Sweater numbers are synonymous with players. Most hockey fans can instantly tell you a great player by the number they wear on their back. There are many different stories about how players became associated with the famous numbers. Many odd and interesting facts surround these numbers as well. As we count down the start of the 2023-24 NHL season, we take a look at the story behind the numbers. Today we continue with sweater number 79. Keep up to date with the series everyday until the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.
Behind the Sweater Number: 79
The First 79s
According to Hockey Reference, 26 players have worn sweater number 79. The first in NHL history was Vladimir Vujtek of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Czech forward had the number for 30 games for the club in the 1997-98 season. Vujtek had worn other numbers like 14 and 23 before landing on 79. However, he wouldn’t wear the number for very long. He’d end up wearing nine and 19 in his 110-game NHL career.
We’ll get to the next player to wear sweater number 79, but another quality player had 79 around the same time. Alexei Yashin had come over from the Ottawa Senators to play for the New York Islanders. Yashin had worn 19 for the Senators, but 19 was retired in Long Island for Bryan Trottier. One would think he’d switch to 91. However, he threw a curveball and went with 79.
Yashin never lived up to the massive contract that was given to him. However, he did serve as the team’s captain and put up 290 points in 346 games. The Russian did have a great opening part to his career with Ottawa.
The Top 79
Andrei Markov was the second player in league history to take sweater number 79. The Russian defenceman first took the number in the 2000-01 season and it would be the only number he’d ever wear. Markov would assert himself as one of the most complete defenders in the league in the 2000s and 2010s. He would be a staple of the Montreal Canadiens lineup for a number of seasons.
He would score 16 goals in the 2007-08 season and then have 64 points in the following campaign. The former sixth round pick was one of the best draft steals in Canadiens draft history. He would go onto play 990 games and rack up 572 points. Markov served as one of the best players on the Habs franchise in the opening part of the 2000s.
The Rising 79s
Markov and Yashin have held the monopoly on great-playing NHLers that have worn sweater number 79. However, there are some very good youngsters wearing the number. Ross Colton had the number for a spell in Tampa Bay, but switch to 20 after being traded to the Colorado Avalanche.
However, a pair of Metropolitan Division players might challenge for the best to wear the number in the future. Philadelphia Flyers goalie Carter Hart has had some struggles, but the team construction around him has struggled. Hart is a capable netminder that hasn’t gotten a lot of support in front of him.
The next player is K’Andre Miller with the New York Rangers. Miller has worn 79 since breaking with the Blueshirts in 2020-21. He’s turning into a solid part of the Rangers’ blueline that boasts Adam Fox. The former University of Wisconsin product is hopefully ready to take the next step in his game.
Odds and Ends
The NHL’s first Australian Nathan Walker broke in with sweater number 79 before switching to 26. Micheal Ferland has donned the number for his entire 335-game NHL career. Drake Batherson pulled a reverse Yashin by going from 79 to 19. The future of 79 seems to be in good hands, but someone else could emerge.
Main photo by: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)