Every Tuesday from now until the beginning of the regular season I'll do my best David Letterman impression and put together a unique top ten list about our beloved Canes. Last week I listed the Top Ten Hurricanes Playoff Games. This week, in honor of former Whaler Michael Nylander attending training camp with Flyers, I decided to switch it up a bit. Instead of focusing my attentions to only Hurricanes history, I thought it would be appropriate to include a little Hartford Whalers information as well.
Every team in the NHL is different. Some make big splashes in free agency come July 1, while others play it safe. Some teams salivate over trade deadline possibilities, while some are the sellers. The one event that brings every team together at the end of every season is always the NHL Entry Draft. No team can escape it, in fact those seller teams are now the ones in the spotlight.
The Whalers/Hurricanes franchise, like nearly all other teams, has gone through some great drafts and some duds. There have been questionable high picks (see Nikos Tselios, Tomas Kurka or Trevor Wasyluk) as well as later-round choices that never amounted to much of an NHL prospect (Kevin Nastiuk or Magnus Kahnberg). However, sprinkled in with the flops and disappointments are a few players that not only made it to the big show, but have left lasting impressions. Both the Whalers and the Hurricanes have produced some major NHL stars through the Entry Draft and in this weeks list, we get to take a look at some of them.
Once again, feel free to point out who I missed and how insane I must be by ranking everyone where I did. What was I thinking!
10. Jeff O'Neill
The Hartford Whalers used their first-round pick in 1994 on a young sniper named Jeff O'Neill. The Whalers knew what they were getting - a guy who scored 120 goals and 209 assists (329 points) in only 188 games with the OHL's Guelph Storm. O'Neill, who grew up admiring Ron Francis, played his rookie season in Hartford then moved with the team to Raleigh, NC. He helped guide an overachieving team into the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002 and was one of the club's leading scorers during their playoff push. He was also selected to the 2002-03 All-Star team, representing the Hurricanes. He would stay with the team until the end of the 2004 season, amassing close to 200 goals. In 2005 (before the CBA was ratified) he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. O'Neill publicly said that he wanted to play in Toronto, the closest team to his family, after the passing of his brother. O'Neill was last seen in the hockey world with the Hurricanes. He attended training camp on a tryout in 2008, but did not make the cut and was released from the team.
9. Ulf Samuelsson
The Whalers selected Samuelsson in the fourth round with the 67th overall pick in 1982. Samuelsson was one of the heaviest hitters in the league during his 16-year career. However, he was also known as one of the dirtiest players. He is the player best associated with ending Boston Bruins great Cam Neely's career so early with a knee-on-knee collision. Over his career, Samuelsson played over 1,000 games for five different teams. He registered 57 goals and 276 assists, but was never known for an offensive touch. He put fear into opponent's eyes whenever his blades touched the ice. After retiring in 2000, Samuelsson has kept busy coaching squirt and school teams. He was the assistant coach for the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack as well as the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes. He recently signed on to coach Swedish powerhouse Modo. His son Philip was drafted 61st overall by the Penguins in 2009 as well.
8. Geoff Sanderson
Sanderson was a natural-born leader and goal scorer. The Whalers selected the 18-year old from the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL at 36th overall. Sanderson was called up from the AHL during the 1990-91 season and never looked back. He played only two games in 1991 but managed to score his first NHL goal during that span. In his next seven seasons with the Whalers/Hurricanes he cracked the 30-goal mark four times and the 40-goal plateau twice. He was also elected to the NHL All-Star game twice (1994 and 1997) during his time with the organization. This is where his journey gets strange.
During the 1997-98 season Sanderson was traded to the Vancouver Canucks, then sent to the Buffalo Sabres. After two years in Buffalo, Sanderson was claimed in the Expansion Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he would crank out two more 30-goal seasons. After another trade sent him back to Vancouver, he was picked up by Columbus again off waives in the offseason (I think that was a condition in the original trade). After a whopping two games in Columbus, he was again traded, this time to the Phoenix Coyotes (where he scored 25 goals) in 2005. Sanderson turned in two more quiet seasons with the Flyers and Oilers respectively, ending an illustrious and well-traveled career.
7. Robert (Bobby) Holik
The Whalers took Robert Holik with the tenth overall pick in the first round of the 1989 Entry Draft. He produced eerily similar statistics during his first two seasons in the NHL, both with Hartford (numbers differed by only two assists) He really gained fame, however, after he was traded to the New Jersey Devils following the 1991-92 season. He played in Jersey for the next 10 years, winning two Stanley Cups and playing in as many All-Star games. He scored 198 of his 326 goals as a Devil, before he signed on to play for cross-state rival the New York Rangers. After two mildly productive seasons in the Big Apple and three more in Atlanta. Holik returned to the Devils, signing a one-year contract. He only produced four more goals with the club and retired after the conclusion of the 2009 Playoffs.
