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Hossa's numbers, game earn him respect

The Blackahawks' Marian Hossa is still skating strong in his 17th NHL season. Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane was celebrating his own milestone after reaching 500 career points on Sunday, but he preferred to divert the attention to what teammate Marian Hossa was on the verge of accomplishing.

"I think a couple games or next game we'll get an even better milestone when big Hoss reaches a thousand," Kane said Sunday.

Kane's statement was partially about Hossa being two points shy of 1,000 in his career, but it was also about how much respect he possesses for Hossa. It's a feeling shared by most of the Blackhawks. While the numbers Hossa has put up throughout his 17-year career are impressive, it's his work ethic in all zones and how he acts as a teammate that has made him so revered in the locker room.

"He's someone I looked up to before I was even in the NHL," said Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg, who is 28. "I know two of my best friends back home, he's their favorite player growing up, too. Just to get to know him as a person is even better. He's the best pro I ever played with. Off the ice, he's the most kind and generous person. To see this [milestone] hopefully happen soon for him is going to be a very special moment for him and for us to share with him."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has described Hossa as the "perfect pro" and has always admired Hossa, 35, for his all-around game. As many of the Blackhawks' prospects first learn when they arrive to Chicago, Quenneville values a defensively responsible player.

"He's one of those players that even when he was scoring big numbers, he was responsible," Quenneville said. "His two-way game was always in place because he back checks harder than anyone in the game. He goes the same way on the offensive side of things, but I think he's at that point in his career where whether he's scoring or not scoring, he still contributes in a positive way to your team game.

"We still play him in all situations as well. It doesn't matter what his production is at the end of the year, you know he was a big part and an influence on how we have to play the right way."

Quenneville loves to coach Hossa; others hate to coach against him.

"He scares you every time he gets on the ice," Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's got a tremendous release of his shot. He's really fast, deceptively fast and strong. And he really plays the position well. He's a great player. There's a reason you win two Stanley Cups in the last four years and he's been in four Stanley Cup finals right now. He's just a great player."

Hossa admitted he wasn't always that two-way player. When he broke into the league at age 19 with the Ottawa Senators, he was offensive-minded. It wasn't until his mid-20s he began thinking defensively as well. He is now considered one of the game's top defensive forwards. He finished fifth in the Selke Trophy voting last season.

"In my beginning of my career, I was more of an offensive player than the game I'm playing now," Hossa said. "Over the career, I enjoyed to do other things than just put in points or scoring goals. I definitely enjoy the two-way game."

It's not as if he doesn't still enjoy accumulating points, though. Even as Hossa has aged -- he'll turn 36 in January -- he still has been able to utilize his speed and strength to get past opponents and consistently rack up points. He has 279 points in 323 games with the Blackhawks in the past six seasons. He had 30 goals and 30 assists in 72 games last season.

Hossa credited his offensive success to playing with good teammates and remaining healthy. He got a health scare when a disk in his back shot into a nerve during the Stanley Cup finals in 2013. His back continued to bother him during training camp last season, but treatment began to work and he was able to play in 91 games, including 19 playoff games.

Because Hossa has felt good and still enjoys playing the game, he said he hasn't given retirement much thought. His contract runs through the 2020-21 season.

"I don't know [how much longer I want to play]," he said. "I don't think about it that way. I'll go season by season. If I still got the joy and feel healthy, I love to do it. I still feel before each game the same feeling. That's a good sign."

As for his upcoming milestone, Hossa felt lucky to be in his position.

"I would never have this thought in my head going that far," he said. "I'm just pretty grateful I'm here still at this point, got such a milestone to reach, hopefully, you know, soon."