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 20. Keep up to date with the series everyday until the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.
Behind the Sweater Number: 20
The First 20s
According to Hockey Reference, 531 players have worn sweater number 20 since since jersey records were kept in the 1950-51 season. However, it does not list any players before then that may have taken the number. Hockey Reference lists all of the Original Six with Ed Slowinski of the New York Rangers as the highest goal and point-scorer. There was a Hall of Famer in the group of players that wore sweater number 20 in that season. However, he would be more famous for a different number.
As we draw closer to the end of the countdown, we’ll focus more the big-name players that wore the number. We’ll also give more attention to the players that briefly wore sweater number 20. This series will also take a look at the future of the number and who may carry the digits.
There are always a number of players that wore sweater number 20 that would go onto have decent to good careers. However, these were with other numbers. Jean Beliveau was the aforementioned Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer that started life off as 20. Fellow Hall of Famer Sid Abel also donned 20 in his final two seasons with the Chicago Black Hawks. Johnny Bucyk started his illustrious career in Detroit as the number 20. Guy Carbonneau started his Habs career in 20 like Beliveau. Dick Duff‘s first number in Buffalo was 20. Wings HoF player Red Kelly started his career off as number 20.
Ryan Kesler had sweater number 20 with the Vancouver Canucks while Hall of Famer Frank Mathers wore it for one season. Chris Pronger had 20 for three seasons with the Flyers. Sylvain Turgeon and Oleg Tverdosky each wore sweater number 20 for two seasons.
The races for who wore it best will get tighter, but Luc Robitaille is the class of sweater number 20. He won the Calder Trophy in the 1986-87 season and scored 45 goals. The former Hull Olympiques star scored double-digit goals in every season he played. Robitaille was an eight-time All-Star and turned a lot of heads after being picked 171st in the 1984 NHL Draft.
He was given 56 for the first couple seasons in training camp, but got his hands on 20. Sweater number 20 was symbolic because he turned 20 and the franchise was also 20 years old. Robitaille finally got his hands on the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2001-02. He finished as the highest-scoring left wing in history with 668 goals and 1,394 points.
Other 23s and the Future
Let’s not forget to Hall of Fame exploits of Bob Pulford, who won four Stanley Cups. The Suter last name is synonymous with 20 as Gary Suter and Ryan Suter, no relation, each have had great careers. Alexander Steen had a great career with the number in St. Louis.
Players like Chris Kreider, Sebastian Aho, Ross Colton and others are having great runs in the 20 sweater. Aho and Colton are standout young players while Kreider has been a veteran marksman for the Rangers. The history of sweater number 20 is a great one with many great players to have the number.
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