Nobody—not Bobby Orr, not Wayne Gretzky—ever entered the NHL with that kind of attention or pressure. And nobody could have handled it better. In his first two weeks as a pro, Lindros coolly matched expectations, scoring four goals and assisting on three others as the Flyers got off to a 3-3-1 start. At his current pace Lindros would not break the rookie scoring record of 109 points, set in 1980-81 by Peter Stastny, who played for the Nordiques. Stastny, though, was 24. Lindros is 19, something that's easy to forget as he flicks a lightning-quick wrist shot or charges down the ice with murder in his eyes.
In junior hockey Lindros's crunching hits were as legendary as his goals. Pagé calls him Darth Vader. The nickname may yet prove apt, but this season the force has yet to be with him. "I haven't thrown my weight around as much as I should," says the 6'4", 235-pound Lindros. "You have to stick up for yourself, and I haven't done that yet."
Still, his fellow Flyers like what they have seen. "He's like a young Mark Messier or a Kevin Stevens, a power forward who can dominate the game," says wing Mark Recchi. "And he's just going to get better. I mean, think about it. He's probably three or four years away from playing his best hockey."
With that in mind, maybe ESPN should consider shortening its name to EPN—Eric's Personal Network. Lindros put on a show for the those watching the NHL's new cable outlet in each of his first two games. He scored his first goal in a high-energy 3-3 tie on the road against the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 6. Then, in Philadelphia's festive home opener three nights later, he danced in from the red line and flicked the puck into the net late in the third period to help the Flyers beat the New Jersey Devils 6-4.
But even while he was enjoying those successes, his first road game against the Nordiques loomed large on the calendar. An unexpected tranquillity greeted Lindros when he arrived in Quebec the night before the game. As he ate dinner at Chez Guido, he was disturbed only by well-wishers and autograph hounds. There were no curses, no dirty looks, no poisoned meatballs. At a press conference before dinner, an apprehensive Lindros tried a little spin control. "I never had a problem with the city or the French culture," he said grimly. "I had a problem with one particular person."
Pressed to say the name, Lindros cracked a smile. "Aubut," he said. "There you go. Aubut."
"I am honored," Quebec's owner said the next day, looking a little like the cat who swallowed the canary. "It shows we did the right thing. I have no regrets. I'd do it again. By waiting, we created the right opportunity to get even greater compensation than we thought we would get. He wanted his freedom, but he didn't want to see us get so much in return. This trade was a miracle for the Nordiques."
Indeed, with the addition of former Flyers Ricci, Hextall and defensemen Steve Duchesne and Kerry Huffman, Quebec has been transformed from a promising young team with an uncertain future into a talented young team whose future is now. "I'm sure Eric will be a franchise player for Philadelphia," says Aubut, "but we're going to win lots of hockey games." Adds Nordique enforcer Tony Twist, "Look how good he's made us. Our fans shouldn't boo Lindros. They should cheer him."
They didn't. When the Flyers pulled up to the Colisée for the game, a mob surrounded and started rocking the Philly bus. Finally, police cleared the area, allowing Lindros and his teammates to walk through a cramped tunnel to the visitors' dressing room.
Inside, the old building was packed to the rafters. Lindros was booed when he took the ice for warmups and every time he touched the puck thereafter. "Fans in Philadelphia are kittens on the curtain compared to these people," he said afterward.