June 28, 2009
Players who slipped through the cracks in the draft
By PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA
Sure, NHL teams selected more than 200 players in the entry draft this weekend -- but who'd they miss?
Chances are there's an 18- or 19-year-old out there who's been overlooked and who, starting today, is hell-bent on proving the scouts wrong.
After all, nobody picked Martin St. Louis when he was eligible. A couple years earlier, every single NHL team ignored Brian Rafalski, too.
Defenceman Dan Boyle, goalie Niklas Backstrom, winger Chris Kunitz -- all solid NHLers today who were neglected on their respective draft days.
So here's to the hidden gems, overachievers and late bloomers who shrugged off their day of rejection to become the top 10 undrafted players in NHL history.
(Note: We used the 1969 draft as our starting point, since that was the first year all junior players were eligible. And we don't count Wayne Gretzky, who broke into pro hockey as a 17-year-old and was never in the draft.)
10. Tim Kerr
Our 10th position was the toughest to fill, with names like Greg Adams, Mike Keane, Kelly Kisio, Mike Ridley and Steve Duchesne all getting serious consideration.
But no matter how hard we tried, we simply couldn't move Kerr off the list, which kind of exemplifies the career of the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder.
A Tier II junior who flew under the radar of scouts, Kerr signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers and before long posted four consecutive 50-goal seasons as the ultimate opportunist.
An all-star in '87 and Bill Masterton Trophy winner in '89, Kerr averaged better than a point a game over 13 seasons, adding another 40 goals in 81 playoff games.
9. Steve Thomas
A late-bloomer who first made it big in Junior A, Thomas eventually caught the attention of the Maple Leafs, thanks to a 51-goal season with the then-Toronto Marlies of the OHL.
Ten 20-goal seasons later, 'Lumpy' had amassed 421 goals and 933 points in 1,235 games, and another 107 points in 174 playoff games.He didn't make an all-star team or win a major trophy, and his name's not on the Cup, but it's secure on our list.
8. Curtis Joseph
It's no surprise that 18 games with the King City Dukes of the Ontario Junior B League wasn't enough to get Joseph drafted as an 18-year-old goalie.
In fact, it wasn't until he turned in a stellar season at the University of Wisconsin four years later that the St. Louis Blues signed him as a free agent.
Nobody could have predicted Joseph would play 943 NHL games, win 454 of them, fourth on the all-time list, post a career 2.79 goals against average and make two Olympic teams.
Take a bow, Cujo.
7. Borje Salming
It was still a year before the NHL drafted its first Swede, but the free-agent signing of this defenceman by the Maple Leafs in 1973 would have a far bigger impact.
Salming came to Toronto along with forward Inge Hammarstrom and stayed for 16 years, before a final season in Detroit.
His line is as smooth as the skater: six all-star selections (once on the first team), twice a runner-up for the Norris Trophy, 1,148 career games, 787 points -- and a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
6. Joe Mullen
While most elite players get drafted and sign their first big-league contract at 18 years of age, Mullen was paying $700 to attend Boston College on a partial scholarship.
It seems dominating a metro junior league in New York City wasn't enough to catch the eyes of scouts.
It didn't keep Mullen from a 16-year NHL career, though, which included six 40-goal seasons, three Stanley Cups, 1,062 games, 1,063 points, a first-team all-star selection and two Lady Byng Trophies.
The highest scoring American player of all time is also a Hall of Famer.
5. Martin St. Louis
A 37-goal season with a Junior A team in Ontario didn't get much attention when little Martin St. Louis was 18.
Four productive years at the University of Vermont, though, led to his free-agent signing with Calgary, and the rest is history in the making.
The only Hart Trophy winner on our list, St. Louis is a two-time all-star who won the Hart, Art Ross and Lester B. Pearson (players' choice as top player) Trophies, not to mention the Stanley Cup, all in the same year (2004).
His resume boasts 690 games, 585 points -- and counting.
4. Dino Ciccarelli
A broken leg in junior may have kept him from being drafted, but it didn't stop Dino Ciccarelli from a pair of 50-goal NHL seasons and four more with at least 40.
And to think, the immortal Tim Coulis was a first-round pick the same year.
Ciccarelli played 19 years, finishing with 608 goals and 1,200 points in 1,232 regular-season games, plus another 118 points in the playoffs -- enough for the Hall of Fame, don't you think?
For now, he'll have to settle for our top-10 list.
3. Ed Belfour
From high school hockey in small-town Manitoba to Tier II junior, where he posted a bloated 5.06 goals-against average his rookie year -- little wonder nobody drafted 18-year-old Eddie Belfour.
But "The Eagle" worked on his game, and by the time he finished a season at the University of North Dakota, at 20, the Chicago Blackhawks liked him enough to sign him.
A fiery 18 seasons later, Belfour ranked third all-time with 484 career victories.
He's also a three-time all-star who won the Calder Trophy as top rookie, two Vezinas as best goalie, four Jennings (for top team GAA) and a Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999.
2. Peter Stastny
The first Czech players -- including Peter Stastny's younger brother, Anton -- were drafted in 1978, but nobody knew if they'd ever emerge from behind the Iron Curtain to play in the land of the free.
In August of 1980, Peter and Anton shocked the hockey world with their defection to Canada and the Quebec Nordiques.
Immediately, Peter was one of the dominant forces in the game, winning the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year and going on to record eight 30-goal seasons, 1,239 points in all, over a 15-year, Hall of Fame career.
1. Adam Oates
Another late-bloomer who went from Junior B in Ontario to the NCAA, Oates signed the richest rookie deal in NHL history with Detroit in 1985, when he was 23.
It wasn't long before he was one of the top playmakers in the game: In the 1990s, only Gretzky set up more goals than Oates, who ranks sixth all-time in assists.
With 1,420 points in 1,337 games, Oates is the top producer on our undrafted list, and, presumably, bound for the Hall of Fame.
Disagree with our picks? Send us yours at email@example.com.