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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

Last rounds gems from 1990s drafts

The NHL draft is a gamble. Teams are trying to judge the future career performance of players as young as 18 years old. Nowadays the most hyped players during each draft year are well-known commodities, having been singled out as exceptional players since their early teens. Advancements in technology have also helped to provide NHL teams with even more information on which to base their selections.


The 1990s was a little different, with some teams employing video scouting, but in most cases relying on reports filed by scouting staff that had to physically attend games to see players in action. With less knowledge, and a lot more draft picks (in 1990 and 1991 the draft went 12 rounds, from 1992 to 1994 11 rounds and from 1995 to 1999 nine rounds, whereas today the draft is a tight seven rounds), there existed a greater opportunity to find a diamond-in-the-rough.


In many cases players taken in later rounds were in a similar situation to Sergei Nemchinov, featured in this week’s post. An established European player, for whom NHL teams were uncertain if they would come to North America. In honour of Nemchinov, selected in the 12th round of the 1990 draft, let’s look at the top 5 players taken in the last round of drafts held in the 1990s:


  • Kim Johnsson, selected 286th overall in 1994. A defenceman, Johnsson was selected by the New York Rangers with the last pick of the draft . He would not make his NHL debut until 1999, but played 739 games over 10 seasons. Johnsson was part of the package the Rangers dealt to Philadelphia for Eric Lindros.

  • Danny Markov, selected 223rd overall in 1995. Also a defenceman, Markov played nine NHL seasons and 538 games, including four seasons with Toronto, the team that drafted him.

  • Craig Adams, selected 223rd overall in 1996. The only forward on this list, he played four full seasons at Harvard and one in the AHL before making the NHL in 2000. Adams would go on to play 951 games over 14 seasons, winning Stanley Cups with Carolina (2006) and Pittsburgh (2009).

  • Sami Salo, selected 239th overall in 1996. Yet another defenceman, Salo played three pro seasons in Finland after being drafted, making his NHL debut with Ottawa in 1998-99. He was named to the all-rookie team that season, and played a total of 878 games over 15 NHL seasons.

  • Karlis Skrastins, selected 230 overall in 1998. The Latvian defenceman had played pro hockey in the Soviet Union and Finland prior to being drafted by Nashville at age 24. He would play 12 seasons and 832 games, including a five season stretch where he did not miss a single game (2000-01 to 2005-06).

Card 351 - Shawn Antoski
















A left winger, Antoski was drafted 18th overall by Vancouver in 1990, having played three seasons with North Bay in the OHL. He turned pro following the draft, debuting with Milwaukee in the IHL. In two seasons with the Admirals, Antoski scored 17 goals each season while recording over 330 penalty minutes each season as well. From 1990 to 1993 he appeared in eight games with the Canucks, recording 29 penalty minutes.


In the 1993-94 Antoski made the Canucks full-time, playing in 55 regular season games, scoring one goal, three points and 190 penalty minutes. The Canucks made the Stanley Cup Finals that season, losing to the New York Rangers, with Antoski recording one assist and 36 penalty minutes in 16 games.


February 1995 saw Antoski traded to Philadelphia for Josef Beranek; the following season he played a career-high 64 games, scoring four points and recording 204 penalty minutes. 1996-97 saw Antoski sign with Pittsburgh, playing 13 games before a trade to Anaheim in a four-player swap. In two seasons with the Mighty Ducks he played in 11 games, missing significant time while recovering from hernia surgery before being forced to retire due to a serious car accident that left him with a fractured skull.


In 8 NHL seasons, Antoski played 183 games, scoring three goals and nine points while recording 599 penalty minutes. In 2005-06 he returned to playing hockey, with men’s senior teams in eastern Ontario. He currently runs a contracting business and a non-profit called Fear Nothing, which raises awareness of depression and mental health.


YouTube clip: fighting Steve Martinson during a January 1992 IHL game. After having a water bottle thrown at him, Antoski jumped from his penalty box into Martinson’s to lay a beat down on his opponent.


Card 352 - Cam Russell
















A defenceman, Russell was drafted 50th overall by Chicago in 1987. He played an additional two seasons of junior with Hull in the QMJHL, captaining the team in his final season. Russell turned pro in 1989, playing his first three pro seasons primarily with Indianapolis in the IHL while appearing in 41 games for the Blackhawks, scoring one point and 66 penalty minutes.


He made the Hawks roster in the 1992-93 season, playing a career-high 67 games, scoring two goals and six points while accumulating 151 penalty minutes. The following season Russell recorded a career-highs in points (8) and penalty minutes (200).


Following the lockout shortened 1994-95 season Russell’s playing time dwindled, bottoming out at 41 games during the 1997-98 season. Early the following season he was traded to Colorado for Roman Vopat and a draft pick. Russell played 35 games with the Avalanche before retiring at the end of the 1998-99 season.


