It took until he was 23 for Martin St-Louis to play his first NHL game. He didn’t establish himself as a regular until he was 25. And he didn’t make it as a top-six forward until the age of 27.
And now, a little more than a decade later, St-Louis is creeping ever so close to Hockey Hall of Fame territory. The 38-year-old mighty mite was honored Monday by the Tampa Bay Lightning for reaching the 1,000-game milestone in the NHL. Does he have what it takes to be recognized by the Hall of Fame one day? We’ll examine that in the first of a series of features on players worthy of said consideration.
St-Louis played Jr. A hockey in Hawkesbury, Ont., his 1992-93 draft season and went unclaimed despite staggering offensive stats. It was his vital stats that turned scouts off. He was in the neighborhood of 5-foot-7, 150 pounds at the time. So off he went to the University of Vermont and posted spectacular numbers over four seasons. Still no interest. He opened a few more eyes playing for the independent Cleveland Lumberjacks of the International League as a 22-year-old.
The Calgary Flames signed him part way through that rookie pro season and moved him to Saint John in the American League. After a couple more split seasons between the AHL and Calgary (just four goals and 20 points in 69 NHL games). St-Louis signed with Tampa Bay. He played mostly third-line minutes for two seasons before turning into a 33-goal scorer as a 27-year-old.
As a point of comparison, absolutely everything Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews have achieved in hockey so far has been done so before their 27th birthdays.
St-Louis won the Stanley Cup, Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy and was a first-team NHL all-star in 2003-04. That immediately put him in a special class. In the 90-year history of the Hart Trophy as most valuable player in the NHL, only three winners have eluded Hall of Fame induction (Tom Anderson in 1942, Al Rollins in 1954 and Eric Lindros in 1995). A handful of other Hart winners are not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame.
But at the time St-Louis won the Hart, he had just 259 NHL points to his name and was already 29. What the artful dodger then accomplished stats wise in his 30s is truly amazing. Since turning the age once considered the start of a hockey player’s twilight years, St-Louis has 241 goals and 677 points in 639 games to date. It’s quite conceivable St-Louis will average more than a point per game during the decade of his 30s. I’m still doing the legwork to see if any other player managed that feat.
To manage that, St-Louis, will need 102 points in 140 remaining games this season and next. I say he does it. Almost as remarkable is the fact St-Louis has missed just seven games in nine seasons since the 2004 lockout.
So is St-Louis a Hall of Famer? He has won the multiple awards necessary to warrant serious consideration – including a second Art Ross Trophy last season, four second-team NHL all-star berths, three Lady Byng Trophies in addition to the awards mentioned earlier.
With 350 career regular season goals and 936 points, St-Louis is approaching magical 400 and 1,000 numbers that would put him on the Hall of Fame radar even if no awards had been won.
At 39 this June, St-Louis probably has another couple of good seasons left in him and perhaps a couple more with his offensive numbers winding down. A reasonable projection is top 75 all-time in goals, top 50 in assists and top 50 in points.
So, in other words, all St-Louis has to do the next two or three seasons is sustain a level of productive play. Not win the Art Ross again or even average a point per game – just solid production. If and when that happens, St-Louis is a very good bet for the Hall of Fame.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN