January 10, 2013

J.J. Daigneault: Growing Up In Mario's Shadow

J.J. Daigneault grew up in Mario Lemieux's shadow. Literally.

The two were born in Montreal just one week apart, and spent much of their youth and junior hockey careers together (along with defenseman Marc Bergevin, too).

"Mario's always been a great player," said Daigneault. "He knew right from the beginning right where he was going. He was always first in scoring on the team and in the league when I played with him."

Despite playing in front of all those drooling scout, it never really dawned on J.J. that he, too, might be able to make it to the NHL.

"I really didn't think about playing hockey professionally until I was about 16," he said. "The agents come out and they try and get you into it. Then try and get you interested by telling you that you're pretty good and how you might make it to the NHL."

Daigneault, a rushing defenseman in junior was a 5'11" and 180lb defenseman known for his offensive game more so than his physical or defensive game.

"If I wanted to stay on defense, I had to be able to do things that the bigger guys couldn't do. I had to be quick and agile so the big ones couldn't hit me. I had to be able to move the puck."

Daigneault really started catching the scouts' eyes after scoring 26 goals and 84 points in 70 games with Longueuil.

"I had a great year that year playing for Jacques Lemaire," he said. "In the final we played at the Montreal Forum. We played in front of 17,000 people. It's a big thrill to be 17 and play in front of all those people."

"A month after that, I was awarded the Emile "Butch" Bouchard Trophy for best defenseman."

Daigneault jumped to Dave King's Canadian Olympic team in 1984. He spent the season with fellow youngsters like Dave Gagner, Russ Courtnall and Kirk Muller in pursuit of their Olympic dream. Daigneault described his tutelage with the national team as "the best thing for me."

Mario Lemieux was the obvious choice as the top player chosen in the 1984 NHL draft. Nine picks later, his childhood friend Daigneault was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks.

J.J., the youngest of seven children of a Montreal taxi driver, certainly raised a few eyebrows after being drafted. He hobbled to the stage on crutches, as he had to have his knee surgically repaired. It goes down in Canucks history as a rather disheartening moment.

Mario, of course, went on to a career of epic proportions that all players dream of. Daigneault, well he had some more mixed results. Yes, his career spanned 899 career NHL games (plus 99 more in the Stanley Cup playoffs), but he was one of the most travelled players in NHL history.

Let's see if we can keep this all straight. Daigneault played for the Vancouver Canucks (1984–85 – 1985–86), Philadelphia Flyers (1986–87 – 1987–88), Montreal Canadiens (1989–90 – 1995–96), St. Louis Blues (1995–96), Pittsburgh Penguins (1995–96 – 1996–97), Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (1996–97 – 1997–98), New York Islanders (1997–98), Nashville Predators (1998–99), Phoenix Coyotes (1998–99 – 1999–2000), and Minnesota Wild (2000–01).

The only player to play with more teams is Mike Sillinger. Daigneault joins Michel Petit and Jim Dowd tied for second for most teams played with.

The Canucks probably rushed Daigneault to the NHL too early. He was a good skater with a good shot. But he tended to over-handle the puck rather than make safe and simple plays, often getting him into trouble. And defensively he had a tough time with the NHL's speed when it came to reading plays defensively.As he matured he began eliminating that from his game. He became a stabilizing defender later in his career, but his lack of size and physicality continued to limit his game.

His best years were spent at home in Montreal where he sipped championship champagne from the Stanley Cup in 1993.

1 comment:

RonNasty said...

Great little story.

I for one, am glad you stuck around to post little insights like this.

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