We continue celebrating Steve Ott.history this summer as we move closer and closer to their 20th year in DFW with a look at
The Stars first-round draft pick in 2000, Steve Ott came out of the OHL with the reputation of a guy who could put up big points on the first line while irritating the stuffing (among the polite words for it) out of the opponent. And while his offensive numbers never quite translated to the NHL, Ott found his niche with the Stars as a one of the best agitators in the league. As he matured, he even had a few standout offensive seasons and turned into one of the team's best defensive forwards. And more than that, his affable personality off the ice and memorable antics on it made him by far the post popular player of the post-Mike Modano era. Ott's tenure in Dallas came to an end this summer when he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres for Derek Roy, so how the fanbase and the team responds to the move has yet to be determined.
Why He's On The List:
For several years after making his NHL debut, Ott was a bit of a polarizing figure among Stars fans. His feistiness brought a renewed energy to the team, but the fact that he wasn't putting up the offensive numbers some expected as such a high draft pick brought some grousing.
As time went on, though, Ott more than came into his own as more than a guy who got under the opponent's skin. He became one of the best face-off men in the leauge, arguably the team's best defensive forward after the retirement of Jere Lehtinen and even chipped in some decent offense. But just as important, he became a face and a voice for the franchise as Mike Modano neared the end of his career and the Tom Hicks sports empire crumbled. The combination of his contributions on the ice and the importance of marketing the game to a fanbase scarred from ownership struggles earns him his spot on this list.
Continued after the jump...
First, a look at the numbers.
Though it's somewhat a product of his longevity, Ott is 34th on the list of top scorers in franchise history, including the Minnesota North Stars years, with 85 goals and 135 assists for 220 points. He's also sixth on the franchise's all-time penalty minutes list with 1170, 15 minutes behind one Brenden Morrow.
Ott's best offensive seasons came in 2008-09 and 2009-10 with 19 and 22 goals, and even though he couldn't match that in the past few seasons, he started to show some skills as a setup man, dishing off some beautiful passes while spending some minutes alongside Jamie Benn. And over the past few season's, he became the modern-day Jere Lehtinen glue, in that the coach, be it Marc Crawford or Glen Gulutzan, would put him on whatever line was struggling to both shore up the defense and provide the spark of energy.
Some of that style, especially early, was a bit of an undersized player trying to make his stamp in the league. Ott was drafted at something like 6-feet tall, 150 pounds from the Windsor Spitfires, and while he was a 50-goal scorer in juniors and succeeded both with and without then-linemate Jason Spezza, the part of his game that made the biggest impact on the international and professional stage was his ability to get under people's skin. He was so off the wall in juniors that the opposing coach once sat him down after a game, and his own team scheduled regular visits with a sports psychologist. But that energy, when harnessed, as a tremendous asset at the next level. No one, and I mean no one, was as able to draw Western Conference superstars like Joe Thornton and Jarome Iginla off their game and down to his quite so well.
He made his NHL debut on Dec. 13, 2002 against the dearly departed Atlanta Thrashers, and yours truly was in attendance at that game (I swear. I have the ticket in my big envelope of tickets to everything I have every attended). If I remember this game correctly, Ott was so energetic that he checked himself through the door between the benches on one of his early shifts, leading to my personal attachment to him as a player. Any rookie who plays that hard immediately endears himself to me.
And I wasn't the only one. Ott quickly became a fan-favorite for his sometimes-unhinged style of play, and he embraced that role off the ice. While it's unfair to compare a naturally gregarious guy like Ott to a guy who doesn't speak English as a first language or a guy who is naturally a little shyer or more guarded, Ott's availability with the media and the fans definitely helped his rise to fan-favorite. He became the go-to guy for the pre-game stick kid promotion, for the Stick with Reading campaign, for the weekly radio show on the Ticket and for any number of Dallas Stars Foundation initiatives. Heck, he's the only Stars player I can think of with his very own stuffed animal.
That popularity was probably the reason his trade stung so much for many fans. With Jamie Benn still learning to manage the spotlight, Brenden Morrow struggling with injuries and Mike Modano retired for several seasons, Ott had become the public face of the franchise, for better or for worse, and losing that always hurts.
On the ice, he brought a combination of decent offense, great defense and unmatched irritainment value (tm Razor) that will be hard to replace. And those contributions to the team, combined with the fact that he poured his heart and soul into the franchise on and off the ice, make him worthy of a spot on this list.