TORONTO (CP) - For Markus Naslund, the Lester B. Pearson Award is anything but an afterthought among NHL awards.
``I can honestly say this one is special, even though it doesn't get the publicity the Hart Trophy gets,'' the Vancouver Canucks captain said after receiving the award Thursday at a lunchtime ceremony prior to the NHL's evening awards gala.
``It's still a neat thing when your peers vote for you,'' he added.
NHL players chose Naslund as the league's most outstanding player, earning him the award named after Canada's former prime minister.
Boston captain Joe Thornton and Colorado forward Peter Forsberg were the other finalists.
Forsberg and Naslund, along with New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur, were also finalists for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. The Hart is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
The Pearson winner receives $20,000 US to donate to a hockey program of his choice as part of the NHLPA's Goals & Dreams fund. Runners-up get to contribute $10,000 to the grassroots hockey program of his choice.
Naslund, 29, was second in league scoring this season with 48 goals and 56 assists in 82 games.
The first Swede to win the Pearson Award, Naslund paid tribute to those who went before him.
``I give credit to a guy like (former Toronto defenceman) Borje Salming, who came over and opened the door for all of us. I've just heard what he had to go through to get to this point, so my hat is off to him. Guys tried to intimidate him when he came over. He just battled through and showed up game in and game out.''
Canucks general manager Brian Burke said Naslund's contribution is far greater than what fans see on the ice.
``Class guy, great leader,'' said Burke. ``We've only got five players left in Vancouver that I inherited (when the GM joined the club in 1998), but thank God he was one of them.''
Both Burke and Naslund credit ex-Canucks captain Mark Messier with moulding the player Markus would become.
``Playing with Mark Messier did help develop Markus' own leadership skills, said Burke. ``He would be the first to admit that.''
``Anytime you're around greatness, which I look at him (Messier) being, I think you try to pick up things. Just trying to see how he tried to keep the team tight, not only on the ice but off the ice, that's stuff that you try to remember.''