Defying those that felt he might have been too small to play in the National Hockey League, Paul Kariya starred in the NHL for 15 seasons before concussion symptoms brought a premature conclusion to his outstanding career.
Born October 16, 1974 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Kariya chose to pursue his hockey career through the American college route. He attended the University of Maine, and in his freshman year, led the Black Bears to the 1993 NCAA title with 42 wins, one loss and two ties while scoring 25 goals and 100 points. He was selected as the winner of the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in the NCAA, becoming the first freshman in history to earn the distinction.
That summer, he was chosen by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim with the fourth overall selection in the NHL Entry Draft. He stayed in college for one more year, serving as captain, but joined Team Canada for the 1994 Winter Olympics. Once the international tournament concluded, with Kariya and his teammates earning the silver medal, Paul decided not to return to the University of Maine and made the decision to turn pro.
After a lock-out shortened the 1994-95 season, Kariya joined the Mighty Ducks and in 47 games, led the team with 18 goals and 39 points. He was named to the NHL’s All-Rookie Team and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
During Kariya's second season, he was chosen to play in the 1996 NHL All-Star Game. Less than a month after the game, the Mighty Ducks acquired Teemu Selanne from the Winnipeg Jets. Selänne was placed on Kariya's line and for several seasons, the two wingers formed one of the NHL’s highest scoring duos. Kariya finished the season with 50 goals and 58 assists for 108 points, tying Selanne for seventh in league scoring. Kariya was also honoured with the Lady Byng Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player, and he was voted onto the NHL’s First All-Star Team.
In 1996-97, Kariya was chosen as the team captain. Again, he was selected to play in the All-Star Game, and he finished the season with 44 goals and 55 assists, third-best in the NHL. For a second consecutive season, he was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy and was named to the First All-Star Team. Paul was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. The Mighty Ducks reached the playoffs for the first time and advanced to the second round before being eliminated.
A contract dispute and his fourth concussion in three years reduced Kariya’s 1997-98 season to 22 games, although he still managed to produce 17 goals and 31 points. Fully recovered for the 1998–99 season, Kariya finished with 39 goals and a personal best 62 assists for 101 points, ranking him third in scoring. He broke his foot in the playoffs and Anaheim was eliminated by Detroit in the opening round. Kariya was selected to the NHL First All-Star for the third time.
Paul Kariya found a new spark when the Mighty Ducks traded for Adam Oates and placed the two together on a line. He was invited to his seventh and final NHL All-Star Game and scored the winning goal. In 2002-03, he scored 25 goals and 56 assists, leading Anaheim in scoring for the fifth time and helped the Mighty Ducks return to the playoffs for the first time in four years. Anaheim swept the Detroit Red Wings and then eliminated the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild to earn a berth in the Stanley Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils. The series went the full seven games, but the Ducks were ultimately defeated by the Devils. It was Paul Kariya’s final game for Anaheim. After nine seasons, he left as the team's all-time leader in games played (606), goals (300), assists (369) and points (669).
During the off-season, Kariya signed with the Colorado Avalanche, joining former linemate Teemu Selanne. Injuries curtailed Kariya, who finished the 2003-04 season with 36 points over 51 games.
Due to the NHL lock-out, Kariya was able to use the time to recover from several nagging injuries. As a free agent, he signed with the Nashville Predators for the 2005-06 season. In his first season with Nashville, Kariya set team records with 31 goals, 54 assists and 85 points. With Kariya leading the team in scoring in 2006-07 with 76 points, the Predators set a new team record with 51 wins and 110 points.
In July 2007, Kariya signed with the St. Louis Blues and tied Brad Boyes for the team lead in scoring with 65 points. A month into the 2008-09 season, Kariya suffered a hip injury that put him out of commission for the remainder of the season. Fully recovered by the start of the 2009-10 season, he scored 18 times and assisted on 25 others for 43 points, but that concluded his career. On the advice of his doctors, Kariya announced his retirement on June 29, 2011.
In 989 regular season NHL games, Paul Kariya scored 402 goals, and 587 assists for 989 points. He also scored 16 goals, 23 assists and 39 points in 46 playoff games. Paul Kariya’s abundant skill was not only prevalent on the NHL stage. He was a member of the gold medal-winning Canadian team at the World Juniors in 1993, won a gold medal at the World Championships in 1994 and a silver in 1996 and in Olympic competition, was part of a Canadian team that took the Olympic silver medal in 1994 and gold in Salt Lake City in 2002.