From Child Prodigy to Unappreciated Tradebait: A History of Jason Spezza's Playing Career

USA TODAY Sports

A timeline of Jason Spezza's career from junior until today, the day we say "Goodbye".

Jason Anthony Rocco Spezza was born in Mississauga, Ontario on June 13, 1983. From a young age, it was obvious that Jason Spezza would be a special kind of player.

The Boy Wonder

Spezza's play during his 1997-1998 bantam season with the junior Toronto Marlboros was nothing short of amazing, as he notched 53 goals and 114 points in 54 games. This feat earned him a spot as an underage player on the Brampton Battalion, an OHL expansion team during the 1998-1999 season. As a 15-year-old during that campaign, the young Spezza managed to post 71 points in 67 games.

Because Jason was an underage player when he was with Brampton (underage players were allowed to play for the OHL team where they lived), he had to enter the 1999 OHL Priority Draft. He was selected 1st overall by the Mississauga IceDogs, who were also an expansion team. In his first season with Mississauga, Spezza put up 61 points. That year, 2000, would also mark the first of three consecutive years that he would play in the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. Since he was 16 at the time, he (and teammate Jay Boumeester) Eric Lindros and Wayne Gretzky as the only 16-year-olds to represent Canada at the World Juniors.  Since then, only Sidney Crosby achieved the feat. Not bad company.

The following season (2000-2001), Spezza played only 15 games with the IceDogs before being traded to the Windsor Spitfires. During that split season, Spezza recorded 116 points (30 with the IceDogs, 86 with the Spitfires) in 66 games. His play was so impressive that he was named the CHL's top prospect leading into the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

At the time of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, the Ottawa Senators held the second overall pick, acquired from the New York Islanders as part of the infamous Alexei Yashin trade. With that pick, they selected the young phenom, Spezza. Only Ilya Kovalchuk was picked higher than Spezza that year. All of these accolades suggested that Spezza would become a superstar in the NHL one day.

The Rude Awakening

In 2001-2002, Spezza tried out for the Senators squad only to be cut from the team by then head coach Jacques Martin and GM Marshall Johnston. When asked why he was cut, Martin coldly labelled the young Spezza as "a boy playing a man's game." The 18-year-old who was always touted as a superstar in the making, had the wind taken out of his sails for the first time in his career and according to Ian Mendes, he was heartbroken. So Spezza returned to the OHL and split the season between the Spitfires and the Belleville Bulls, tallying 105 points. At the end of the season, Spezza joined the Grand Rapid Griffins (the Senators affiliate at the time) of the American Hockey League for the team's playoff run.

The next season, Spezza would join the re-located Griffins in Binghamton. In 43 games with the Binghamton Senators, Spezza had 54 points. His play was impressive enough for him to suit up for 33 games with Ottawa, including three playoff games.

The Birth of Jason Spezza Superstar

Finally, in 2003-2004, Spezza made the Ottawa Senators full-time and recorded 55 points, decent totals for a rookie; however, Spezza had to return to the AHL as a result of the NHL lockout in 2004-2005. The lockout proved beneficial for him because it was during that season that he blossomed as a professional hockey player. Spezza scored 117 points in 80 games for Binghamton and won the John B. Sollenger trophy as the league's leading scorer. His play also won him the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL's most valuable player.

The following season, Spezza was given the first-line centre duties with Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson as his wingers, forming the famed "Pizza Line" and what a thing of beauty it was. Spezza only played 68 games that season because of some injury issues. A few missed games didn't hurt his production, however, as he still put up 90 points and helped both Alfie and Heatley notch 103 points each. Yes, those were the days.

That brings us to the 2006-2007 season - the most successful season that the current Ottawa Senators have had. It was in this season that Spezza and his Pizza Line took the Senators all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. The season as a whole, was similar for Spezza as the year before: injuries kept him out of the lineup for 15 games, but he still reached 87 points.

