Mario Lemieux was just three years old when his father laced his ice skates for the first time.
For ten minutes, Mario used a chair for support; then, he started skating on his own. And the rest is history.
He was a natural, and that was clear from a very young age. He was selected first by Laval in the QMJHL draft in 1981, and three years later, when he played his third and final year with the team, he set a league record with 282 points in 60 games.
He also broke his childhood hero Guy Lafleur’s goal record by three goals, netting 133. The kid was special, and it was impossible for NHL teams to miss it. There was a real race for the last place, and eventually, Pittsburgh ”won” it.
Eddie Johnston, general manager for the Penguins then, had watched Lemieux play ten times that season. The last time, Mario apologized for having an off night. But he had just recorded three points.
When Pittsburgh clinched the No. 1 draft pick, teams tried basically everything to get it from them. The Montreal Canadiens had hopes of getting the pick as they, three years earlier, traded Pierre Larouche to Hartford for a second-round pick and exchanged their 1984 first-rounders.
If the Whaler had just finished last, Lemieux would have ended up in Montreal. But Hartford finished fifth-worst, so the Canadiens tried to get the first-round pick through trading. But the Penguins resisted.
In an article for The Athletic a few years ago, Johnston claimed Minnesota ”dangled all 12 of its draft picks” for the Pens’ first pick.
Quebec Nordiques tried as well, offering the three Stastny brothers and a first-rounder.
“I had some terrific offers,” Johnston told The Athletic, recalling a conversation he had with then-Penguins owner Edward DeBartolo, “but I had told Mr. DeBartolo that I was not trading it. I said, ‘A player like this comes along once in a lifetime.’
Mario Lemieux eventually signed with the Penguins and saved the franchise. He’s widely acknowledged as the second-best player in NHL history, so there’s no questioning whether Johnston did the right thing by turning down all those ”terrific offers.”