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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

American draft dreams? More like a nightmare

As I have discussed previously on this blog, the 1990s was the decade of emergence for the United States in hockey. The expansion that began in 1967 with six additional American teams was beginning to show its sign of growing the game in America, and by the time the NHL absorbed the four remaining WHA teams in 1979, 15 of the league's 21 teams were based in the USA. The early 1990s would add four more American teams, but the 60s and 70s era franchise building would begin to show as players who grew up in the States watching those teams would be turning into pros.

Two of our featured players below, Mike Modano and Jimmy Carson, were drafted 1st and 2nd overall respectively in their drafts, and are natives of Michigan. I'm curious to see if this trend bears out in the drafts from the 1990s (for brevity I will concentrate on first round picks):

1990: Derian Hatcher (8th, Minnesota), Keith Tkachuk (19th, Winnipeg)

1991: Brian Rolston (11th, New Jersey), Pat Peake (14th, Washington), Brent Bilodeau (17th, Montreal)

1992: Joe Hulbig (13th, Edmonton), David Wilkie (20th, Montrea), Peter Ferraro (24th, New York Rangers)

1993: Landon Wilson (19th, Toronto), Kevyn Adams (25th, Boston)

1994: Jason Bonsignore (4th, Edmonton), Jeffrey Kealty (22, Quebec)

1995: Bryan Berard (1st, Ottawa), Brian Boucher (22nd, Philadelphia)

1996: Erik Rasmussen (7th, Buffalo), Marty Reasoner (14th, St. Louis), Peter Ratchuk (25th, Colorado)

1997: Paul Mara (7th, Tampa Bay), Ty Jones (16th, Chicago), Nikos Tselios (22nd, Carolina)

1998: David Legwand (2nd, Nashville), Mike Rupp (9th, New York Islanders), Eric Chouinard (16th, Montreal), Scott Parker (20th, Colorado), Scott Gomez (27th, New Jersey)

1999: Tim Connolly (5th, New York Islanders), Jeff Jillson (14th, San Jose), David Tanabe (16th, Carolina), Barrett Heisten (20th, Buffalo).

Wow, that was not pretty. Things started off well with Derian Hatcher and Keith Tkachuk, and Brian Rolston in 1991 is solid. But from there you get middle-of-the-road players, depth players and a couple guys who never played in the NHL (Brent Bilodeau, Jeffrey Kealty). The mid to late1990s is a train wreck all together, with Scott Gomez the only saving grace. So maybe it turns out the emerging American talent was drafted in later rounds of the 1990s: Ryan Miller went 138th overall in 1999, Chris Drury 72nd and Tim Thomas 217th in 1994, Jamie Langenbrunner 35th in 1993, and Doug Weight in 34th overall in 1990. I guess that makes things a bit better, but it appears I got this one wrong. Perhaps it was the 80s that was the draft decade for US talent...

Card 160 - Mike Modano

Modano, a centre with Prince Albert, was drafted first overall by Minnesota in 1988 draft, becoming the second American to be selected first overall (Brian Lawton was first in 1983). He would make his NHL debut in 1988-89 season (he did play in two playoff games in 1987-88), scoring 29 goals and 75 points. Modano would be named to the all-rookie team and finish second in Calder Trophy voting to a 31-year-old Sergei Makarov.

In Modano's second full season the North Stars would make a surprise run to 1991 Cup final, with Mike scoring 20 points in 23 playoff games. His offensive numbers would steadily increase from there, recording a career high 93 points in the North Stars’ final year in Minnesota and in his first season in Texas, Modano would score a career-high 50 goals and match his career-high 93 points.

In the seven seasons following the lockout shortened 1994-95 season Modano would be a model of consistency with the Stars, scoring 30+ goals six times and 80+ points five times. In 1999 he would guide the Stars to their first Cup victory in franchise history, scoring 23 points, and leading the playoffs in assists with 18. In 1999-00 the Stars would make the Cup finals again, losing to the Devils in six games; Modano would be named a second team all-star and be a finalist for the Selke Trophy that season.

