Zdeno Chara was drafted in the third round(56th overall) by the New York Islanders in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. The big Slovak would spend his first season in with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Islander affiliate, the Prince George Cougars. Played his first NHL game November 19, 1997 at Detroit. He earned his first NHL point with an assist on April 15th, 2008 against the Rangers. Zdeno spent four seasons with the Islanders organization, becoming a player in a primarily defensive role. He earned a reputation as a tough player to play against – intimidating, physically strong, and on occasion throw down the gloves. His physical size and physical strength gave him a very hard slap shot. Chara in the last decade keeps breaking his own records.
Zdeno Chara was never deployed in an offensive role as an New York Islander. He was traded to the Ottawa Senators during the 2001 NHL Entry Draft as part of a deal to acquire Alexei Yashin. It was hoped that Yashin could improve the fortunes of the Islanders. Chara was part of a package deal along with Bill Muckalt and the second overall pick in the 2001 draft (the Senators chose Jason Spezza).
The Senators knew that Chara would be a formidable defender, and his skills would improve. Chara exceeded all expectations in his first year in Ottawa, recording 33 points as he turned into a two-way defenseman during the 2001–02 season. His slapshot continued to improve, and Ottawa began deploying him on the powerplay to use it. (Islanders had rarely used Chara in this role). Four of Chara’s goals were scored with the man advantage that first season. The 2002–03 season found Chara began to blossom into an elite NHL defenseman. He posted thirty assists and thirty nine points and became one of Ottawa’s top defenders, earning his first All-Star Game appearance, where he place second in the slap shot competition behind Al MacInnis. In the 2003–04 season, Chara posted sixteen goals and forty-one points. He had the league’s third highest plus/minus,, and he was rewarded for his hard work by receiving his first Norris Trophy nomination. (He would lose to Scott Niedermayer.) He did end up being selected to NHL First All-Star Team that year.
The 2004–05 NHL season was cancelled due to the lockout. Chara played in the Swedish Elitserien league for Farjestads BK. When play resumed in the NHL, he matched his previous season’s sixteen goals and a total forty-three points, good enough for NHL Second All-Star Team honors. At the end of the season, Ottawa was faced with having to choose between its its two top defensemen. Ottawa could only sign one and ended up choosing Wade Redden. Chara was not able to get a new contract with Ottawa, and he became an unrestricted free agent at the end the season.
Zdeno Chara was picked up by the Boston Bruins on July 1st, 2006. It was a five year, multi-million dollar contract. Ottawa may have had reservations about Chara’s talent but the Bruins certainly didn’t. Zdeno who had been an alternate captain with the Senators, and the Bruins chose to make him captain of the team. He played his first game as a Bruin on October 6, and also scored his first points as a Bruin(two assists). Zdeno’s career has been mostly about high power shots from the neutral zone to the blue line, and he racked up forty-three goals in the next three seasons. Chara’s main skill was the assist. In the three years leading up to the Stanley Cup, he racked up over one hundred assists to help his team make the playoffs all three years.( He also averaged a +/- of +18.7 those three years.)
Then came the year most of us won’t stop talking about (until they win it again or we die.), the 2010-2011 season. Chara’s fourteen goals and thirty assists were another strong season. He easily earned another All-Star selection. He shattered his old record with a shot clocked at 105.9 mph in the skills challenge. (In fact he has won it every year since 2008, save 2010 when the Olympics were being held). He also achieved a feat unusual for a defenseman. On January 17, 2011, Chara recorded his first career hat trick against the Carolina Hurricanes in a seven-zip rout. The playoffs showed Chara’s all around play. He scored two goals, seven assists, put down a plus/minus of sixteen, and led the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup Championship since 1972. Chara became the first Slovak to captain a Stanley Cup Champion. On a funny note, the Stanley Cup has probably never been held higher without the assist of a vehicle or crane after that day.
The 2011-2012 season continued to display the skill set Chara possessed. He racked up a professional best with fifty two points, and a plus/minus of plus thirty three. Even with the Bruins early withdrawal from the playoffs, Chara has been a solid leader and a core of the Bruins for now, and the foreseeable future. Chara is widely considered to have the hardest slapshot in the NHL, maybe on the planet. Thanks for being up there for us Z.