It’s safe to say the Detroit Red Wings got quite the return on investment when they used the 53rd overall pick of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft to select a 19-year-old defenseman out of Sweden.
Nicklas Lidstrom made his NHL debut on Oct. 3, 1991, registering three shots on goal in a 3-3 tie against the Blackhawks at old Chicago Stadium. In the 7,505 days that followed – ending with a Game 5 playoff loss at Nashville on April 20, 2012 – Lidstrom constructed a Hall of Fame career while becoming the anchor of a Detroit franchise that won four Stanley Cups in that span.
He amassed 1,142 points in 1,564 regular season games, the most points by one player who skated for only one franchise in NHL history. He added 183 points in 263 playoff contests and made 12 All-Star teams. As a rookie, Lidstrom recorded 60 points and finished runner-up to Pavel Bure for the Calder Trophy in 1991-92. In his next-to-last season in 2010-11, he won the Norris Trophy for the seventh time while recording 62 points in 82 games.
Lidstrom’s rise to prominence in the 1990s happened in tandem with the emergence of the Red Wings. Detroit won four Stanley Cups from 1950-55, but lost in the finals five times across the next 11 seasons before missing the playoffs 16 times from 1966-91. Lidstrom recorded 26 points in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season and added 16 points in the playoffs, helping Detroit win the Western Conference title before being swept by New Jersey in the finals. Detroit ended its 42-year Stanley Cup drought two seasons later and Lidstrom played a pivotal role, scoring the opening goal in the Red Wings’ 2-1 title-clinching victory in Game 4.
He earned his first All-Star appearance in 1997-98 and helped Detroit win its second-consecutive Stanley Cup, finishing with 13 assists and 19 points in 22 postseason games with a league-best plus-12 rating. Lidstrom scored a career-high 20 goals and posted the first of three consecutive 50-assist seasons in 1999-00, placing in the top 10 in the NHL in assists each season.
That three-season stretch ended with the Red Wings lifting their third Stanley Cup in six seasons in 2001-02. Lidstrom was outstanding in the postseason, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy after registering 16 points in 23 games. He recorded three assists across Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference finals against Colorado as Detroit rallied from a 3-2 series deficit, and his one-goal, one-assist effort in Game 2 of the finals against Carolina sparked the Red Wings to the first of four straight victories after they dropped the series opener.
Arguably the biggest moment of Lidstrom’s career did not come wearing a Red Wings sweater, but at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Lidstrom recorded four points in Sweden’s final three games, scoring the tiebreaking goal 10 seconds into the third period of a 3-2 victory over Finland in the gold medal game. He raised the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in 2008, scoring a goal with two assists in a six-game victory over Pittsburgh, and captured his sixth Norris in the previous seven seasons.
Lidstrom won his final Norris in 2010-11, finishing with 16 goals and 46 assists while not missing a game despite turning 41 years old during the playoffs. His career ended with an 11-goal, 23-assist campaign in 70 games in 2011-12 – a career-low for games played for a full season – concluding a two-decade run during which Lidstrom and the Red Wings never missed the postseason. His 263 playoff games played ranks second in league history. Across 20 seasons, Lidstrom missed just 44 regular-season contests.
Lidstrom’s No. 5 was retired by the Red Wings in 2014 and he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame one year later. He ranks sixth in NHL history in points by a defenseman, sixth in assists (878), and ninth in goals (264). And while seven of the 52 players selected ahead of Lidstrom in 1989 played 1,000 or more games in the NHL, it turned out to a historically great draft for Detroit.
Center Sergei Fedorov, who scored 400 goals in 908 career games and won three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings en route to a Hall of Fame career, was selected 21 spots behind Lindstrom in the fourth round. Detroit’s 11th-round pick, defender Vladimir Konstantinov, played 446 games across six seasons with the Red Wings before an automobile accident ended his career after Detroit won the 1997 Stanley Cup.