TORONTO (AP) Chris Pronger always seemed destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Going in this year is unprecedented, however, since he is still under contract as an NHL player. His inclusion took a bylaw change that specifies a player's final game must be three full seasons ago. The fearsome defenseman last played in 2011 because of post-concussion syndrome.
''Nothing I've done has been the easy way, so I guess this would follow suit,'' Pronger said on a conference call Monday, brushing off any awkwardness about going into the Hall with two years left on his contract.
He was named along with fellow Stanley Cup winners Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov and former NHL star Phil Housley. Rounding out the class of seven are Angela Ruggiero, Bill Hay and Peter Karmanos Jr.
Pronger, traded from Philadelphia to Arizona last weekend, works for the league's department of player safety. He won the Hart Trophy as MVP and Norris Trophy as top defenseman and captured the Stanley Cup in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks. He also led the 2006 Edmonton Oilers and 2010 Philadelphia Flyers to the final.
Along the way, he built a fierce reputation on the ice.
''Chris was trying to get at me every game he played against me,'' Fedorov said. ''Hard, hard battles. You've got to prepare for it every game. Chris was playing 30, 35 minutes maybe a game and he was in game shape.''
The mild-mannered Dryden, Ontario, native thanked his Finnish mother for his on-ice persona.
''I have a very short temper,'' Pronger said. ''It wouldn't take much to set me off.''
Lidstrom earned seven Norris Trophies as the NHL's top defenseman and won four Stanley Cups with Detroit.
His longtime Red Wings teammate Fedorov also made it in his first year of eligibility after putting up 483 goals and 969 assists in 1,248 career games.
''It was a treat to play with Sergei,'' Lidstrom said. ''Sergei was such a dynamic player, being able to skate at that speed but stick handle at the same time and have an excellent vision, too, so he was a very smart player.''
Housley had to wait a while since his final game in the 2003 playoffs with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has the most points of any American defenseman with 1,232.
''I've been patiently waiting and there's been so many great players before me that have been inducted, but to finally get that call it's surreal, it's a shock,'' Housley said.
Ruggiero played in four Olympics for the U.S. team, which won gold in Nagano in 1998. The California native will be the fourth woman to go into the Hall of Fame as a player.
''I showed up to career day in the second grade with my hockey gear on - I knew I wanted to play hockey, just didn't know where it would take me,'' Ruggiero said. ''I was lucky that I was able to pursue something that there wasn't really a clear path for me.''
Hay, who served as president and CEO of Hockey Canada and the Calgary Flames, called being elected ''the greatest award that anybody in the game of hockey worldwide could accomplish.''
Karmanos earned induction because of his longtime NHL ownership of the Hartford Whalers and Carolina Hurricanes and his founding of the Detroit Compuware Hockey Organization, which produced the likes of Pat LaFontaine, Al Iafrate, Mike Modano and Eric Lindros.
''My interest is more in youth hockey than it was before I owned an NHL team,'' Karmanos said. ''The great thing about being involved in youth hockey is when they grow up to be outstanding citizens and people.''