6. Jean-Sebastian Giguere
Normally I would not rate a goaltender with a lifetime record that hovers only slightly safely over .500 this high on such a prestigious list, but I chose to ignore the statistics with this guy. Drafted 13th overall by the Whalers in 1995, Guguere was looked at as a future franchise goalie. However, things very rarely ever work out the way they are planned. Giguere was traded to the Calgary Flames (with Andrew Cassels for Gary Roberts and Trevor Kidd) after playing in only eight games with the franchise. In 2000-01 Giguere, while playing for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, served as a backup to Guy Hebert throughout his rookie season. After that Giguere started to become a household name in California, posting good numbers in each of his first two full seasons with the club. Then came his time to shine.
In the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Giguere helped lead the seventh-seeded Mighty Ducks past the second-seeded powerhouse Detroit Red Wings in a sweep, shocking most of the hockey world. The Ducks then dispatched of the Dallas Stars in six games and shut down the upstart Minnesota Wild 4-0 (a series in which the Wild scored only one goal on Giguere in four games). While the Ducks would eventually lose to the Devils in the Cup Finals, Giguere's performance will go down as one of the best postseason pushes in hockey history. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as a member of the losing team for only the fifth time (only the second goalie to ever do it) marking just how incredibly the goalie played. Giguere would have to wait until 2007 to hoist the Cup himself as he guided his Ducks to the championship round once again, this time delivering in five games.
Giguere went on to play in Toronto for two seasons, posting average numbers in sparse action. He recently signed a two-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche, where he will have to compete against newly-aquired Semyon Varlomov for the starting role.
5. Cam Ward
Speaking of Conn Smythe winning goaltenders.... The Whalers/Hurricanes franchise has the distinction of being one of only two teams to ever draft multiple Playoff MVP-winning goaltenders (the other being the Boston Bruins - Ken Dryden and Bill Ranford). Ward, 27, was drafted 25th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2002 Draft. The Canes were fresh off of a run to the Stanley Cup Finals and Ward represented a prospective goalie of the future. Ward began his career with the Hurricanes after a successful season with the Lowell Lock Monsters of the AHL, one in which Ward helped push the Monsters into the second round of the playoffs. Since joining the Canes, Ward has put up unbelievably impressive numbers and performed in the tensest moments. He became the first starting goaltender to win a Stanley Cup championship in his rookie season since Patrick Roy and, of course, took home MVP honors. Since his championship run, Ward (161-118-31) has put up numbers comparable to any goaltender in the NHL. He was put up at least 30 wins in every season except his rookie year (in which he was a backup to Martin Gerber) and his injury-shortened 2009-10 season (18 wins). Cam has also posted 16 shutouts since 2006 - impressive considering the Hurricanes have only managed 17 (Manny Legace - another Whaler draft pick - got the other one).
Ward is still in the prime of his career and gives his team a great chance to win every game, every night, every shift. That's all one could really ask out of a goaltender. He appeared in his first All-Star game this past year, playing on Team Staal (the first pick in the All-Star draft nonetheless) in front of his home crowd. He continues to improve every year; slimming down and buffing up in the offseason seems to be an annual ritual of his. The Hurricanes locked up this cornerstone of the franchise as he is under contract with the team until 2016.
4. Ray Ferraro
Imagine for a second you are the GM of the Hartford Whalers. There you are in the fifth round of the Entry Draft, you have pick number 88 and it's your turn to choose a player. You look down the list of possible candidates and you see something. It must be a typo... A player scored 65 goals, 135 points in 48 games in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League and he's not taken yet? That's where the franchise was in 1982, and that player was Ray Ferraro. Many teams passed on the junior player because he was, well, junior. Ferraro is generously listed as 5'10" now (not sure what he was in 1982) but the Whalers were willing to take a chance. Ferraro would go on to play in the WHL, registering a 108 goal, 192 point year for the Brandon Wheat Kings in 1983-84. He quickly showed that scoring touch in the NHL as well. Ferraro scored 157 goals for the Whalers in just over six seasons. One year included a 41-goal effort, proving Ferraro to be a legitimate scoring threat despite his small size.
Continuing their string of bad management, the Whalers traded Ferraro away in 1990 to the New York Islanders for defenseman Doug Crossman. Crossman only played one season in Hartford, but Ferraro continued to shine. Another 40-goal season with the Islanders almost helped propel them to a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, but they were halted by the Montreal Canadiens in the Wales Conference Finals. After his hay-day with the Isles, Ferraro became a bit of a journeyman. He bounced from the Rangers to the Kings to the Thrashers before finally retiring as a St. Louis Blue. Ferraro pocketed over 400 goals during his 1,258 game career and came within two points of reaching 900. He also posted 21 goals and 43 points in 68 playoff games with the Whalers, Islanders and Kings. After retiring, Ferraro went in to broadcasting and he can currently be seen on TSN and heard on Team 1040 Radio in Canada.
