LongLostLeaf: Dmitry Yushkevich By Luke Garrison (Tuesday, July 24th 2018)
Photo by www.hfboards.com
For those who are wondering, 'LongLostLeaf’ was a segment I used to do a few years ago. I found it to be a fun way to remember older Leafs players, especially former fan favourites. So many of them are easily forgotten about now that the youth movement has arrived. After all, who's going to be thinking about Sergei Berezin or Lonny Bohonos when there's Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews? Right?!
Today, I’ll be looking at a rearguard who wore the blue and white for seven seasons. He also won a gold medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics. An incredible feat to be apart of before ever playing an NHL game. His name is Dmitry Yushkevich.
When he was first acquired by Toronto, the move was relatively unpopular. But the animosity from the fans had everything to do with how he was acquired, and nothing to do with Yushkevich himself.
The 90s were filled with mismanaged assets and heartbreak for the Leafs and their fans. To them, Dmitry symbolized a missed opportunity. Another first-round pick traded away and for what? His first three seasons with Toronto were abysmal and that only served to add fuel to the fire. He never managed to eclipse 14 points during any of those seasons and was consistently a minus player (remember when that was still a thing?).
But in 1998-1999 season, something finally clicked. Pat Quinn saw something in him and his patience paid off as the young defender finally had a breakout season. Through 78 games, Yushkevich amassed 6 goals and 28 points to go along with a +25 rating (still weird to mention plus-minus ratings). Perhaps Quinn was ahead of the game and already knew about the often longer development curve that defencemen take. After all, he did apparently coin the phrase "lower-body injury".
From there, the Russian blue-liner became a leader and a force amongst his teammates. The most classic example of his defensive effectiveness stems from the 1999 playoffs. He was paired with Danny Markov and that pairing was essential in shutting down Jaromir Jagr's line as the Leafs beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, advancing to the Eastern Conference finals.
The next year, Dmitry was named an all-star. This was an extra special honour given that the 2000 NHL all-star game was held in Toronto.
Unfortunately, Yushkevich's career as a Leaf came to an abrupt end. In February of 2002, he was diagnosed with a life-threatening blood clot and was forced to miss the rest of the season. Despite his willingness to mount a risky return just in time for the playoffs, the Leafs simply wouldn't allow it.
He was traded to the Florida Panthers that summer on July 18th. The trade seems to have a negative effect on the rest of his career (although it was probably mostly the blood clot) and he was traded three more times during the next season. After the 2002-03 season, he abandoned his NHL career forever and took off for the Russian SuperLeague (which has since amalgamated into the KHL).
His career back overseas was moderately successful when things took another dark turn. In January of 2008, his wife Oksana suddenly passed away (allegedly from cancer) and he took it upon himself to retire in order to look after his three children. He was able to return to the KHL next season (2008-09) and even played the 2009-10 season after that in the SM-Liiga (the Finnish Elite League).
Dmitry then opted to hang them up for good (although he may be in a Russian beer league of sorts, who knows?). On February 17th, 2014 he was part of the first ever group to be inducted into the Russian Hockey Hall of Fame.
One thing's for sure: Yushkevich left way too soon. But an unfortunate tragedy still can't take away all of the good years he gave Leafs Nation.