2002-03 would mark the final season of Modano’s high scoring productivity, recording 28 goals and 85 points, finishing as a finalist for the Byng Trophy and seventh in Hart Trophy voting. From 2005-2008 he would record 20+ goals per season and lead a surprising Stars team to the Western Conference finals in 2007-08, scoring 12 points in 18 games.

In the summer of 2020, after 20 seasons with the Stars franchise, Modano would sign with his home-state Detroit Red Wings. He would play 40 games with the Wings, scoring 4 goals and 15 points, missing significant time due to an arm injury. In 2011 he would sign a contract with the Stars and subsequently retire. In 21 seasons he would play 1499 games (missing out on 1500 games thanks to Mike Babcock), scoring 561 goals and 1374 points. Amongst American NHLers he ranks third all-time in games and second in goals, assists and points. Modano played in seven all-star games and is the Stars’ all-time franchise leader in goals and points.

From 2011-2014 he owned the Allen Americans in the CHL and was a senior advisor with Dallas from 2013-2015; he is currently an advisor with the Minnesota Wild. Modano was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.

YouTube clip: I could't decide between his episode on MTV Cribs with wife Willa Ford or his NHL 100 greatest players video, so you get both.

Card 161 - Jimmy Carson

The second overall pick by Los Angeles in the 1986 draft, Carson scored 70 goals and 153 points with Verdun in the QMJHL as a 17-year-old. He would break into the NHL immediately following the draft, scoring 37 goals and 79 points, being named to the all-rookie team and finishing third in Calder Trophy voting behind teammate Luc Robitaille, and goalie Ron Hextall.

In 1987-88 he would score a career-high 55 goals and 107 points, becoming only the second teenager to score 50 goals in a season, after Wayne Gretzky. Speaking of Gretzky, Carson would be a key piece in the Kings’ acquisition of the Great One in the trade to end all trades in August 1988. In his one full season in Edmonton, Carson would score 49 goals and 100 points and play in the all-star game, but he gave little doubt that he did not want to play in Canada.

After only four games with the Oilers in 1989-90 he would be traded to his hometown of Detroit along with Kevin McClelland for Joe Murphy (the only player selected ahead of him in the 1986 draft), Petr Klima and Adam Graves. Carson would not attain the same levels of production with the Wings as he did in LA and Edmonton, scoring 46 points in 64 games in 1990-91 and 69 points in a full 1991-92 campaign.

In January 1993 he would be traded back to the Kings with Marc Potvin and Gary Shuchuk for Paul Coffey, Sylvain Cloutier and Jim Hiller. Back in LA he would score 22 points in 34 regular games and 9 points in 18 playoff games as the Kings would lose to Montreal in the Cup Finals.

Less than a year after landing back with the Kings he would be traded back to Canada, going to Vancouver for Dixon Ward. Carson would last 34 games with the Canucks and then sign with Hartford as a free agent for the 1994-95 season. Over two seasons with the Whalers he would play 49 games, scoring 10 goals and 20 points, leaving partway through the 1995-96 season to play in Switzerland. From 1996-98 he would play for Detroit in the IHL, winning the Turner Cup in 1997.

Over 10 NHL seasons Carson played in 626 games, scoring 275 goals and 561 points. He shares the record for most games played in a single NHL season (86 in 1992-93) and for the most goals scored by a teenager (92). Throughout his NHL career he pursued a post-hockey career in the banking industry, where he currently works for Northwestern Mutual.

YouTube clip: scoring a goal set up by renowned playmaker Bob Probert

Card 162 - Steve Thomas

Born in Stockport in the United Kingdom, left winger Thomas was never drafted. After two seasons in the OHL with the Toronto Marlboros, he would sign as a free agent with the Maple Leafs. Thomas would play one pro season in the AHL, scoring 90 points, making the Leafs full-time in 1985-86. His rookie NHL season he would score 20 goals and 57 points in the regular season, adding 6 goals and 14 points in 10 playoff games.

In 1986-87 Thomas would break the 30 goal barrier for the first time (35) but would be dealt to Chicago in the off-season with Rick Vaive and Bob McGill for Al Secord and Ed Olczyk. His first two seasons in Chicago would be marred by injury, playing in only 30 and 45 games respectively. In 1989-90, his first full season with the Hawks, he would score 40 goals and 70 points.

