Messier a beast even at 18

It's a shame that with such great news coming into the NHL with the beginning of a new offensive era that the NHL has lost such a great player like Mark Messier. I've had the pleasure to not only watch Messier's career over the years, but I actually played with him in his first season as a professional with the Cincinnati Stingers of the WHA.

Messier was just 18 years old at the time, but it was obvious even then that he would be a power forward. He was a great physical specimen, with huge, broad shoulders, and he was strong as a bull. He also had the good fortune to be taken under the wing of Bryan Watson, a veteran of the NHL. Watson taught Messier how to be a professional and imbued in him a lot of the qualities that made him such a great locker room leader.

Back then, though, we didn't see the ferocious Messier in the locker room that has come to embody his legacy in the NHL. Then he was just a big, happy-go-lucky kid ecstatic to be playing professional hockey at 18. That's not to say that he didn't go at it 100 percent every time he was on the ice, because he did. Messier made his presence felt on the ice, and it was quite evident from his physical play that he would be a hard-hitting forward. The surprise to most of us who played with him that season was the fact that he became such a great offensive player.