In At the age of 16, Yzerman moved to Peterborough to play with the OHL’s Petes. He had 91 points in 56 games with Peterborough in his second year, but his numbers weren’t the usual stratospheric kind registered by young phenomena in the OHL because of the team concept ingrained in the Petes by Dick Todd, the team’s no-nonsense coach. Along with Pat LaFontaine and Sylvain Turgeon, Yzerman was still considered one of the top prospects a his draft year approached.
He enriched that reputation with as strong performance on Canada’s bronze medal team in the World Junior Championship in 1983. The year before the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, the Detroit Red Wings were bought by Mike Llitch, who entrusted general manager Jim Devellano with the job of rebuilding the failing franchise. The Red Wings had the fourth overall pick, and Devellano’s first choice was Lafontaine, a hometown boy who would surely revive the interest of the Detroit fans. But LaFontaine was picked third and Devellano selected Yzerman to be the cornerstone of the new Wings.
Still only 18, Yzerman immediately established himself as an impact player with the Red Wings. In his first year, 1983-84, he set Detroit records for goals by a rookie with 39 and for points with 87. He finished second behind goalie Tom Barrasso in the Calder Trophy voting and also made the NHL’s All-Rookie team. He played in the All-star Game after half a season in the league, making him the youngest player ever to don an all-star sweater.
His success carried over into training camp for the 1984 Canada Cup. Yzerman played so well in the camp that he couldn’t be left off the team. Canada won the tournament, though Yzerman missed most of the action due to recurring tonsillitis. Yzerman continued to record impressive numbers. He had a knack for the pretty goal and began to draw fans back to the beleaguered team. He was named Red wings captain as a 21 year old in 1986, the youngest player ever to earn that honor.
Between 1987-95 and 1993, he never failed to top 100 points; and five times he scored 50 goals or more while winning the Lester B. Pearson Trophy in 1988-89. He set all time marks for Detroit when he had 65 goals, 90 assists and 155 points in 1988-89, placing third in the league scoring race behind Gretzky and Lemieux, just as he would in voting for the Hart Trophy that season. In 1994-95, the Wings ended the lockout-shortened season atop the standings, winning the Presidents Trophy. The team coasted through the first three rounds of the playoffs undefeated on home ice.
For the first time in his 11th year in the league, Yzerman was in the Stanley Cup Finals. The joy didn’t last long. New Jersey’s stifling defense shut down Yzerman and the Wings and he had to watch Devils captain Scott Stevens hoist the Stanley Cup after a four-game sweep. Still, after so many seasons for struggling even to make the playoffs, Yzerman was being talked about as the quiet but effective leader of a surging team.
Yzerman’s high status was evident when his name began to surface in trade rumors in 1995. The Red Wings were a contending team, four games away from the cup the previous season, and enviable position for which Yzerman had worked hard and sacrificed years of his career. In the spring of 1996 the center exacted a measure of revenge on Mike Keenan, the coach who’d left him off those international teams. Yzerman scored a 60-foot goal to eliminate Keenan’s St. Louis Blues from the playoffs.