In 2007-2008, Spezza was heading toward the end of his contract and was re-signed to his current contract by the Senators for seven years at $49 million. That year, he reached 92 points in 76 games, his most offensively productive season to date. The Senators also managed to make the playoffs despite struggling in the second half of the season, but were swept in the first round by the Pittsburgh Penguins. This season marked the start of troubles to come for Jason Spezza and the Ottawa Senators.

The Dark Ages

Despite playing all 82 games for the first time, Spezza's offensive production took a bit of a drop in 2008-2009, when he put up 73 points. That season marked his lowest point production since his rookie campaign. What made matters worse was that the Senators missed the playoffs that year for the first time since the mid-90s. It was certainly a tumultuous year for the Senators as they spent most of the season near the bottom of the league standings and ended up firing coach Craig Hartsburg. The off-season also saw the trade of Dany Heatley, ending an era. No longer would the Pizza line, led by Spezza, dominate the NHL.

Unfortunately for Spezza, 2009-2010 wasn't the best year for him either. Spezza missed 22 games because of injury, playing in only 60 games and seeing yet another drop in production. The Senators as a club bounced back and made the playoffs under Cory Clouston's watch, but lost again in the first round to the Penguins. After another playoff failure, the frustrations with Spezza's defensive play and turnovers grew louder than ever before. In fact, there were trade rumours swirling in the off-season and Spezza himself admitted that he wouldn't be terribly upset if he were dealt. Spezza wasn't traded, but the damage was done.

The next year was one of the toughest in Senators history and concluding with Murray trading veterans in an effort to re-build the once mighty empire. It was also one of the toughest for Spezza in terms of injuries. After a hit from behind from Kris Letang, Spezza suffered a shoulder injury and missed several weeks. He recovered though and played decently that season despite the team's many distractions.

A few short months after Murray re-tooled the Senators, both the team and Jason Spezza were back on the road to redemption. He was now a permanent alternate captain and stayed healthy for the entire year. He put up 84 points (fourth in league scoring), garnered Hart Trophy consideration, and proved to the hockey world that he wasn't finished yet. That year, Ottawa was also host to the All-Star game and Spezza was one of the team's representatives.

But as Spezza rises, Spezza falls just as quickly. During the 2012 lockout, he played in the Swiss National League where he posted a point-per-game. Once the lockout ended, it looked like Spezza's strong play would carry over into the shortened NHL season. It did - for five games. Then came the announcement: Spezza would be having back surgery for a lingering issue and would be out indefinitely. The oft-injured Spezza sat out for the remainder of the year, except for three playoff games. Luckily the team still performed better than expected in his absence.

During the 2013 off-season, he was granted the honour of wearing the 'C' on his chest as a result of the Daniel Alfredsson debacle. Spezza was given the captaincy, something he had been striving towards. The Senators were Spezza's team now and heading into the 2013-2014 season, things were looking up. The Pesky Sens had everything going for them, or at least on paper they did.

Many predicted the Sens would make waves in 2013-2014. Some even predicted that this could be "the" year for the team. They had a recovered Spezza, a newer Heatley in Bobby Ryan, outstanding goaltending, and a mostly healthy former Norris Trophy winning defenseman. The team couldn't lose, but they did. Many expected Spezza, as the new captain, to put the team on his back during the tough times and re-direct the ship. When the team continued to lose, all fingers were pointed at Spezza's leadership and streaky play. His defensive game was under scrutiny and he was once again (or as always), the Senators prime whipping-boy. This season seemed to be the boiling point for Spezza and has led us to today - the day we say goodbye to Jason Spezza, arguably one of the most talented player to lace his skates up for the Ottawa Senators. Good luck in Dallas, Mr. Spezza!

Spezza’s career achievements and awards:

2000: Bronze at the IIHF World Junior Championships

2001: Bronze at the IIHF World Junior Championships

2001: Won the OHL Top Draft Prospect Award

2002: Silver at the IIHF World Junior Championships

2003: AHL All-Rookie Team

2005: AHL First All-Star Team

2008: NHL All-Star

2008: Cover of NHL 2K8

2008: Silver at the World Championships

2009: Silver at the World Championships

2012: NHL All-Star

2012: Spengler Cup Champion

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