Big, Tough and Turbocharged, Eric Lindros, 17, Ices the Competition as Hockey's Next Superstar

updated 02/04/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/04/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Eric Lindros could ride a two-wheeler before he was 3 and, by 5, was such a nasty competitor that he had trouble keeping friends. But it wasn't until he was 9 and tearing up the local hockey scene that his mother came to the startling realization that she had a prodigy on her hands. "I woke up my husband in the middle of the night," Bonnie Lindros recalls, "and said, 'Carl, Eric is better than the other kids!' "

Lately the buzz on Eric is coming from a much broader circle than just his parents. Orr, Gretzky, Lemieux—these are the names he's compared to when hockey people talk about his apparently boundless potential. At 6'4" and 224 lbs., the handsome 17-year-old center for the Oshawa (Ont.) Generals is a top scorer in the Ontario (Junior A) Hockey League, with 71 points in 31 games. So highly prized is he that the already woeful Quebec Nordiques of the National Hockey League have been half jestingly accused of deliberately weakening the team through a trade in order to lock the first draft pick, which goes to the team with the worst record. Quebec considers the charge hilarious. According to Detroit Red Wings senior VP Jim Devellano, "Lindros has the potential to be a franchise-type player, one who can come in and immediately fill up a half-empty stadium."

The NHL feeding frenzy may result in the first million-dollar contract ever for a rookie. Yet Eric's parents are keeping an eye on their son's priorities. Carl, 43, a Toronto-based partner in an international accounting firm, was the one who flooded the backyard so that Eric, the eldest of three children, could have his own rink. But both Carl and Bonnie, 41, a nurse, were adamant that Eric get established at York University, which he entered last winter, before he turned pro. "Hockey could be a short-term career," says Carl. "All it takes is for a knee to go, and you're done."

Eric, however, can clearly take care of himself. In addition to being a nifty playmaker, he remains a ferocious competitor who collects his share of penalty minutes. "I don't like to lose at anything," he says, adding with adolescent fervor, "I'd rather die." Given his prodigious talent, it is sometimes hard to remember that, in many ways, Eric is still a 17-year-old kid. Opponents, for example, are not the only people he hits on. Asked what he does with his free time, he says, "I chase girls, like everyone else."

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