Peter Zezel carved out a nice career as solid two way second or third line center.
Though somewhat on the small side, Zezel was extremely strong, especially his lower body. He was great along the boards as he was so hard to knock down. He was also an agile skater with great balance, and his background as a soccer player (he played with the Toronto Blizzard of the NASL and the North York Rockets of the CSL) gave him an extra advantage over most hockey players - great puck skills with his feet. In the corners and in faceoff scrums, Zezel would go in and use his strength and balance to tie up his opponent, and then kick the puck to an open teammate.
Though known best as a defensive oriented checking center, Zezel had some good offensive talents. He had a strong and accurate wrist shot and slap shot, but preferred to set up an open teammate than shoot the puck himself. He was very confident with the puck. His offensive totals were hindered by his commitment as the team's checking center, but twice Peter scored 72 points. In 1986-87 with Philadelphia when he finished behind Tim Kerr for the team goal and point scoring lead. In 1988-89 and in 1989-90 Peter enjoyed his longest run as an offensive player, often centering Brett Hull in St. Louis.
An excellent faceoff man, Zezel was a crunch time player. Some questioned his inconsistent intensity, but he became a favorite of Mike Keenan, the most demanding coach of the day. Keenan inherited a young Zezel in Philadelphia and later recruited his services in St. Louis and Vancouver.
Peter played two seasons with the Toronto Marlies of the OHL before advancing directly to the NHL. In 1982-83, he scored 35 goals and 39 assists in 66 games. Through 68 games in 1983-84, he tallied career-highs with 47 goals, 86 assists, and 133 points.
Peter was the first choice (41st overall) of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1983 Entry Draft. In 1984-85, he had a strong rookie season, finishing fifth among league rookies in scoring with 61 points, and set a Flyers' rookie record with 46 assists. A fractured hand early in the season hampered Zezel's scoring totals and his chance at a serious run at the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie.
Through he played in a career-high 79 games in 1985-86, he took a step backwards like many NHL sophomores do. He recorded a career-best plus-27 rating but scored "only" 17 goals and 54 points. Because of the Flyers' great depth he had to accept a role on the third line and played well as a checking center, helping to mould his career.
In 1986-87, Peter stepped up his game by establishing career-highs with 33 goals and 72 points. He had a strong playoff as a checking forward, scoring 3 goals and 13 points in a 25 game run that saw the Flyers push the mighty Edmonton Oilers to 7 games in one of the greatest Stanley Cup finals ever.
A great special teams player, Zezel added a career-high 14 power play goals in 1987-88. However he only add 8 even strength goals for a decline of 11 goals from the previous year. His point total also dropped, by a total of 15 points.
As the Flyers quickly fell on hard times, team management began cleaning house. After getting off to a slow start in 1988-89 (4 goals in 26 games), the Flyers traded Zezel was traded to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Mike Bullard. Zezel quickly found a home with sharpshooter Brett Hull on his right wing and Zezel finished strongly, picking up a career high 49 assists (between the two teams) that season. In 1989-90, he tied his career-best 72 points (25 goals, 47 assists) in 73 games for the Blues
While Zezel was no doubt a key part of the Blues, team management felt he was expendable. Perhaps a lack of production in the playoffs (1 goal in 12 games in 1990) signaled the end of Zezel's days in St. Louis. On July 13, 1990, he was traded with Mike Lalor to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Geoff Courtnall.
Zezel's stay in the US capital didn't last long. A wonky left ankle caused Zezel to miss more games than he appered in. In 20 games with the Capitals, Peter scored seven goals and five assists. On Jan. 16, 1991, he was traded with Bob Rouse to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Al Iafrate.
Fully recovered from his fractured ankle, Zezel finished the 1990-91 season strongly. Between the two teams in 1990-91, Peter reached the 20-goal mark for the fifth consecutive season. However Zezel's production decline for much of his stay in Toronto. From 1991-94, he registered 36 goals and 64 assists in 175 games for the Leafs. A variety of small but nagging injuries (most notably a back problem that forced him to sit half of the 1993-94 season) didn't help him much.
