Chelios, 48, returns as NHL's oldest player

ATLANTA (Reuters) - The Atlanta Thrashers recalled 48-year-old defenseman Chris Chelios from the minors on Wednesday, adding veteran leadership to their line-up for a playoff push.

Chelios, who is 11 years older than the next oldest Atlanta player, is the National Hockey League's oldest active player.

Hall of Famer Gordie Howe is the oldest player to have appeared in the NHL having played for the Hartford Whalers during the 1979-80 season at the age of 52.

"Chris has been an outstanding leader and mentor for our young players in Chicago and his level of play has made him deserving of this opportunity," Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said in a statement. "He's a tremendous competitor who strengthens our group of defensemen and instantly adds a veteran presence to our locker room."

The Atlanta Thrashers, who have missed the post-season in the past two years, are currently four points out of the last playoff spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference.

Released by the Detroit Red Wings at the end of last season, Chelios was not ready to hang up his skates and signed with the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves, where he had five goals and 22 points in 46 games.

In his 25-year NHL career, Chelios ranks fourth in games played (1,644), eighth in all-time assists by a defenseman (763) and 10th among defensemen in points (948).

He also played with the Chicago Blackhawks and was a member of four U.S. Olympic teams.

(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto; editing by Frank Pingue)