Early in the 1991-92 season Thomas would be traded to the New York Islanders with Adam Creighton in exchange for Brent Sutter and Brad Lauer. In four seasons with the Isles he would record career-highs in goals (42) and points (87). During the 1992-93 playoffs, Thomas would score 9 goals as the Islanders made it to the Prince of Wales Conference Finals.

After the 1994-95 season, Thomas would be traded to New Jersey for Claude Lemieux, After three injury-filled seasons with the Devils he would sign as a free agent with Toronto for the 1998-99 season. Back in Toronto, Thomas’ career would be revived, scoring 28 goals and 73 points as the Leafs made the conference finals in his first season back in TO. Two more seasons with Toronto and he would return to Chicago as a free agent in 2001-02, playing in only 34 games that season due to an ankle injury.

Late in 2002-03 he would be traded to Anaheim for a late round draft pick. After scoring only 4 goals in 69 games with the Hawks, Thomas would score 10 goals in 12 regular seasons games with the Mighty Ducks, adding four goals in 18 playoff games as Anaheim would make the Cup finals, ultimately losing to New Jersey.

Like many veterans in the early 2000s on the back end of their careers, Thomas would sign with Detroit for the 2003-04 season, chasing his first Cup win. The Wings would win the Central Division that season, but be upset by Calgary in the conference semi-finals; Thomas would retire after the season.

In a 20 year NHL career, Thomas played in 1235 games, scoring 421 goals and 933 points. After retirement he has coached at various levels, including junior hockey in Ontario, and stints in player development and coaching with Tampa Bay and St. Louis. His son, Christian, was drafted in the second round by the New York Rangers in 2010, and represented Canada at the 2018 Olympics in Seoul.

YouTube clip: scoring the overtime winner against Ottawa in Game 5 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

Card 163 - Mike Vernon

Drafted 56th overall by the Flames in 1981, Vernon played two seasons in the WHL before turning pro, winning best goalie in both his years in the league, as well as a Memorial Cup in 1983. Over his first two pro seasons (1984-1986), Vernon would spend the majority of his time in the minors, appearing in 21 NHL games. He would assume the starter’s role in the 1986 playoffs, helping the Flames to the Cup Finals before losing to Montreal; Vernon would lead the playoffs in games played (21), shots against, saves and minutes.

In his first regular season (86-87) as a starter, Vernon would win 30 games, and then 39 and 37 games the following two seasons. In 1988-89 he would be named a second team all-star and finish as runner up to Patrick Roy for the Vezina. He would get a measure of revenge against Roy as in the 1989 playoffs the Flames would defeat the Habs to win their first Cup in franchise history, with Vernon posting 16 wins and three shutouts during the post-season.

Vernon would remain consistent with the Flames over the following five seasons, winning 23+ games each season, but the Flames would fail to advance past the first round of the playoffs during that time. In the off-season prior to the lockout shortened 1994-95 season he would be traded to Detroit straight up for Steve Chiasson. In his first season with the Red Wings Vernon would win 19 games and lead the Wings to the Cup FInals, only to lose to New Jersey. The following season he would be usurped by Chris Osgood as the starting goalie, but as a tandem they would win the Jennings Trophy. In the 1997 playoffs Vernon would take over as the starter, guiding the Wings to a Cup victory, posting a 16-4 record and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy.

In spite being the playoff MVP for a Cup-winning team, Vernon would be traded to San Jose for draft picks less than two months later. He would win 30 games in his only season as a Sharks starter, being surpassed again by a younger goalie, Steve Shields. In 1999-00 he would be traded to Florida for Radek Dvorak.

In 2000 he would be exposed in the expansion draft and claimed by the Minnesota Wild but traded immediately back to Calgary for a prospect. He would play his final two seasons with the Flames, sharing the crease with Fred Braithwaite until retiring just prior to the 2002-03 season.

In 14 NHL seasons, Vernon would post a 385-274-92 record, .889 save percentage and 3.00 goals against average. He played in 138 playoff games (6th all-time), winning 77 (8th all-time). Vernon also appeared in five all-star games (1988-1991 and 1993).

