Jersey number 9 is arguably the most legendary in NHL history. With the likes of Gordie Howe, Maurice Richard, Mike Modano and many others all having donned ‘9’ on their backs, it’s hard to find a numeral associated with more of the game’s all-time greats.
While no player anywhere near the status of those legends has worn number 9 for the Columbus Blue Jackets, it has seen a little ice time with the likes of Scottie Upshall, Colton Gillies, Jeremy Morin and Gregory Campbell. Soon, another name will join that list.
Artemi Panarin will wear #9 for Columbus Blue Jackets.
— Dan Milstein-Hockey (@HockeyAgent1) June 27, 2017
New Blue Jackets forward Artemi Panarin has a chance to become the best number 9 Columbus has seen in its brief franchise history, but it will be no easy task for him to surpass the team’s first: David Vyborny. Those who have not followed the franchise may not know how to properly pronounce his name, or remember him at all, but it’s safe to assume the Columbus faithful should.
A Global Gamer
Even after the Oilers selected Vyborny in the second round of the 1993 NHL Draft, the man from the Czech Republic spent most of the 1990s playing for European squads. Other than suiting up for the AHL’s Cape Breton Oilers in 1994-95, he skated across the pond until the Blue Jackets signed him in 2000.
Vyborny began his NHL career as a 25-year-old rookie on Oct. 7, 2000, the night of the Blue Jackets’ inaugural regular-season game. He scored a goal that evening and finished his first NHL campaign with 32 points in 79 games, ranking 10th in the league in rookie scoring.
Before and after coming to the NHL, Vyborny was a frequent member of Czech Republic national teams, playing in two World Junior Championships and representing his country in 12 World Championships. He was also a member of the 2006 Czech Republic Olympic team that earned a bronze medal.
An Early Mainstay
Vyborny suited up for the Blue Jackets in each of the franchise’s first seven seasons, which comprised his entire NHL career. Those were, to put it delicately, some lean years in Columbus, and Vyborny was a consistent presence for a team working to find its footing. He played 75 games or more in each of his first six NHL seasons, twice playing in all 82 contests.
Beyond simply being on the ice consistently, Vyborny also became a reliable scorer for the Blue Jackets. He tallied more than 45 points in four consecutive seasons, leading the team in scoring twice with 65 in 2005-06 and 64 in 2006-07. His 317 career points rank second in Columbus franchise history, while his 543 games played rank third.
It seems criminal that the Blue Jackets’ first season without Vyborny was also the first in which they reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That was clearly a coincidence, as he was one of the team’s best and most consistent performers during its early seasons.
The Bread Man Cometh
We already mentioned the four other players to wear 9 for Columbus, none of whom made much of a mark on the franchise compared to Vyborny—Gregory Campbell leads that group in games played and points scored for the Blue Jackets with 82 and 11, respectively. So Panarin, recently acquired in a trade that sent Brandon Saad back to the Blackhawks, seems all but guaranteed to become one of the best to wear the number for the Blue Jackets.
Panarin has scored 30 goals and more than 70 points in each of his first two NHL seasons, two feats Vyborny did not accomplish during his NHL career. There’s no guarantee that Panarin will continue to produce at that rate, but it’s clear he has the ability to score in this league.
Still, it will take more than scoring for him to challenge Vyborny for jersey number supremacy. A big part of what makes Vyborny such a large figure in Blue Jackets history is the time he put in with the franchise over seven seasons. Panarin is signed for two seasons, with his contract expiring after 2018-19. And even if Panarin does remain with the team beyond his current contract, pile up points and make a major impact in Columbus, Vyborny’s place in Blue Jackets lore will remain as one of the early faces of the franchise.
No number 9 can take that from him.
Jeff is a college hockey and Columbus Blue Jackets contributor for The Hockey Writers. He is a former TV sports reporter who has covered, broadcasted, coached and played hockey at various levels. You can follow him on Twitter @jeff_schaffer13