Discover more from JK's Takes
Talking jersey numbers & the logic behind them
Have you ever thought about some jersey numbers' meanings? Well, I certainly have. And before you say it, yes. I am a nerd. But hear me out anyway.
The Stars haven't signed Jason Robertson yet as of this writing and the hockey season is still a few weeks ahead of us, so let's have some fun talk instead.
I'm what you might call a jersey enthusiast or aficionado. Not only from the design perspective, where the big talk of the day right now is about jersey ads. Just to touch on this, I'm not strictly against it – I just hope their integration could be done much smoother and not just stick any type of logo to some classic jersey, as was done with the latest version of Montreal Canadiens sweater. Yuck.
My interest lies also in the jersey numbers on the back.
In football (US fans might call it soccer) there is an actual hierarchy, in which your jersey number defines your position on the pitch. I honestly don't know if there's any other big collective sport that has it this way. Historically the players in the starting 11 were always wearing numbers from 1-11 that were interchangeable within the team from match to match, depending which player came from the bench. If you are starting for the team, you'd get assigned a jersey number up to 11.
It wasn't until 30 or 40 years ago when the teams started to use numbers higher than 11 for players in the starting eleven. I think that we can all agree that from the jersey sales perspective or bearing in mind players' personal brands, having a certain number associated with a certain player is better. But there is still some basic theme in football that strikers wear numbers 9 or 10, some wingers wear 11 and central midfielders wear numbers 6 or 8. There are still even positions labeled as typical Number 9, in which Karim Benzema (a name I didn't really expect to pop up in this blog) is currently probably the best example of.
In hockey, there is no such thing. There isn't really a position where let's say number 9 should play, but it has become a theme that lower numbers are mostly assigned to defensemen and higher numbers to forwards. It's also not entirely possible to follow that logic, as there are generally 23 players on your NHL roster and other 30 or 40 in minors, juniors or other levels but still within your organization.
What I like about Jim Nill is that he's some sort of a traditionalist and wants to keep lower numbers for defencemen. We can also assume a role player will have on the team if he's assigned a single-digit number, like Nils Lundkvist was, just a couple of days ago.
Miro Heiskanen was immediately given number 4 and make no mistake, that jersey will be going to the rafters sometime in the 2030s. Julius Honka, another highly touted prospect was given 6, while Jamie Oleksiak was given 5 initially and then switched to 2 after his short tenure with Pittsburgh. John Klingberg was immediately handed a number 3 and really lived up to its expectations.
It doesn't also mean the lower the number is, the higher the expectations are. But strictly speaking, if you're handed numbers 2 to 6 for the Dallas Stars, the management group thinks highly of you, especially if you're a young player or a draftee. For example, writing is on the wall that number 6 is quietly waiting for Christian Kyrou, despite the fact it was just recently given to Colin Miller. He has 2 years on his deal and Stars are counting Kyrou might need 2 years at minimum to be NHL ready. He could be their desired number 6 that Honka never was.
I also think number 2 is waiting for Artem Grushnikov or Lian Bichsel, once Jani Hakanpaa's contract is up, because in Dallas, it just symbolizes big body presence on their D – all the way from current Hakanpaa's predecessor in Oleksiak to the Derian Hatcher era.
Another interesting thing is when a player is personally associated with a certain jersey number. Roope Hintz wore number 10 in Finland but it was occupied when he came from Europe so he was elected with 24 – and I must say I really love that number on him. It might have symbolized he has the best flow on the team 24 hours a day, but now with his new haircut, let's just go with the best style, 24 hours a day. And I'm only partly joking here.
Jason Robertson's go-to-number in the juniors has been 19. Even his handle on social media is connected with that number. That is retired obviously, so he had to pick a different one. Players often do the old switcheroo and just revert numbers to create 91 in this case, but that has already been done by Tyler Seguin in 2013. So he opted for a brand new number – 21. While I disliked that at the time, as I was picturing Robertson with number 18 instead, I have to admit – it grew on me. One of the most famous number 21 out there, Peter Forsberg is a good example to follow.