On Aug. 10, 1994, the Dallas Stars acquired him with Grant Marshall as compensation for the Leafs signing of restricted free agent Mike Craig. In 30 games with the Stars during 1994-95 lockout shortened season, Peter scored six goals and five assists.
It appeared that Zezel's career was done in Dallas. A healthy scratch often, Zezel even saw a conditioning stint in the minor leagues. However On Oct. 19, 1995, he signed as a free agent with the Blues. An old friend named Mike Keenan was in charge and thought Zezel could still fill a role as a 4th line checker and a leader in the dressing room. And Zezel didn't disappoint. In 1995-96, he tallied eight goals and 13 assists in 57 games for the Blues. However after 35 games in the 1996-97 season, the Blues traded Zezel to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Chris McAlpine and a last round choice in the 1999 Entry Draft. Peter finished the 1997-98 season notching three assists in 18 games for the Devils, however was obviously a spare part in Jersey.
By 1997-98 it really looked like Zezel's career was done. He was banished to the minor leagues as a result of strong depth on the Devils' squad. However. On Feb. 5, 1998, Keenan rescued him again as he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for a 1998 fifth round draft pick. Between the two teams in 1997-98, he scored five goals and 15 assists in 75 games. He looked especially good early in Vancouver, playing on a line with chronic underachiever Alexander Mogilny. However the offensive spark quickly faded. He became a decent 4th liner and faceoff specialist, but was really a spare part on a very weak Canucks team.
Injuries continued to plague Zezel until the trading deadline on March 23, 1999. It was then when the Canucks traded Zezel to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. However Zezel never reported to Anaheim, instead he went AWOL in order to be with his sick niece back home in Toronto.
Peter Zezel Dies
Peter Zezel has died from his rare blood disorder.
Toronto Star -
TSN.ca - Zezel Passes Away At 44
James Mirtle - Peter Zezel 1965-2009
Pension Plan Puppets - Zezel Passes Away At 44
First and foremost I will always remember Peter Zezel for his faceoff expertise and sound defensive game, his reliable play every night and his tough though clean approach to the game. No wonder why he was one of Mike Keenan's favourite players.
I will also remember Peter Zezel as the hearthrob in Philadelphia. Girls swooned after him. His cool hair even landed him a small role in the Hollywood hockey movie Youngblood. He certainly would not look out of place beside Rob Lowe or Patrick Swayze.
Most will remember Zezel as a Flyer or a Maple Leaf, where he spent the bulk of the best years of his career. Because he was such a valuable player even when he was no longer able to contribute offensively, he bounced around the league a lot in later years, with two stops in St. Louis as well as in Washington, Dallas, New Jersey and Vancouver.
But I also remember Zezel as a great person. I had the chance to watch Zezel closely in his final season and a half with the Vancouver. I remember seeing glimpses of the Zezel I watched in Philly and Toronto, but clearly something was weighing on his mind. That was confirmed late in the season when he left on a personal leave. It turned out he desperately wanted to be with his family after his two year old niece had died of leukemia.
Zezel never came back, opting to be with his family. He played senior hockey in Ontario and coached youth hockey and started up a hockey school in Toronto. Rumor had it he would return to the NHL only if he could play for the Leafs. But he did not want to be away from his family any longer.
Maybe something inside of Zezel told him he had better maximize his time with his beloved family. In 2001 Zezel himself fell ill, being diagnosed with the rare and incurable haemolytic anemia blood disorder that destroys red blood cells faster than the body can replace them.
He has been battling this energy zapping disease ever since, taking chemotherapy and even having his spleen removed. All the while he tried his best to keep up his sports camps for kids, encompassing hockey as well as soccer and golf. But last week his organs began to fail and he lapsed into a coma.
Today he was taken off life support. He was just 44 years old. He died single and with no kids of his own, yet he made a huge impact on the lives of so many kids.
Peter Zezel carved out a nice career as solid two way second or third line center.