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 17. Keep up to date with the series everyday until the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.
Behind the Sweater Number: 17
The First 17s
According to Hockey Reference, 500 players have worn sweater number 17 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 Cal Gardner with 23 goals. Gardner was a forward with the Toronto Maple Leafs that played for four of the six main teams.
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 17. 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 17 that would go onto have decent to good careers. However, these were with other numbers. A pair of Hall of Famers Jean Beliveau and Alex Delvecchio each had the number in the 1950-51 season. Two players named Greg Adams that played in the 1990s wore the the number. Valeri Bure had the number for a season in Dallas. Sergei Gonchar started his Washington Capitals career off in sweater number 17. Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe was actually 17 before he got his hands on number nine.
Hall of Famers Rod Langway and Guy Lapointe each had the number with the Montreal Canadiens. New York Rangers favourite Walt Tkaczuk started off in 17 before finding his spot as 18. Brett Hull had the number for three seasons in Detroit.
The choice for our top sweater number 17 wearer is Jari Kurri. He was a fourth-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980 NHL Draft. The Finn hit the ice running with 32 goals in each of his first two seasons, but Kurri was just getting warmed up. He would score 71 goals in the 1984-85 season. However, he was really good on the defensive end and would get Selke Trophy votes. Kurri also got the Lady Byng in the 1985 season.
He came over to ride shotgun with Wayne Gretzky back to the Los Angeles Kings. Kurri would finish with 601 goals and get elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001. There was a legend that Kurri took sweater number 17 due to Finland getting independence in 1917. However, that was never proven.
Other 17s and the Future
There were plenty of other great players to don the number 17. Rod Brind’Amour, Wendel Clark and Ilya Kovalchuk are three to come to mind. Brind’Amour was a complete player and Clark did whatever asked of him. Kovalchuk was a top-flight goal-scorer in his day in the NHL. Bobby Bauer was a Hall of Famer in the number with the Boston Bruins. Mike Foligno wore 17 for a number of seasons. Rick Kehoe and Ryan Kesler were both solid players in the number 17. Milan Lucic had a solid run in sweater number 17.
Alex Killorn was a vital part of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s run. Josh Anderson now wears the number with the Canadiens. Brother Marcus Foligno and Nick Foligno are wearing their dad’s number. Bryan Rust carries number for Pittsburgh.
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