Peter Zezel

Peter Zezel (in Serbian: Пeтap Жежељj, Petar Zezelj) (b. April 22nd 1965 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada) is a former professional centre who played 15 seasons in the National Hockey League from 1984 to 1999 for the Philadelphia Flyers, the St. Louis Blues, the Washington Capitals, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Dallas Stars, the New Jersey Devils and the Vancouver Canucks.

41st pick overall of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, Zezel broke into the Flyers' lineup in 1984 and made an immediate impact, finishing 5th scorer among the rookies as a 19 years old in 1985 with 61 points; he established a since broken team record for the most assists by a rookie with 46. Zezel and the young Flyers team (only Mark Howe was older than 27 years old; 8 of the regulars were under 22) surprised by reaching the Stanley Cup Final, only to lose to the Edmonton Oilers.

After a 54-point sophomore campaign, Zezel would have his finest year in 1986-87, registering career highs of 33 goals and 72 points (despite missing 9 games to injury) while continuing to impress with his mature all-around game. That spring, he would again help the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals, registering 13 points before the team was again bested by the Oilers.

Although he continued to put up solid numbers, the Flyers would deal Zezel to the St. Louis Blues midway through the 1988-89 in exchange for Mike Bullard. He would play some of the best hockey of his career for the Blues, going on a scoring tear to finish the season with a career high 49 assists and 70 points. In the playoffs that year, he would lead the Blues with 6 goals and 12 points in just 10 games. In 1989-90, he would have another fine season, posting 25 goals and 72 points.

However, in 1990 St. Louis dealt him to the Washington Capitals for Geoff Courtnall. His stay in Washington would be brief, though, as he appeared in only 20 games before being dealt to his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs in a deal for Al Iafrate. He would finish the 1990-91 season with 40 points in just 52 games due to injury. In 1991-92, he recorded 49 points in 64 games in another year hamped by the injury bug.

The hiring of Pat Burns as the Maple Leafs' head coach in 1992 would represent a turning point in Zezel's career. While he has previously always been given a great deal of offensive responsibility, the defensive-minded Burns employed Zezel almost exclusively as a checking line center, and his numbers plummeted. Additionally, he continued to be plagued by injuries, missing half the 1993-94 season with an ongoing back problems that had bothered him for several years. However, when healthy he was still an effective player, and helped Toronto reach the Western Conference Finals in both 1993 and 1994.

In the summer of 1994, Zezel was awarded to the Dallas Stars as compensation for the Leafs' signing of free agent Mike Craig. His one season in Dallas would prove to be a disappointment, as he was limited to just 30 games and 11 points by a knee injury. For 1995-96, he was signed for another stint by the St. Louis Blues and his old coach Mike Keenan.

Dealt to the New Jersey Devils in 1997, his career would hit a low point during the 1997-98 campaign when he was sent to the minors for the first time in his career. However, he performed well in the American Hockey League, showing that he still had a scoring touch with 50 points in 35 games for the Albany River Rats. He was rescued from the minors by Keenan, now the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks. For the first time in several years, he was given a chance to contribute offensively alongside star winger Alexander Mogilny, and he responded with 17 points in 25 games.

Zezel's career would end controversially at the trade deadline late in the 1998-99 season. Zezel's niece Jilliann was terminally ill with cancer in Toronto, and Zezel requested a trade from the Canucks (who were far out of the playoff race) to an Eastern Conference team so he could be closer to his family. Instead, Vancouver General Manager Brian Burke dealt him to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, the furthest stop from Toronto in the league. Zezel promptly retired and returned home, and Canuck management were heavily criticised by a sympathetic media and public for the callous way he was treated.

In 2001, Zezel was almost killed by the rare blood disorder hemolytic anemia, but has made a full recovery. The disease however resurfaced in 2009 and, this time, killed him, at age 44.

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