Paul Gillis

When the Quebec Nordiques traded Dale Hunter in 1987, it was said that they traded away the heart of the franchise. The Nords were never the same without Hunter, but at the time they felt they had a capable replacement for Hunter in Paul Gillis.

Gillis was a replica of Hunter in many ways. Paul was an excellent team man, demonstrating intense work ethic and desire and natural leadership skills. Although somewhat small (5'11" and 195lbs), Gillis played a ferocious physical game. He hit everyone at every opportunity and was a good corner and boards player. A strong skater, Gillis also showed great anticipation to become a great forechecker and defensive forward. He, like Hunter, was also strong on face-offs.

Gillis had three strong seasons prior to the Hunter trade. His rookie season was 1983-84 when he chipped in 8 goals and 9 assists but the followed that up with 42, 43 and 39 point seasons playing behind the likes of Hunter and number one center Peter Stastny. The thinking was that Gillis was ready to move up into Hunter's role, and that the Nords would trade Hunter for some badly needed depth on the wings and a first round draft pick. (Hunter and goalie Clint Malarchuk were traded to Washington for wingers Gaetan Duchesne and Alan Haworth. The first round pick was used to select Joe Sakic).

However Gillis was not a true offensive player. His great anticipatory skills weren't translated into a strong offensive game and he lacked puck skills. He worked hard to get loose pucks, but once he got that loose puck, he wasn't able to create much with it. He was an opportunistic scorer, unlike Hunter who was truly gifted with the puck.

Gillis struggled to a bad season. He played in all 80 games but his scoring totals dipped to just 7 goals and 17 points. He returned to his previous form in 1988-89 when he scored 15 goals and 40 points, but to expect anything more from Gillis was unrealistic.

Paul never produced much after that season. He had 8 goals and 22 assists in 1989-90, which in itself was a small miracle. Gillis missed training camp and the beginning of the season after contracting a scary virus in the off-season. This virus was no cold or flu, but rather triggered a rare neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. After a stint in hospital, doctors determined the case was relatively mild, although he did suffer from nerve inflammation leaving no feeling in his legs or fingers.

1990-91 proved to be Gillis' final season in the beautiful city of Quebec, as he scored just 3 goals and 13 assists. That 1990-91 season saw Gillis end the year with the Chicago Blackhawks as he was traded with Dan Vincelette for Ryan McGill and Mike McNeil.

Gillis spent most of the 1991-92 season in the minor leagues. It wasn't until a late season trade to Hartford that Gillis returned to the NHL, playing his typical spirited play as the Whalers went into the playoffs. However Gillis would play in only 21 games in 1992-93 before retiring due to injuries.

Perhaps the Nordiques expected too much of Paul Gillis when they traded away Dale Hunter. But while Gillis failed to fill Hunter's shoes offensively, in many ways he was almost a clone of the feisty leader. Gillis' true value could not be measured by simple scoring stats.


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