The New York Islanders' inaugural season started in 1972, but that isn't where their connection with No. 72 ends. Only 53 players in NHL history have worn the number, and four of them have done so on Long Island, but it all started with a plater whose No. 27 hangs from the UBS Arena rafters.
In June 1991, Islanders legend John Tonelli signed with the Chicago Blackhawks as a free agent. The team had some hot shot named Jeremy Roenick wearing No. 27, the only number Tonelli had ever worn with three franchises, the Islanders, Calgary Flames, and Los Angeles Kings. There was no jersey swap to be made and Tonelli elected to wear the reverse, and in doing so, became the first player in NHL history to wear the number.
Next, ahead of the 1992-93 season, goaltender Ron Hextall became the second player in league history to wear No. 72 after the former Vezina Trophy winner was traded from the Quebec Nordiques to the Islanders. The team's 1985 1st-round pick Derek King was already wearing No. 27 and had scored 40 goals the previous season, establishing himself as part of the team's offensive core.
Hextall played only one up-and-down season on Long Island, but it wasn't long before a player was wearing No. 72 again. In April 1995, GM Don Maloney made the ill-fated move of trading star center Pierre Turgeon and Vladimir Malakhov to the Montreal Canadiens for disgruntled Kirk Mueller and defenseman Mathieu Schneider. With the aforementioned King still on the team, Schneider made the same decision as Hextall and coverted from No. 27 to 72 for the 78 career games he played with the Islanders.
It was 22 years before another Islanders player wore the number. Future Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton wore No. 72 during the 2008 season after previously wearing No. 27 with the Islanders in the 20 combined games he played the previous two seasons. One reason Colliton may have made the switch was that a little known forward named Darryl Bootland played the final four games of his NHL career with the Islanders that season and wore the number.
The number remained dormant again until Anthony Beauvillier made his NHL debut with the Islanders during the 2017-18 season. Of the four Islanders to wear the number, Beauvillier is the only one that wanted to. However, he would only be able to wear No. 72 for his rookie season and switched to No. 18 when GM Lou Lamoriello took over.
Lamoriello famously isn't a fan of players wearing high numbers as it speaks to individuality, though he makes exceptions for established veterans. When Beauvillier was traded to the Vancouver Canucks in January, he became the third Canuck to wear No. 72. "I haven't spoken with the Canucks equipment manager yet but yes, if number 72 is available, I will take it back, Beauvillier said after the trade. "Also, I will stop shaving every four days!"
As for current players, Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has worn the number since being acquired by Columbus Blue Jackets from the Philadelphia Flyers, though we don't know why the original change was made. Buffalo emerging star Tage Thompson, the son of former long-time Bridgeport head coach and Islanders assistant Brent Thompson wears the number, as does Erik Kole, Filip Chytil, and Thomas Chabot. Overall, this once obscure number is becoming more popular, with 15 players wearing it during the 2022-23 season, and it all started with Tonelli to Hextall.