Steve Yzerman on Jonathan Toews: “Just a better hockey player”

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TAMPA, Fla. — Jonathan Toews still feels the need to refer to his boyhood idol as “Mr. Yzerman.” He’s always looked up to Steve Yzerman, even wearing his same No. 19 on his back. But these days, it’s Yzerman who looks up to Toews.

“Jonathan’s bigger, stronger,” said Yzerman, the former Red Wings captain and current general manager of the Blackhawks’ opponent in the Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning. “Better. He just is a tremendous all-around player, and great person.”

Toews, as you might expect, was all but blushing at the thought.

“I think Steve is a very complimentary person, and I don’t think he’d say anything less than that,” Toews said at Tuesday’s media day. “I just take that with a grain of salt. I think everyone here knows that’s pretty much untrue. But it obviously means a lot to hear any sort of praise from a guy like that.”

Yzerman first met Toews at the World Championships in Moscow in 2007, and was instantly impressed — not only by Toews’ skill and poise, but by how sound he was defensively as a 18-year-old.

“Over the course of my career, my play evolved,” Yzerman said. “Through Scotty Bowman’s [teaching], the way he wanted our team to play, all of us became more defensive-minded players, more well-rounded players. Jonathan’s been that from Day 1, since he’s come into the league. He’s just a complete hockey player.”

Toews has mentioned Yzerman (along with fellow No. 19 Joe Sakic) as one of his idols frequently, saying last year that the way he “carried himself off the ice is something you take with you.” Yzerman won three Stanley Cups, one Conn Smythe and one Selke Trophy in his brilliant 22-year career. Toews has two Cups, two Olympic gold medals, one Conn Smythe and one Selke (he’s a finalist again this year). And he’s just 27.

So Yzerman feels Toews already has passed him up.

“Again, he’s bigger and stronger than me,” Yzerman said. “Not sure I could even take him in a race, either, so he’s probably faster. He’s just a better hockey player.”

When Toews as a kid, could he have imagined he’d ever hear Yzerman say such a thing?

“I definitely wouldn’t have believed it,” he said. “And I don’t think much has changed right now.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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