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NHL Toronto Maple Leafs

Rant Sports Top 100 NHL Players: #71 Dion Phaneuf

John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

On June 21st, 2003, the Calgary Flames hoped to solidify their blue line when they selected defenseman Dion Phaneuf with the ninth overall pick. Drafted ahead of the likes of Jeff CarterZach PariseMike RichardsShea Weber, and countless other eventual NHL All-Stars, the Flames organization felt confident that the prospect from the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL would be a game changer on both ends of the ice. A two time member of the WHL All-Star team, Phaneuf totaled 64 G and 82 A in 255 WHL games.

At the start of the 2005 season he would get called up to the Flames, and never looked back. He played in all 82 contests in his rookie season and made his presence felt on both ends of the ice. Phaneuf showed he had a blistering slapshot in his repertoire, leaving goalies frozen in their stance.

Standing at 6’3″ 218 lbs., he quickly learned to use his massive frame to his advantage, bullying around opposing NHL forwards. On the backs of Phaneuf, Jarome Iginla, and goalie Miikka Kippursoff, the Flames won the Northwest Division, and placed 3rd in the Western Conference.

The future looked bright for the Calder Memorial Trophy finalist, and Phaneuf easily became a new favorite among with Flames faithful. He would miss just three games over the next two seasons while contributing 110 points, and adding a few accolades under his belt.

The then 21 year old was voted to the NHL All-Star team in Dallas, where he would contribute a goal and an assist as the Western Conference defeated the Eastern Conference, 12-9. Phaneuf would also get the honor of joining Team Canada for the first time at the 2007 World Championships in Moscow. Phaneuf showed great maturity for his age, and his 8 assists in 7 games helped lead Canada to a gold medal.

To go with his new bling, the Flames decided to reward their top defenseman with a 6 year, $39 million contract midway through the 2007 season, and it was rather well deserved. Phaneuf had posted a career high 60 points that season, and was quickly becoming one of the most feared players in the game for his violent hits.

Maybe it was the astronomical expectations that come with a contract like that, or maybe he was not prepared for the NHL spotlight, but Phaneuf could never return to top form with Calgary. His goal total dropped from 17 to 11 and his goal differential plummeted from +12 to -11.

All of a sudden, the high praises turned into thunderous boos, and despite a strong backing from the Flames management, Phaneuf was shipped to the Toronto Maple Leafs  during the 2009-2010 campaign. Despite posting just 2 goals in 26 games with the Leafs, Phaneuf brought fantastic leadership,  and was named alternate captain. By June 2010, the newest Defenseman on the team was given the “C” when Mats Sundin retired.

He posted a modest 30 points in 66 games with Toronto in 2011, but things seemed to be turning around for the 27 year old Phaneuf this past year. After missing 16 games to a leg injury, Phaneuf had a clean bill of health in 2011-12, playing in all 82 regular season games. He had 32 assists and 44 total points, his best in both categories since 2008, and made his first All-Star game appearance since his last full season in Calgary. Despite facing criticism as to whether or not he can be a good captain, Phaneuf certainly has the skills both on and off the ice to be a great leader.

When the league returns from its lockout, the Maple Leafs will certainly turn to Phaneuf to lead them to their first playoff appearance since 2003.

Jake Pavorsky is a contributor for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @JakePavorsky.