Editor’s Note: In homage to “Who Wore it Best?” the NHL-produced series featured on both NHL.com and the league’s broadcast partners, JFTC continues its regular feature highlighting the top players to wear each sweater number in Kings’ franchise history. Check back to our first edition for a discussion of the selection process.
In our previous installments, we discovered a trend when it comes to Kings’ equipment staff handing out sweaters. While it should have come as no surprise to even the most casual fan that all 15 players to have worn no. 1 for the Kings have been goalies, only a more knowledgeable follower would have predicted that all 27 players to have worn no. 2, as well as all 22 players to have donned the no. 3, were defenseman. Thus it was certainly less than shocking to discover a continued synergy when it comes to the no. 4.
Of the 16 players in Kings’ history who have worn the no. 4 sweater, 15 were defenseman. The only non-blueliner was (surprise!) current Kings color commentator Jim Fox, who played right wing. Fox wore no. 19 during his first nine seasons with the club. However, exhibiting the class he is known for in both the hockey and oenophile communities, Fox yielded no. 19 to Hall of Famer Larry Robinson, when the Montreal legend joined the Kings prior to the 1989-90 season. Fox appeared in 11 games that season wearing the no. 4 before retiring due to a knee injury.
Three different players wore no. 4 during the Kings’ inaugural 1967-68 season. Jacques LeMieux, a 6-foot-2, 190 pound defender, played 16 early-season games for the club before being sent to the minors following a November 19, 1967 home victory over the Canadiens. Despite being two inches shorter and 15 pounds heavier than LeMieux, Brent Hughes apparently “fit the suit,” donning Lemieux’s former jersey for the team’s next game, a clash with Bay Area rival Oakland. Less than a month later, Jim Murray suited up in the no. 4 sweater for a December 21, 1967 home date with the Penguins.
Of the 16 players to wear no. 4 for the Kings, 15 were born in Canada and one in the United States (Russ Anderson).
On January 17, 2015 the team retired no. 4 in honor of Rob Blake. Blake tops the franchise charts in games played (805), goals (161), assists (333), points (494) and penalty minutes (1231) by a player wearing no. 4. While Dave Hutchison is the team’s all-time plus/minus leader among no. 4s with a career plus 27, Blake’s plus 18 during the 1992-93 conference championship campaign is the top single-season plus/minus rating among all Kings to have worn the No. 4 sweater (Blake is a surprising career minus 88 with the Kings).
And though Boston’s Anson Carter scored the first goal in the new building, Blake scored the first Kings goal in Staples Center history:
Who wore No. 4 best?
Rob Blake (1989-2001; 2006-08)
Following his freshman year at Bowling Green State University, Blake was drafted by the Kings in the fourth round (70th overall) of the 1988 NHL Entry Draft. He joined the club after three NCAA seasons, playing in the final four games of the 1989-90 season.
He was named to the NHL’s All-Rookie Team in 1991 posting 12 goals and 46 points. NHL.com describes Blake’s burst onto the scene as: “He quickly showed that he had the skills to play in the NHL. His passes were crisp, his shot was booming and his body checks were punishing. He was a younger version of [Larry] Robinson, a defenseman who could defend and punish opposing forwards physically but also contribute offensively.”
Blake posted a career-high 48 assists and 68 points during the 1993-94 season, earning the first of four All-Star game appearances he would make representing Los Angeles. He won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman in 1998 after recording a career-high 23 goals to go with 50 points.
Injuries limited Blake to six games in 1995-96. Despite his absence from the ice he was named the 11th captain in team history when Wayne Gretzky was traded to St. Louis. Blake wore the “C” until Feb. 21, 2001 when the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent was traded (along with Steven Reinprecht) to Colorado in exchange for Adam Deadmarsh, Aaron Miller, a player to be named later (Jared Aulin) and Colorado’s first-round draft picks in 2001 (Dave Steckel) and 2003 (Brian Boyle).
After spending five seasons in Colorado, Blake returned to the Kings as a free agent prior to the 2006-07 season. Although Mattias Nordstrom, who had assumed the team captaincy upon Blake’s departure, offered the “C” back to Blake, Blake declined and served as alternate captain. When Nordstrom was traded to Dallas in Feb. 2007, Blake turned in the “A” and reassumed the “C”. (Fans of American history may recognize Nordstrom to be the Kings’ “Benjamin Harrison” to Rob Blake’s “Grover Cleveland,” the only US president to serve two non-consecutive terms.)
In addition to winning the 1998 Norris Trophy, Blake was also voted the Kings Most Popular player, Most Inspirational Player and Most Valuable Player that season. He was also a six-time winner of the Kings Outstanding Defenseman Award and a three-time winner of the team’s Jim Fox Community Service Award.
Blake signed with San Jose as a free agent prior to the 2008-09 season. He played two seasons with the Sharks before retiring in 2010. The Simcoe, Ontario native was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014. He currently serves as Vice President and General Manager of the Kings.
Do you agree or disagree (seriously?) with the selection of Rob Blake as the Kings’ “No. 1 of No. 4s?” Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below or hit up Mark on Twitter at @DevoreOnSports. Stay safe, and as always, Go Kings Go!