In just his second NHL season, John-Michael Liles scored 14 goals and 49 points in 82 games played.
He became the highest point-scoring rookie defenseman in Avalanche history at the time, and it didn’t come as a huge surprise.
Liles was a huge talent at an early age, selected for the U.S. National Team Development Program. After some great years in college hockey, he was selected fifth overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
Although he emerged as an offensive talent, many had doubts about his size, being only 5 ft 10, weighing 185lb. But Liles quickly became a force in Colorado, and it was even more impressive given what kind of stick he was rocking.
For a long time, Liles played with the Easton’s Z-bubble, with a Nike wooden blade slapped on the tip. Apparently, he loved the stick-combo, but he was forced to change it by none other than teammate and Avalanche’s all-time great Joe Sakic.
He recently took to X, formerly Twitter, to explain why he gave the combo up and how Sakic made it happen.
“Sakic told me I had a terrible shot, and if I didn’t switch to a one-piece, he wouldn’t pass me the puck anymore. Z-bubble/Nike wood blade combo died that day,” he said in a response to a post saying that Liles was the last man in the NHL to use a Z-bubble.
It worked out pretty well for Liles despite being the last guy in the league with the stick. He’s the defenseman with the third-highest points in Colorado, only behind Tyson Barrie and Cale Makar.
Although Sakic forced Liles off the Z-bubble, he still helped him a lot throughout his career.
According to Liles, a quiet kid from Indiana when he joined the Avs in 2003, Sakic taught him how to be a winner.
“If you were playing pool with him and doing pretty well but gave him one last shot, he would eye that table like it was the Mona Lisa or something, and then go to work and often run the table,” Liles told the Denver Post.
“If you were playing golf, you had to watch it. I remember one time, I thought I had him, coming onto the 17th green with a lead and he hit into the bunker. But then he chips in from the bunker and beats me on the last hole. We were only playing for less than a hundred bucks, but it wouldn’t have mattered if it was just five bucks. He had to be the hardest worker every time.”