Honoring Milan Hejduk: why his jersey deserves to be in the rafters

USA TODAY Sports

Until now, the jerseys lifted into the Pepsi Center rafters have been no-brainers (with one divisive exception). But when it comes to Milan Hejduk, some fans don't think he deserves that honor. They would be wrong.

DDC discussed this topic back in November, but as Hejduk is the focus of a pre-game celebration tonight, recognizing his 1,000 games with the Avalanche, I thought it appropriate to bring it up again.

Milan Hejduk's career has been one of quiet greatness, and he's put up milestones in the Avalanche organization that often come as a surprise to many people. Drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in the 4th round of the 1994 NHL entry draft, few had any idea how important Hejduk would become to the franchise.

First and foremost, Hejduk has spent his entire career with one team, something that few players can say they've done. In fact, only 29 other players in the history of the NHL have done so. Tonight, Hejduk will become the only Avalanche player to reach 1,000 games in the burgundy and blue and the second to do so for the franchise. Only Joe Sakic played more games than the Czech (870 with the Avs and 508 with the Nordiques). Speaking of Czech players, Hejduk becomes just the 9th in NHL history to reach 1,000 games.

But Hejduk's greatness isn't just because he's stayed with the franchise for so long. He's also put up some points over the years. In 2011, he tied Joe Sakic's franchise record for consecutive 20-goal seasons at 11. In his rookie year (1998-1999), he was a Calder finalist and member of the NHL All-Rookie team, putting up 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) in 82 games. That season he also scored two goals in overtime during the playoffs against San Jose—the first time a first-year player had done that in 60 years.

Just four seasons later (2002-2003), he became the franchise's first recipient of the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy for leading the NHL in scoring with 50 goals and 48 assists for 98 points. Hejduk is only 3 points away from 800; only one other person has done so in Avalanche history (Sakic) and three others in franchise history (Sakic, Michel Goulet and Peter Stastny). He would also become the third Czech player to reach that milestone in the NHL, following in the footsteps of Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias.

Here are some other stats for Hejduk, courtesy of Americanario (updated as of March 2012):

Overall Scoring:
- 4th in franchise goals with 371 (3rd is Peter Stastny with 380, 2nd Goulet 456, and 1st Sakic at 625).
- 5th in franchise assists with 423 (6th is Anton Stastny 384, 4th Michel Goulet 489).
- 4th in franchise points at 794 (Forsberg is 5th with 755).
- 3rd in franchise power play goals at 138 (Goulet is 2nd with 146).
- 2nd in franchise game winning goals with 59 (Sakic has 86).
- 5th in franchise multi-point games with 197….2pts (149), 3pts (42), 4pts (4), 5pts (1), 6pts (1) Forsberg is 4th with 222 MPGs.
- Franchise leader in regular season overtime goals at 9.
- 23-55 in shootouts (41.8%) Game deciding goal 10 times
- 3 for 3 on penalty shots (100%)

In franchise playoff history:
- Tied for 3rd in goals (34)
- 4th in points (76)
- 5th in assists (42)
- 5th in games played (112)

Other accomplishments:
-Has 357 goals since 1999-00, fourth most in the NHL behind Jarome Iginla (445), Marian Hossa (397) and Ilya Kovalchuk (394).
-Was the first Avalanche player to score a tying goal with four seconds or less remaining in regulation since Joe Sakic scored with one second left on Feb. 21, 1997 at Edmonton.
-Became the all-time scoring leader at Pepsi Center (346 points) on Oct. 30, 2010 vs. Columbus, passing Joe Sakic (344).
-Has scored more goals (186) and points (390) at Pepsi Center than any other player since the building opened in 1999..
-3 time All-star 2000, 2001 and 2009
-Named to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team in 2002-03…

Milan Hejduk has been a staple of the Avalanche organization for 14 years and deserves to be recognized for the contributions he's made to the success of this team over those years. He was an important part of bringing a second Stanley Cup to Denver in 2001, and when he retires (which will most likely be at the end of this season), his number should be ever present above Avalanche ice.

“When I started in 1998 and played my first NHL game, I never thought that I would get to this number,” Hejduk said. “Playing for one organization, staying here in Denver for all these years. These days that doesn’t happen that often so it is definitely a special number and a special game.”

Stats and quote courtesy of Avalanche.com; stats courtesy of NHL.com

Courtesy of Altitude, a player profile on Hejduk in 2011:

And the infamous swim:

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