In 10 NHL seasons Russell played in 396 games, scoring nine goals and 30 points. Shortly after retiring he joined the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL as an assistant coach. He was named head coach in 2006 and added general manager duties in 2008. Russell moved to general manager full-time in 2011, a position he still holds today. In his time with the Mooseheads the team has played in four league finals, winning in 2013. The team also won the Memorial Cup that year, and has hosted the tournament in 2000 and 2019. Russell’s organization has produced NHL stars such as Nathan MacKinnon, Jakub Voracek, Jonathan Drouin and Nico Hischier.


YouTube clip: getting dominated by a much smaller Tie Domi during a fight in a January 1993 game between Winnipeg and Chicago. Domi and Russell squared off six times total, Russell’s most frequent dance partner out of 92 career fights.


Card 353 - Scott Thornton

















A left winger, Thornton was drafted third overall by Toronto in 1989. He returned to junior for one additional season with Belleville, turning pro in 1990-91, playing 33 games with the Leafs and scoring four points.


The Leafs quickly lost patience with Thornton, trading him to Edmonton in September 1991as part of a seven-played swap that landed Toronto Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr. Thornton’s first two seasons in the Oilers’ organization were spent primarily with AHL farm team Cape Breton, managing 24 appearances with the big club. He made the leap to the NHL full-time in 1993-94, and played the next three seasons with the Oilers, scoring 22 points in 1994-95.


Prior to start of the 1996-97 season Thornton was traded to Montreal for Andrei Kovalenko. During parts of four seasons with the Habs his scoring trended down, resulting in two seasons with less than 10 goals and 20 points. In January 2000 he was traded to Dallas for Juha Lind. The Stars made the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals, with Thornton played in 23 playoff games, scoring two goals and nine points; the Stars would lose in six games to New Jersey.


Thornton signed as a free agent with San Jose for the 2000-01 season and broke out offensively, scoring 19 goals and 36 points in his first season as a Shark. He scored his first and only career hat trick that season, netting all three goals in a 3-3 tie against Florida in March 2001. The following season he scored career-highs in goals (26) and points (42). After five seasons in San Jose, Thornton signed with inter-state rivals Los Angeles in 2006, playing 105 games over two seasons with the Kings before retiring after the 2007-08 season.


In 17 NHL seasons, Thornton played in 941 games, scoring 144 goals and 285 points. According to LinkedIn he currently lives in the Blue Mountains area of Ontario, is a CrossFit enthusiast and a partial shareholder in a resort.


YouTube clip: taking down Eric Cairns during a March 1997 game between Montreal and New York. Thornton had 83 career fights.


Card 354 - Chris Chelios
















A defenceman, Chelios was drafted 40th overall by Montreal in the 1981 draft. Playing for Moose Jaw in the SJHL at the time of his selection, Chelios played two seasons of university hockey at Wisconsin, then spent the 1983-84 season with the US National Team, appearing at the 1984 Olympics. Following the Olympics he made his NHL debut, playing in 12 games for the Habs.


In his first full NHL season, Chelios scored nine goals and 64 points, was named to the all-rookie team and finished second in Calder Trophy to some guy named Mario Lemieux. He struggled to match the production of his first NHL season, playing in only 41 games during the 1985-86 season, however this was tempered by winning his first Cup in 1986. 1987-88 saw Chelios break the 60-point barrier again, followed by a season of 15 goals and 73 points (a career-high) in 1988-89. That season he was also named a first-team all-star, won the Norris Trophy and finished fifth in Hart voting, with the Habs making the Finals and Chelios scoring 19 points in 21 games.


For the 1989-90 season he was named a co-captain along with Guy Carbonneau, the first non-Canadian to captain the team. His time as captain was short, as in June 1990 Chelios was traded to his hometown Chicago Blackhawks with a second round pick for Denis Savard. Over the next eight seasons he would scored 10+ goals and 50+ points five times, be named an all-star five times (three first-team and two second-team), win two Norris Trophies and be named a finalist two additional times. Chelios guided the Hawks to the 1992 Cup Finals, scoring 21 points in 18 games while leading the playoffs with a +19 rating.


In March 1999, with the Hawks on the verge of missing the playoffs for a second straight season, at age 37 Chelios was traded to Detroit for two first round draft picks and Anders Eriksson. In his first full season in Detroit, Chelios scored 34 points and had a +48 rating. Two seasons later at age 40, he scored 39 points, led the league with a +40 rating and was named a first team all star. Defying age, he won his second Stanley Cup, scoring 14 points and leading the playoffs with a +15 rating. Chelios played another five seasons with Detroit, winning the inaugural Mark Messier leadership award in 2007 and a third Cup in 2008.


After playing 28 games with the Wings in 2008-09, Chelios was a free agent to start the 2009-10 season. He played 46 games with Chicago in the AHL before signing with the Atlanta Thrashers. The final seven games of his career came that season with the Thrashers, retiring at the age of 48 following the season.


