Aggressive, big, clutch, and supremely skilled, John LeClair was the total package.
Best known for his time with the Philadelphia Flyers on the “The Legion of Doom” line with Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg, the Vermont-born left-winger is the first American player ever to notch 50 goals in three consecutive seasons and one of the best power forwards in recent memory.
LeClair Began in La Belle Province
Before his days owning opponents with both his skill and size for the Flyers, LeClair was a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Les Habitants drafted the 6-foot-3, 225-pound forward 33rd overall in 1987 after he spent four seasons with the Vermont Catamounts, an NCAA Division 1 Squad. LeClair made his NHL debut on March 9, 1991 against the Vancouver Canucks and scored a goal in a 4-2 win.
After splitting 1991-92 between the Canadiens and their AHL affiliate in Fredricton, LeClair broke out the next season, recording 19 goals and 25 assists for 44 points.
It was in that campaign he showed the propensity for being a clutch competitor that would characterize his play over his 17-year career. During the 1992-93 Stanley Cup playoffs, LeClair led all skaters with three game-winning tallies, and scored consecutive overtime winners in Games 3 and 4 of the Final against the Los Angeles Kings. The Canadiens beat the Kings four games to one and LeClair hoisted the Cup.
LeClair Joins the Flyers’ Legion of Doom
In Feb. 1995, the Canadiens traded LeClair to the Flyers along with Eric Desjardins and Gilbert Dionne in exchange for Mark Recchi and a third round pick in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft.
LeClair immediately bonded with fellow big-bodied power forward Eric Lindros, who was also just entering his prime and in his fourth NHL campaign since the blockbuster trade that brought him to the Flyers from the Quebec Nordiques. Flanked by Mikael Renberg on the right, the trio quickly established themselves as one of the most fearsome lines in the NHL, one that could score in bunches but also impose their will on opponents and bash them around. The ‘Legion of Doom’ racked up 666 points in three seasons together.
LeClair Makes History
In 1995-96, LeClair exploded and reached the 50-goal plateau for the first time, scoring 51 and adding 46 assists for by far his best season as a professional. He followed that up with 50 goals in 1996-97 and 51 in 1997-98 — even though the Legion of Doom had been broken up in the offseason prior to 1997098 as Renberg was traded away — becoming the first American to ever accomplish the feat.
LeClair continued being clutch for the Flyers’ team that found sustained success from the mid-1990s on. He recorded nine goals and 21 points in their run to the Cup Final in 1996-97 (which they lost to the Detroit Red Wings) and 35 goals and 39 assists in 116 postseason games overall. In fact, Flyers never missed the playoffs in LeClair’s ten seasons. During this time, he was also a member of the 1998 U.S. Olympic teams.
LeClair’s Sustained Success
Even though he’d never reach 50 goals again, LeClair continued to be highly productive — he recorded 90 points in 1998-99 and 77 in 1999-2000, his first year as a Flyers’ alternate captain.
Related: Philadelphia Flyers’ 50-Goal Scorers
In the 2000s, LeClair struggled through some injuries and was limited to 16 games in 2000-2001 and 35 in 2002-2003. He was, however, able to represent the U.S. at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, and netted six goals on the silver medal-winning squad in Salt Lake City.
His 10th and final season with the Flyers was 2003-2004, where he recorded 23 goals and 35 assists for 55 points and two goals and two assists during the Flyers’ run to the Eastern Conference Final.
LeClair Joins Penguins Post-Lockout
After the lockout kiboshed the 2004-05 NHL season and a salary cap was instituted, the Flyers bought LeClair out and he signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
While his best years were behind him by then, he still recorded 51 points in 2005-06 before being limited to 21 games the following season.
After the 2006-07 campaign, LeClair retired at the age of 37.
LeClair Boasts an Impressive Resume
On his career, LeClair netted 406 goals and 413 assists for 819 points in 967 career games and is 13th all-time in points among American-born players.
He was a five-time All-Star, twice an NHL First Team All-Star and thrice an NHL Second Team All-Star. He enjoyed six seasons in the top 10 in goals and four seasons in the top 10 in points, plus/minus, power play tallies, goals per game, and hat tricks. LeClair led the league with a plus-44 rating when the Flyers won the Eastern Conference crown in 1996-97.
He is undoubted Flyers royalty and sits fifth all-time on their franchise leaderboard in goals with 333, eighth in points with 643, ninth in plus/minus at plus-197, fourth in power play goals with 102, and first in game-winning goals with 61.
While he may never be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame like Lindros was, he was certainly one of the most dominant players of the 1990s whose style of game still lives on in players such as Ryan Getzlaf, Milan Lucic, and former Flyer Wayne Simmonds.