were his most penalty-filled. He had 51 goals and 174 penalty minutes in 1992-93. They were career-highs that he topped the following season when he scored 52 goals and had 211 penalty minutes.
Shanahan topped 100 penalty minutes in 17 of his first 18 seasons in the NHL. He had 91 fights in his career, according to hockeyfights.com.
"That's a pretty tough combination when you know you're going out to battle or play against a guy like that," Niedermayer told NHL.com, "a guy that can beat you with a quick shot, beat you in the corner and beat you up on top of it."
Shanahan, though, was getting close to the halfway point of his career when he finally faced adversity off the ice.
A 76-game layover in Hartford
Shanahan knew the Blues were shopping him after the 1994-95 season and he wanted badly to go to a contending team. He had gone to the Stanley Cup playoffs seven times in his first eight seasons, but only twice did his teams advance past the first round.
"The teams that were interested were Original Six teams, teams that sort of fit where I thought I was at that point in my career," Shanahan said.
He wound up going to the Hartford Whalers, traded for Chris Pronger on July 27, 1995. It was two years before they became the Carolina Hurricanes and Jim Rutherford was in his second year as general manager.
"Jim had me fly in in the summer," Shanahan said. "I met him at his house; we had lunch and he said, 'Come give it a shot. I think this is a three-year rebuild. If at the end of this year I feel differently and I can't look you in the eye and tell you we are where we expect to be and you want to get moved, I will move you.'"
Despite dealing with a wrist injury, Shanahan had 44 goals and 78 points in 74 games, but the Whalers missed the playoffs by 11 points.
"(After the season) I asked Jim what he thinks about the team and he said, 'I think it's a five-year rebuild,'" Shanahan said.
"To Jim Rutherford's credit he was almost right," Shanahan said. "(The Hurricanes) were in the Final in six years and they won a Cup in 10."
But Shanahan would become a Stanley Cup champion eight months after the trade.
Home in Hockeytown
Shanahan said if it weren't for the Detroit years he would not be preparing to enter the Hall of Fame. Yzerman noted that if it weren't for Shanahan, the Red Wings might not have started a dynastic run of three Stanley Cup championships from 1997-2002.
"We had a lot of centermen playing out of position and I think the feeling was we needed some wingers to change our makeup a little bit," Yzerman said. "All of a sudden we bring in Brendan Shanahan, Darren McCarty is in his second year, Marty Lapointe is evolving as a real NHL force and during that season we picked up Joe Kocur, so on all of our lines we had a big, powerful, physical player.
"(Shanahan) was the type of player we needed. We went from being a real finesse team from '92 to '95 to in '97 and through a bigger, harder team. We were wearing teams down and I think that's a big reason why we were able to get over the hump and start winning Stanley Cups."
Shanahan scored 46 goals in his first season with the Red Wings, but his production dipped to 28 the following season. He would pick it back up to 31 goals in 1998-99 and 41 in 1999-2000, but that was the last time he scored 40.
He didn't care. His career now was about winning the Stanley Cup. He tasted success in 1997 and wanted more of it.
"The morning after (winning the Stanley Cup in 1997), to sleep in and slowly wake up, put on some flip flops and walk down to the bottom of the driveway to grab a newspaper, I often say that may have been the best walk I ever had," Shanahan said. "It's such a good feeling that it actually triggers something. You want more. When I was younger I didn't know if I deserved to win the Cup or was entitled to win a Cup, but once you win one you feel you're entitled and deserving and you know the code. Or at least you think."
The Red Wings won again in 1998, and again in 2002, but Shanahan's most important work was yet to come.
At the forefront of change
Prompted out of boredom because of the 2004-05 lockout and based off quotes he read from Coffey, Ray Bourque and Larry Murphy -- the three players who went into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004 -- Shanahan decided to put together what quickly became known as the Shanahan Summit in Toronto.
He booked the rooms, ordered the food and invited people he knew from all facets of the game, including players, general managers, coaches, referees and broadcasters. The purpose was to talk about the game and changes that could be made.
"During the Hall of Fame week (in November 2004), the guys going into the Hall were all talking about the game and they had all these great thoughts and ideas on improving it," Shanahan said. "The next day it was gone. I'm like, 'These are great ideas,' but the next day the newspaper was on the bottom of the birdcage.
"I didn't think people would listen. I didn't think it would necessarily turn into what it turned into."
The shootout to break ties, the trapezoid behind the net, streamlining goalie equipment, eliminating the red line, cracking down on obstruction and the creation of the Competition Committee were among the items born in that Shanahan Summit.
Shanahan said the success of that meeting in Toronto nearly nine years ago gave him the desire to work for the NHL when his career was over. He now runs the NHL's Department of Player Safety as a senior vice president.
"I just couldn't believe it actually worked and that people listened," Shanahan said. "It sort of whet my appetite. You can talk about things all you want, but this proved you can take action. They weren't even my ideas. I just bought the rooms and paid for the buffet. I let good hockey people come in there. Not one of those ideas was my idea. It was the entire group."
When the League returned for the 2005-06 season, so did Shanahan. He would play one more season with the Red Wings and two with the Rangers before returning to where it started to finish his career with the Devils.
Shanahan was older now, just a role player at this point, but he never lost his quick release.
"When I first played against him in Jersey he was just as raw as could be," Leetch said. "He had the talent and the emotion to go running around out there, to bang and create havoc and create some scoring chances. But did I think he would go on to score almost 700 goals? You could never see that at the time.
"It wasn't but another six years later that he was starting to put up numbers and they didn't stop after that. Once he got himself to that level he kept working to stay there. Pretty impressive."
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