June 2, 2012
Alfie tops '94 draft classDon Brennan lays out how first round should have gone down
By Don Brennan, QMI Agency
OTTAWA - There are a number of people watching the Stanley Cup playoffs these days wondering how the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to get Bryce Salvador — currently starring on the New Jersey Devils defence — so late in the 1994 entry draft.
But Salvador, of course, wasn’t the steal of that weekend.
In fact, many of the players selected at the Hartford Civic Center (now XL Center) on June 28–29, 1994, turned out to be diamonds in the rough.
The shiniest, of course, is Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson.
At a draft that began with the Toronto Maple Leafs acquiring star Mats Sundin from the Quebec Nordiques in a seven-player trade, his fellow Swede has turned out to be the best player to emerge from the 286 selected. Alfredsson, whom the Senators selected in the sixth round (133rd overall), has played in just 20 fewer games than Ryan Smyth, who has suited up for the most NHL contests from the class of ’94. But Alfredsson also has 276 more career points than Smyth, who was selected in the first round (sixth overall) by the Edmonton Oilers.
If the Florida Panthers had the foresight to take Alfredsson rather than Ed Jovanovski first overall, it might be fans in the Sunshine State petitioning for him to continue playing one more season.
In hindsight, only seven of the 26 players who were picked in the first round of the 1994 draft deserved to be first-rounders, by our calculations: Smyth, Jovanovski, Jeff Friesen, Radek Bonk, Jeff O’Neill, Mattias Ohlund and Ethan Moreau. Only three — Jovanovski, Smyth and Ohlund — are still in the NHL.
Three of the Round 1 picks that year never played an NHL game: Washington’s Alexander Kharlamov (15th overall), Boston’s Evgeni Ryabchikov (21st overall) and Quebec’s Jeff Kealty (22nd overall).
Six more didn’t get to double digits in the “games played” category: Edmonton’s Jason Bonsignore (fourth overall, 79 GP, 16 points), the Islanders’ Brett Lindros (ninth overall, 51 GP, seven points), Toronto’s Eric Fichaud, 16th overall, 22 wins), Dallas’ Jason Botterill (20th overall, 88 GP, 14 points), Detroit’s Yan Golubovsky (23rd overall, 56 games played, eight points), and New Jersey’s Vadim Sharifijanov (92 games, 37 points).
Scouts doing the best job as far as identifying cream-of-the-crop prospects were those working for Quebec and New Jersey. Both teams picked three players on our Top 26 list.
Ranking right up there behind Alfredsson as a late-round coup is Tim Thomas, who the Nordiques chose 217th overall. Interestingly, 19 goalies were selected before Thomas, including four (Jamie Storr, Eric Fichaud, Ryabchikov and Dan Cloutier) in the first round and two (Bryan Masotta and Frederic Cassivi) by the Senators. With his Stanley Cup ring, Conn Smythe Trophy and two Vezinas, Thomas would be ranked ahead of Alfredsson on many scorecards, but because he’s worked 753 fewer games, he’s second on our list.
The criteria we used includes games, production and endurance and overall value to the teams on which they currently play.
For instance, Salvador has played as many games as some left off the list, and he has many fewer points than a number of bypassed graduates of 1994. But heading into Game 6 of the Devils-Rangers Eastern Conference final, his 11 points tied him for ninth in playoff scoring.
Not bad for a defensive defenceman, eh? The Devils might not still be alive if it wasn’t for his fine, two-way contributions.
People shouldn’t blame poor scouting for players like Thomas, Evgeni Nabokov (ninth round), Steve Sullivan (ninth round), Tomas Vokoun (ninth round), Tomas Holmstrom (10th round), Richard Zednik (10th round) and Kim Johnsson (11th round) being overlooked. Sometimes, players get drafted when they should be drafted, then improve their stock with determination and hard work.
Take Chris Neil, for instance.
The Senators winger was a sixth-round pick (161st overall) in the strong 1998 draft, but would rank as either a late first-rounder or early second-rounder in hindsight rankings.
“When I was a young kid, I got called into the principal’s office for misbehaving,” Neil remembered recently. “My principal sat me down and he’s like, ‘What do you want to do when you get older?’ and I said, ‘I’m going to play in the NHL.’ Then he said, ‘No, really, what do you want to be?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to be an NHL hockey player.’
“I think my principal still brings it up to this day, when I go back home, if I see him around.
“When you set your mind to something, you’re able to do it. I say that to young kids. It doesn’t matter what skill you have. If you go out, you work hard and you set your mind to something, it doesn’t matter what you want to be, you can succeed at whatever you set your mind to.”
Even when he was drafted, there were many people who doubted Neil would make it to the NHL. But he persevered, and worked harder.
After two seasons with the Senators’ IHL affiliate in Grand Rapids, he finally made it to the NHL.
“It was very tough getting by,” Neil, who has played 731 NHL games and still rates as one of the Senators’ most significant skaters, said of the $30,000 salary he made his first year as a pro — about half of which was taken by the tax man.
“One time I missed my hydro bill and got the heat shut off. It was a tough go, making Canadian money playing in the U.S. Ottawa was great about it, helped me out and found me some cheap spots to live ... coming in and being part of an organization that treats you like that, it just makes you want to be around, and stick around for them.
“My mom used to give me an allowance,” he added, laughing. “I got my first real pro job and my mom used to have to send me money so I could get food and stuff. As a young kid it’s a tough go, but once you get up it makes it that much more worth the while.”
THE 1994 NHL ENTRY DRAFT
How it went down....
What they should have done instead ....