Milan Hejduk shook his head when he was reminded he is the oldest player on the Colorado Avalanche.
"It tells you it goes fast," he said. "The whole career went pretty fast and all of a sudden I’m the oldest guy. But I guess that’s life."
The 35-year-old Hejduk is beginning his 13th season with the Avalanche, which has one of the youngest rosters in the NHL and could get younger if 18-year-old Gabriel Landeskog makes the team out of training camp.
It wasn’t that long ago that Hejduk and fellow rookie Chris Drury were billed as the "kid line" in 1998-99. Drury led all rookies with 20 goals that season and won the Calder Trophy, given to the top rookie. Hejduk, then 22, led all rookies with 48 points and finished third in the voting.
Drury and Hejduk had the advantage of playing under the radar that year thanks to the presence of superstars Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy.
Those stars have all retired while Hejduk has built an impressive career that’s still going strong. He has scored 35 goals or more five times, and won the Rocket Richard Trophy when he led the NHL with 50 goals in 2002-03.
He has 357 goals and 400 assists in 910 career games and his 757 points rank fourth all-time in franchise history. Last year, he had 22 goals to reach the 20-goal mark for the 11th straight season. He is tied with Sakic with 11 seasons of 20 or more goals.
"His longevity is unbelievable," said centre Matt Duchene, who was 7 when Hejduk played his first NHL game. "Scoring 20 goals that many years in a row is amazing."
Hejduk’s role this year will expand beyond scoring.
With the retirement of defenceman Adam Foote after last season, the Avalanche have a vacancy at captain, and Hejduk is a strong candidate to have the "C’’ on his sweater.
He has been an alternate captain for years and he said he would be happy to take it on.
"If it’s going to happen it’ll be great," he said. "If not, it won’t be a big deal."
Center Paul Stastny, another alternate, is also in the mix to become captain.
"There are a few guys that are capable of being captain," coach Joe Sacco said. "Hejduk and Stastny will continue to wear the A. That will be a process that plays itself out. We have very capable leaders in that locker room and there’s no timetable."
Whether or not he becomes the captain, Hejduk will be a leader on this team. He’s not one to raise his voice and prefers to let his preparation and play do his talking.
If needed, however, he will pull a teammate aside.
"If I see something that will help out some guy I’ll talk to him on the bench, in the locker room," he said. "You’re kind of setting an example for the young guys, either on the ice or off the ice, and try to do the right things."
Hejduk hasn’t said how much longer he’ll play in the NHL. For now he’s content to evaluate after each season.
"From my standpoint, and even the team standpoint, I don’t want to force them to sign me for three or four years and then I quit after one year, because that’s not right," he said. "So go year by year, see if you can still play, and if the team is still interested we’ll have an agreement again and see how it goes."