Ty Dellandrea wore number 53 in Flint but once his junior career was over, he was handed number 10 – and you could tell the front office sees him as a staple in the lineup going forward. Same goes for Riley Damiani, as he continued to wear number 13 that has been with him since his Kitchener days and is also a part of his Instagram handle, which gives a new perspective into all of this jersey talk sometimes.
Here comes the business perspective from it, as well. You see players associated with a number and creating their own brands with it. It was the reason why an F1 driver Lando Norris chose number 4 on his car. He simply said it just fit perfectly into his logo, so there goes much more thought into that process than just simple “here's your number”.
Coming back to the Dallas Stars, what surprised me just a bit was they handed number 22 to Matej Blumel at the start of the Traverse City tournament. I thought they were saving that number for Mavrik Bourque, who has been wearing it for all his junior years with Shawanigan and also has it as his Instagram handle. Blumel on the other hand was wearing number 23 for Dynamo Pardubice in Czech League and 95 for the Czech national team, so he has no connection to 22, but I digress.
There will definitely be some numbers shuffling, because Jim Nill simply doesn't really like when a player, who is staple in the team, is wearing a random big number and from a visual perspective, I'm very glad for that. Think of Antoine Roussel, who initially wore 60 but then changed to 21, once it was clear he would be part of the team for good.
Mavrik Bourque wears 45 right now, Wyatt Johnston is currently assigned 53 and Logan Stankoven 57. Those are just ugly numbers for future stars, if you ask me.
I thought there was a way for Bourque with 22 – and maybe there still is. Logan Stankoven will probably not make the team initially, but he has been linked with number 11 in juniors and also on his personal social media profiles. That leads me to think that once Luke Glendening's contract is up – Stankoven will wear number 11 for the Dallas Stars – which is a jersey I'd buy in advance.
Big question mark is Johnston but I think they should go with number 18 for him. It's a really good looking hockey number and it's free at the moment in the Stars locker room. If he makes the league – expect him to change from his current (in my opinion) ugly 53. It's for the same reason Trevor Zegras switched from 46 to 11 and Jamie Drysdale from 34 to 6.
Don't get me wrong, I love the occasional unorthodox number. Hell, one is under the roof in the AAC in Sergei Zubov. I also loved number 73 on Michael Ryder, for those who remember him, or even better - 96 with Fabian Brunnstrom. I just also like when the player is marketed properly and somehow the jersey feels way nicer with a number like 18 than 64, no disrespect to Tanner Kero.
Thomas Harley wears number 55 and it really looks okay on him. I thought of him switching to 5 or a 3, I did. But for some reason, that double digit type of jersey numbers from 11 all the way to 88 (not counting 66 and 99 for obvious reasons) have some special feel about them. Maybe that was the reason William Nylander switched from pretty okay number 29 to 88.
Speaking of 29.
Is it just me or that number 30 would look just perfect on Jake Oettinger? He wore number 29 in his first year in Boston in the NCAA only to switch to 30 and played with that. His Instagram handle? Jake30Oettinger. You could even make the case for him to make this his own personal brand and lose the letter for the numbers.
Am I going too far on this?
29 is legit a good goalie number with the likes of Ken Dryden or more recently Marc-Andre Fleury donning it rather successfully. And I also get the sentiment that fans have already paid for his jersey with 29 and he had some success with it, too. But he wouldn't be the first one to change it. Nylander did a nice gesture, in which he paid for re-stitching his fans' jerseys to a new number. There are always ways to go about these things.
Sometimes I miss goalies wearing number 1, as currently there is only Thomas Greiss that comes to mind who wears that number, but Roberto Luongo was truly a great ambassador for that number. In Dallas, things went rather south with that, as Jack Campbell truly wanted to be that number one from the get-go and opted to wear it immediately only to succeed elsewhere with a totally different number and rather unusual number for a goalie (36), when the expectations were set much lower.
It's funny how the jersey number might mean literally nothing to somebody, yet there is a guy whose early career was reasonably affected by it. And that's what I love about jersey numbers, that they in many cases symbolize something the same way, the jersey color or logo does.
It's the part (or at least it should be) of the DNA when constructing a brand for a player and I feel there are still ways to go for teams in the NHL to take advantage of that hidden potential.
A jersey number certainly brings that. You just have to look behind the numbers.
Thanks for reading JK's Takes! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.