The No. 1 pick of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft will make history this afternoon.
Vincent Lecavalier — captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning — will play in his 1,000th NHL contest when the Bolts take on the Islanders in a matinee affair.
“I’m excited about it, but you don’t take it for granted,” he told the Tampa Bay Tribune. “When I came in (to the league) at 18, I wasn’t telling myself I was going to play 1,000 games, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
The 32-year-old was taken by Tampa Bay at the ’98 draft and has spent his entire career with the organization, putting him in some distinguished company among players that have played 1000 games with the same franchise.
Notables include Nicklas Lidstrom, Steve Yzerman, Alex Delvecchio (Detroit), Stan Mikita (Chicago), Gilbert Perreault (Buffalo), George Armstrong (Toronto), Henri Richard, Bob Gainey, Jean Beliveau (Montreal) and Denis Potvin (New York Islanders).
Current active players that have accomplished the feat include Jarome Iginla, Daniel Alfredsson, Patrick Marleau, Patrik Elias and Chris Phillips.
Now one of the oldest players on the Lightning roster, Lecavalier is looked upon for veteran leadership and experience — though that doesn’t mean he’s not a vital on-ice contributor.
Bolts head coach Guy Boucher praised his captain for being in fantastic shape to start the year, impressive given that Lecavalier didn’t play during the lockout.
“It’s the best shape I’ve seen him in,” Boucher said following Tampa’s 6-3 season-opening win over Washington. “The league has changed. For the big guys who didn’t necessarily have great speed, that’s a tough thing. They have to elevate their game.
“Not many guys all of a sudden can have jump and speed at that age. Vinny just did that now.”
Update: NHL.com’s Dan Rosen provides this unique factoid:
Again, Lecavalier will become the 5th former first overall pick to play 1,000 games WITH HIS DRAFTING TEAM!!!
— Dan Rosen (@drosennhl) January 21, 2013