Sweater numbers are synonymous with players. Most hockey fans can instantly tell you a great player by the number they wear on their back. There are many different stories about how players became associated with the famous numbers. Many odd and interesting facts surround these numbers as well. As we count down the start of the 2023-24 NHL season, we take a look at the story behind the numbers. Today we continue with sweater number 51. Keep up to date with the series everyday until the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.
Behind the Sweater Number: 51
The First 51s
According to Hockey Reference, 88 players have worn sweater number 51. A surprising name comes up as the first player to wear the number in NHL history. Chicago Blackhawks star Jeremy Roenick had 51 as his first number in the 1988-89 season. He would soon switch to his trademark 27 soon. However, it’s a nice little factoid.
Mikael Lindholm would be the next to don the digits in the 1989-90 season. This would be for 18 games with the Los Angeles Kings. Brian Dobbin of the Boston Bruins would be the next to take sweater 51 for seven games in the 1991-92 season.
We mentioned Roenick as a famous 51, but there were other players that had a brief spell with the number. Andrew Copp took sweater number 51 for a game in the 2014-15 season with the Winnipeg Jets. Ryan Getzlaf‘s first season with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim had him wear 51. However, he’d switch over to his trademark 15 in 2006-07.
Dany Heatley would end with 51 because of Getzlaf when Heatley played for the Ducks in 2014-15. Kyle Palmieri would also take 51 becuase Getzlaf had established himself as 15 in Palmieri’s time with Anaheim. Tomas Kaberle took the digits in the 2011-12 season with Carolina Hurricanes. Patrick Sharp also had a spell with the numerals with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Campbell is Mmm Mmm Good
Brian Campbell was the league’s choice for the best to wear the number. Campbell played in 1,082 games and was a good offensive defenceman. The Strathroy, Ontario native cut his teeth with the Buffalo Sabres and made himself a long career. Campbell won the Lady Byng in 2011-12 with the Blackhawks. This is where he also won his one Stanley Cup Championship.
Campbell had his number 44 retired when he played major junior with the Ottawa 67s of the OHL. He didn’t get to wear his trademark 44 from juniors, but did pretty well in the 51 sweater.
There were a good number of 51s that played a number of years in the league. Andrei Kovalenko was a solid 20-30 goal-scorer in his career with stops in Quebec, Colorado, Montreal and Edmonton. The Detroit Red Wings had a pair of players that had nice careers with sweater number 51. Both Valtteri Filppula and Frans Nielsen had good stints with the number in Hockeytown. It’s ironic that Filppula and Nielsen pretty much swapped places with Detroit and the New York Islanders at the end of their respective careers.
One of the most obvious players to carry the flame for 51 is Shane Wright. His rookie season with the Seattle Kraken had struggles, but there is plenty of promise with the former exceptional player. Wright chose 51 because it’s the European way of writing his birthday of January 5.
A few other young players like Ian Mitchell have the number, but Wright may have a chance to bounce back in the 2023-24 campaign in the Pacific Northwest.
Main photo by: Dave Sandford/Getty Images