There was no doubt that Chris Pronger was a talented player. He was selected second overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, only behind Alexandre Daigle, and already in his first year in the NHL, he put up some great numbers.
Pronger played 81 games for the Hartford Whalers and earned a place in the All-Rookie team. But there was doubt about Pronger and worries that he wouldn’t fulfill his potential. Pronger had some troubles off-ice, and he was even arrested during a bar fight in Buffalo in March.
Some thought that Pronger didn’t have the mentality required to make it in the NHL. The Whalers finished second-last in the Eastern during Pronger’s first year, and he didn’t step up as much as fans had hoped for.
“You could see [Pronger] had talent, but it was a ho-hum thing. He really didn’t have any direction. He was under a lot of pressure and just wasn’t ready for the responsibility. Of course that team wasn’t exactly overloaded with players who knew how to win,” Kelly Chase, then-teammate in Hartford, said.
After two years in Hartford, Pronger got traded to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan was a huge star in the NHL in the 90s, and just two years earlier, he had recorded 102 points.
Pronger still wanted his time off during the off-season, and he still enjoyed hanging out with his buddies and drinking. But Mike Keenan, the general manager and coach who brought Pronger to the Blues had no idea how bad of a shape Pronger was.
Keenan loved his VO2 fitness tests, and when Pronger reported to training camp, his result was 46.79.
Keenan took VO2 very seriously, and Pronger’s result was the 44th best in the Blues team. A total of 46 players took the test.
Keenan couldn’t believe it.
“Are you crazy?” he screamed at Pronger outside the dressing room at the Kiel
Center. “You’re 20 years old. Do you know who I traded you for?”
Eventually, Pronger realized that his drinking days during the summers needed to be cut short drastically. Pronger was later named captain of the Blues, and he would grow to become a Hall of Fame player.