An I'll-show-you attitude has helped hard charging left wing Eric Daz� to fly high
Growing up in French-speaking Laval, Que., Eric Daze supplemented his grade school English classes by watching American soap operas with his mother, Francine. The title of their favorite, The Young and the Restless, could also describe Daz� in his first six seasons with the Black-hawks: an immature one-way player who didn't live up to the promise of his 30-goal rookie year. By the fall of 2000 power forward Daz�'s frustration had reached the point that he demanded a trade.
"My rookie season was so good, and the expectations were so high," says the 26-year-old Daz�. "I thought I was ready to make the next step, but I went into camp in 2000 and saw the line combinations, and I wasn't in the team's plans. I was on the third line, and I thought, Maybe they want me to be a third-line player the rest of my career."
Chicago refused to deal him, and what could have been cause for a spectacular flameout instead became a motivating force. The 6'6", 235-pound Daz�, who set out to prove that he deserved more ice time, had his finest season in 2000-01, with 33 goals. This year he has established himself as one of the league's top left wings. With 26 goals and 23 assists through Sunday, he ranked third in the NHL in scoring. "In the last two years I've found a rhythm," says Daz�. "With age you get physically stronger and you get mentally stronger, more comfortable with your game."
Though Daz� still needs to work on his defense, his scoring makes him valuable. He generates myriad chances by using his unusual combination of a big body and above-average speed to go hard to the net. "Eric's a natural goal scorer, out to find the back of the net at all costs," says linemate Steve Sullivan. "He's got excellent hand-eye coordination and deceiving speed. He accelerates well, and if he gets open, Michael [Nylander, the line's center] and I are going to find him."
Daz�'s wicked shot, a wrister that jumps off the heel of his stick, makes him especially dangerous between the face-off circles. "The puck explodes off his stick," says Brian Sutter, who in his first season as the Black-hawks' coach had guided Chicago, which has missed the playoffs for four straight years, to the NHL's second-best record, 29-14-9-0, through Sunday. "His shot is quick, and it's heavy; that's what surprises people. His wrister is right up there with Joe Sakic's and Mike Modano's."
Daz�'s leap this season is the result, in equal measures, of synergy with his linemates and the confidence he's gained. Daz� also doesn't have to worry about his contract: Last August he signed a three-year, $8.4 million deal.
"That time was tough," says Daze of his discontent early last season, "but I came back and worked hard. I wish I could take back saying I wanted a trade. I wish I hadn't gone through that, but it made me a better player."
Stars Admit Their Mistakes
Summer Deals Were Busts
By sending winger Valeri Kamensky to the Devils on Jan. 16, the Stars conceded that their summer overhaul—in which free agents Kamensky, winger Donald Audette and center Pierre Turgeon were signed and defense-man Jyrki Lumme was obtained in a trade—was the worst plot twist in Dallas since Bobby Ewing walked out of the shower. G.M. Bob Gainey hoped the offensive-minded quartet would juice the Stars' defensive system, but those players never fit in with Dallas's conservative, hard-checking style.