In 26 NHL seasons, Chelios played in 1651 games (5th all-time), scoring 185 goals and 948 points. He recorded 2891 penalty minutes (12th) and has a career plus/minus of +351 (18th). Chelios played in 11 all-star games and is the second oldest player to play in a NHL game after Gordie Howe. He ranks first all-time in playoff games played with 266, three games ahead of former teammate Nicklas Lidstrom. Chelios was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013.


Upon retiring Chelios became a senior advisor with Detroit, before working as assistant coach from 2015-16 to 2017-18. He currently works as an NHL analyst with ESPN.


YouTube clip: video from being named one of NHL’s top 100 players.


Card 355 - Sergei Nemchinov

















A left winger, Nemchinov was drafted 244th overall by the New York Rangers in 1990, having already played nine seasons of pro hockey in his native Soviet Union. He played one final season back home before coming to North America for his debut at age 28 in the 1991-92 season. In his rookie season Nemchinov scored 30 goals and 58 points, recording a 24.2% shooting percentage, good for fifth in the league. Since this card was produced before Nemchinov had ever suited up for the Rangers, the image on the reverse is Nemchinov playing in an exhibition match with CSKA Moscow against his future NHL team, something that I don't think has happened often in hockey card history.


He scored 20+ goals the next two seasons, and won a Stanley Cup in 1994, scoring two goals and seven points in 23 playoff games. After three additional seasons with the Rangers, Nemchinov was traded late in the 1996-97 season to Vancouver with Brian Noonan for Russ Courtnall and Esa Tikkanen. He lasted all of six regular season games with the Canucks (scoring five points) before signing as a free agent with the New York Islanders.


After two seasons on Long Island, Nemchinov completed the hat trick of NYC area teams when he was moved at the 1999 trade deadline to New Jersey for a draft pick. During the 1999-2000 season he appeared in only 53 regular season games with the Devils, but played in 21 playoff games, scoring five points and winning his second Stanley Cup. Following a second trip to the Finals the following season, Nemchinov left North America for the 2002-03 season, playing his final two pro seasons back in Russia.


In 11 NHL seasons, Nemchinov played in 761 games, scoring 152 goals and 345 points. In retirement he has coached Russia internationally, as an assistant at the 2006 Olympics and head coach for the World Juniors in 2008 & 2009. He has also coached in the KHL, managed in Kazakhstan and most recently was an assistant coach with South Korea for the 2019 World Championships.


YouTube clip: teaming up with countrymen Alexei Kovalev to score on a 2 on 1 against Quebec during the 1995 playoffs.


Card 356 - Bernie Nicholls

















A centre, Nicholls was selected 73rd overall by Los Angeles in the 1980 draft. In the season following the draft, he scored 63 goals and 152 points in 65 games with Kingston of the OMJHL. Nicholls turned pro for the 1981-82 season, scoring 14 goals and 32 points in 22 games with the Kings while also scoring 41 goals in 55 games in the AHL with New Haven.


Nicholls’ NHL breakthrough game in his third season, scoring 41 goals and 95 points, which he followed with a season of 46 goals and 100 points. From 1985 to 1988 he settled into a comfortable range of 30+ goals and 80 points per season. Nicholls reached another level in the 1988-89 season, scoring 70 goals and 150 points. This was good for second in the league in goals and fourth in points. He also set a Kings record that season with eight points in a single game on December 1st in a 9-3 victory over Toronto. During the 1989 playoffs the Kings knocked off the two-time defending champion Edmonton Oilers in the Smythe Division Semi-Finals. They were swept in the Division Finals by eventual champion Calgary, with Nicholls scoring seven goals and 16 points in 11 games.


The following season Nicholls regressed, still managing 37 goals and 112 points. His season would be split between LA and New York, with a January 1990 trade to the Rangers for Tony Granato and Tomas Sandstrom. After one full season on Broadway, Nicholls would be sent to Edmonton one game into the 1991-92 season as part of the package that landed the Rangers Mark Messier. In parts of two seasons with the Oilers, Nicholls scored 28 goals and 89 points, helping the team to the Campbell Conference Finals in 1992, scoring 19 points.


January 1993 saw Nicholls moved to New Jersey for Zdeno Ciger and Kevin Todd, where he would play until signing with Chicago as a free agent before the 1994-95 season. His first season as a Blackhawk he scored 22 goals, the 11th and final time in his career he would break the 20-goal barrier. In August 1996 he signed with San Jose, playing the final three seasons of his career with the Sharks, retiring after 10 games during the 1998-99 season.


In 18 NHL seasons, Nicholls played in 1127 games, scoring 475 goals and 1209 points. He played in three all-star games (1984, 89 and 90). Nicholls is one of only eight NHLers to score 70 or more goals in a season, with he and Alex Mogilny being the only two not in the Hockey Hall of Fame.


In retirement he worked with the Kings as an advisor, and was part of the team’s 2012 Stanley Cup victory. He currently works as a spokesperson for gambling website betregal.net.


YouTube clip: remembering his 70th goal during the 1988-89 season, courtesy of a hat trick in the second last game of the season.

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