From 2008 to 2010 he was a special assistant to the general manager in Tampa Bay and has also been involved in real estate development in British Columbia since his retirement.

YouTube clip: a CBC interview with Vernon recalling his 1989 Cup victory with the Flames.

Card 164 - Ed Belfour

An undrafted free agent signee out of the University of North Dakota, Belfour burst onto the NHL scene in 1990-91, a topic I covered extensively in a previous post.

As a follow up to his unbelievable rookie season, Belfour would take a step back, winning only 21 games, but guiding the Hawks to the 1992 Cup Finals against Pittsburgh, ultimately losing in 4 games. In 1992-93 he would lead the league in games played (71), posting a 41-18-11 record, recording seven shutouts, being named a first-team all-star and winning the Jennings and Vezina Trophies.

Over the next two seasons he would continue to rack up wins and shutouts, being named a second team all-star in 1994-95 and finishing as runner up to his former teammate Dominik Hasek for the Vezina Trophy. By the time the 1996-97 season rolled around the Hawks were struggling in the standings and Eddie the Eagle was traded to San Jose for Chris Terreri, Ulf Dahlen and Michal Sykora. He would win only three of the 13 games he played with the Sharks and would sign as a free agent with Dallas for the 1997-98 season.

Belfour would revive his career on an ascending Dallas team, winning 37 games and leading the league with a 1.88 goals against average. The following season he would post another sub-2.00 goals against (1.99), winning 35 games and sharing the Jennings Trophy with Roman Turek. The Stars would win the Cup in 1999, with Belfour winning all 16 games and posting three shutouts.

Belfour would play five total seasons with the Stars, winning 30+ games in four out of his five seasons. In June 2009 as a pending free agent he would be traded to Nashville for a prospect and a draft pick. He would ultimately sign with Toronto and in his first season with the Leafs would win 37 games and be named a Vezina finalist. In his three seasons with the Leafs the team would never advance past the second round of the playoffs and in 2006-07 he would sign with the Florida Panthers.

Belfour would play one season in Florida, winning 27 games, and the following season would play with Leksands in the Sweden before retiring.

In 17 seasons, Belfour would win 484 games (4th all-time), posting a 2.50 goals against average and .906 save percentage. Belfour also recorded 76 shutouts in his career, tenth all-time. Over his career he would win 30+ games nine times, with three different teams. He was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.

In his post hockey days Belfour was briefly a goalie coach with St. Louis in 2009-2010 and also co-owned with former Stars' teammate Mike Modano the Allen Americans of the CHL from 2012-14. He currently owns and operates a high-end distillery.

YouTube clip: Belfour was the first goalie in NHL history to lose a game in a shootout, dropping the season opener in 2005 versus the Ottawa Senators.

Card 165 - Joel Otto

An undrafted free agent, centreman Otto averaged almost two points per game with Bemidji State in his home state of Minnesota before he signed with Calgary in 1984. Otto would play the majority of the 1984-85 season in the AHL, appearing in 17 games with the Flames. In 1985-86 he would make the team full-time, scoring 25 goals and 59 points while racking up 188 penalty minutes.

Otto would be a mark of consistency in his next three seasons in Calgary, scoring between 13-23 goals each season and 50-53 points, while also spending a fair bit of time in the sin bin, including 213 penalty minutes in 1988-89. As part of the Flames' Cup winning side in 1989 Otto scored 6 goals and 19 points in 22 playoff games.

Throughout the early 90s Otto’s offensive production would dip to between 30-40 points per season, but his defensive game would round into form, culminating in a third place finish in Selke Trophy voting in 1992-93. Otto would be an assistant captain with the Flames from 1991 until his departure after the 1994-95 season, another year in which he finished third in Selke voting.

For the 1995-96 season Otto would take his talents to Philadelphia, playing three seasons for the Flyers, including a trip to the Cup finals in 1997. He would retire following the 1997-98 season, having played 14 NHL seasons and 943 games, scoring 195 goals, 508 points and recording 1934 penalty minutes. Otto has been an assistant coach with Calgary in the WHL since 2006.

YouTube clip: scoring the overtime winner in Game 7 of Smythe Division semi-finals in 1989.

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