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TAMPA, Fla. — Steve Yzerman sees some of himself in Jonathan Toews but thinks the Chicago Blackhawks’ captain is a better player than he was during his Hall of Fame career.

“The reality is Jonathan’s bigger, stronger — better,” the Tampa Bay Lightning general manager said. “I’m not sure I could even take him in a race, either, so he’s probably faster.

“Just a better hockey player.”

Toews goes into the Stanley Cup final against Yzerman’s Lightning with his name on the trophy twice and close to matching the longtime Detroit Red Wings captain’s mark of three titles. On Tuesday, the 2010 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, 2013 Selke Trophy winner and two-time Olympic gold medallist brushed off the effusive praise from Yzerman.

“Steve is a very complimentary person, and I don’t think he’d say anything less than that,” Toews said. “I just take that with a grain of salt.

“I think everyone here knows that’s pretty much untrue, but it obviously means a lot to hear any sort of praise from a guy like that.”

Yzerman was more than a point-a-game player in over 1,500 regular-season contests and had 185 playoff points in his career. He, too, was playoff MVP and the NHL’s best defensive forward and also won the Ted Lindsay Award as the NHLPA’s outstanding player.

Toews’s numbers are just a tad off, but the argument has been made that he’s right up there with Sidney Crosby as one of the world’s best hockey players.

Yzerman knew that in 2007 as GM of Canada’s team at the world championship when Toews played at the age of 19 out of the University of North Dakota. Toews had two goals and five assists as the Canadian squad won the gold medal.

In complimenting Toews, Yzerman pointed out that his own career evolution into a two-way centre came about when legendary coach Scotty Bowman pushed him and the Red Wings to be better defensively. Toews didn’t need that urging.

“Jonathan’s been that since Day One, since he’s come into the league,” Yzerman said. “He’s just a complete hockey player.”

Toews is again a finalist for the Selke Trophy and a candidate to win another Conn Smythe if he leads the Blackhawks to their third Cup in six years. Even with all his accolades, Yzerman saying Toews is better than him reverberated on media day before Game 1 of the final.

Lightning veteran Brenden Morrow, who has played against Yzerman and Toews, said his GM is a “modest and humble guy.” Blackhawks star Patrick Kane considered it lofty but fair praise.

“I think that speaks for itself and how good of a career Johnny has had to date when a player of that magnitude says something like that about you,” Kane said. “Obviously Steve had a great career.

“I think we all have a lot of respect for him and what’s he done.”

Follow @SWhyno on Twitter

Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press

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