There was a time when Sheldon Souray had to consider the possibility that he might not ever play professional hockey again. After undergoing surgery upon surgery on his left wrist which would just not heal, one could understand his mind was wandering from hockey a little towards the simple fact he might not be able to lift his own child. Fortunately for both his new little girl and for the Habs, the final surgery turned out to be a success and, after a complete year layoff, Souray is now patrolling the blueline and lifting his pride and joy comfortably.
Drafted 71st overall in 1994 by the New Jersey Devils, the 6’4, 227 pound behemoth surely had a bright future. When you’re noticed by David Conte and Lou Lamoriello, you must have some really good qualities as those two are known to be some of the best talent evaluators in hockey. Sheldon didn’t disappoint. While not a dominant player in New Jersey, he was a solid defenseman the team used regularly.
On March 1st 2000, after spending two and a half seasons with the Devils, he was packaged with Josh DeWolf and a second round pick for Vladamir Malakhov, ostensibly the most talented player in the deal. In finishing the year with the Habs, fans were treated to a large defender who actually hit people regularly, rather than the departed Malakhov who, with all the talent in the world, was run out of town after skiing after a knee injury and playing with little passion.
The following year Souray missed the first part of the season due to injury, but came back to play solidly on the back end. While he was not a standout defender, he was generally reliable and a solid presence that the Habs sorely needed.
In 2001-2002, he first injured the wrist, and although he played in fits and spurts that year, he didn’t really show his potential until, despite the pain, he played a tremendous twelve games in the playoffs. It was the revelation that management and fans had been looking for and seemed to auger well for the future of the Hab blueline.
During the summer, he had surgery on the wrist, but the bone failed to heal properly. The following season was lost as he ended up having four surgeries on the wrist before blood flow was properly restored to the injured bone, thus allowing it to heal. Fingers were crossed that he’d come back and play like he had in the playoffs of 2002. Souray himself was gratified that the Habs had stuck with him and intended to repay the organization as best he could.
While his start was understandably slower than everyone might have wished, (a year of rust can do that to the best of players), once he found his game, Souray became the dominant force on the Montreal defensive corps. Slowly but surely he rediscovered his touch and play off the puck and took his place as the number one on a decidedly weak blueline.
This year, Souray has eclipsed his entire goal production from all his past years with 14 goals to date. His point total is almost three times higher than his best ever. Best of all, his defensive game is garnering some recognition around the league and has solidified his trade as one of the best in ages for the Canadiens.
All goals and points aside, the most pleasing aspect of Souray’s game has been his continual improvement. If there were thoughts of a ceiling to his talent, his recent play has probably given cause for a lot of raised brows. The game has started slowing down for him and he’s starting to do little things that only the best defensemen manage. Instead of a panic clear, he takes a step, pauses with the puck, and makes a strong outlet pass. Instead or rushing a pass to a covered teammate, he makes room for himself and finds a better choice. His defensive work in highly improved as well, led by intelligent use of his body and stick.
While he was once considered a strong defender with a ceiling of a team’s third best, he’s now looked at as someone who has the potential to be a real number one on any team in hockey. If his progression continues, there’s no reason the words ‘Norris’ and ‘Montreal’ might not be heard in the same sentence.
More than trophies or personal accolades, though, Souray is probably pleased just to get the chance to play the game he loves – and hoist his little girl after the game.