3. Eric Staal
If there was ever a year to have a bad season it was 2002-03. The 2003 Draft Class was considered second to none by many hockey experts and they turned out to be correct. The Florida Panthers held the first overall pick but traded it away to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third pick among others. The Penguins selected goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury first overall which left the Canes to decide between Nathan Horton and Eric Staal. They went with Staal. Good choice. Since the time he was drafted, Staal has done nothing but prove to the Hurricanes that he is a star. He has a big, physical body that can push opponents around and soft, quick hands that can score from any angle on the ice. Staal has a wicked wrist shot and a powerful slapper - a dangerous combination.
Staal made the Hurricanes during his draft year - something relatively rare in those days. He had an unbelievable training camp and preseason, leading the league in goals with seven. The Canes plugged him in and despite looking every bit like the awkward teenager he was, he still put up 11 goals and 20 assists - not terrible for a rookie. After a season of refining and working i the AHL during the labor stoppage, Staal came back with a vengeance. He scored 100 points in his sophomore season and has collected no less than 70 in each of the following five years. Staal has amassed 226 goals, 278 assists and 504 points, all while playing against the league's top defensives every night. Staal has also chipped in 43 points in 43 playoff games for the Canes. He was recently honored by the team by being named it's captain, a privilege that only four other people have known since relocation.
Staal looks like a man playing among boys at times and just might overtake most of the Hurricanes records when all is said and done. He has been elected to the All-Star Game every year he has been in the league (representing the YoungStars during his rookie year) and has notched at least a goal in every game. He also took home All-Star MVP honors in 2008 in Atlanta. He was named to Canada's most recent gold-medal-winning Olympic squad after serving as an alternate in 2006. The awards and accolades just keep pouring in for the Carolina captain and the Canes are hoping to see much more out of him as they locked him up until 2016.
The Hartford Whalers hit a home run with the selection of defenseman Chris Pronger with the second overall pick in the 1993 Entry Draft. Only Alexander Daigle (who was thought to be the next Gretzky) was selected ahead of him. Since coming into the league in 1993-94, Pronger has been one of the most consistent, steady defensemen in the league. He was even named to the NHL All-Rookie team after an impressive first season. His career with the Whalers was short-lived, lasting only two full seasons. Pronger had off-ice issues that Whalers management couldn't see past. He was arrested for drunk driving, involved in bar fights and thought to be a little too spoiled by the fanbase. Pronger was traded to the St. Louis Blues in July of 2005 for forward Brendan Shanahan. Pronger would go on to earn the captaincy of the Blues in 1997.
Pronger has racked up awards and honors left and right in the NHL. He's been selected to six All-Star Games (only playing in three due to injury), has two Olympic gold medals with Team Canada and has been named to the NHL First or Second All-Star team (named at the end of the season) four times. Pronger's best season would have to be his 1999-2000 campaign. Pronger had hammered in 14 goals and added 48 assists (62 points), but more importantly earned an astounding +52 rating. That season earned him not only the Norris Trophy as league's best defenseman, but also the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player. This was the first time that a defenseman had won the award since Bobby Orr in 1972, some good company to be in.
After nine seasons in St. Louis and an impending labor lockout, the Blues dealt him to the Edmonton Oilers. Pronger never seemed to be thrilled to play with the Oilers, yet still managed to help lead his new team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, squaring off against the same franchise that had drafted him 13 years earlier. He scored a team-high 21 points, even converting on the only successful penalty shot in Cup Finals history, scoring against Cam Ward in Game 1. While his Oilers would lose in seven games to the Hurricanes, he would get his Stanley Cup the next season. After requesting a trade out of Edmonton, Pronger was dealt to the Anaheim Ducks, who beat the Senators in five games to win Lord Stanley.
Pronger has totaled 156 goals and 686 points in 1,154 games through a combination of stability and hard work. He currently serves as an alternate captain (some think he should be captain due to recent trades) of the Philadelphia Flyers. He will be a Flyer for a long time too as his current deal pins him there until 2017 with the NMC (No Movement Clause).
1. Ron Francis
Ron Francis was selected fourth overall in the 1981 Draft after a productive year with the OHL's Sault Saint Marie Greyhounds. Francis was viewed as a good player who could contribute quickly, but people had no clue of the talent he would show. After joining the Whalers during the 1981-82 season, Francis began to make his assault on the record books. During his ten seasons in Hartford, Francis produced at least 20 goals and no less than 43 assists. Even in shortened seasons due to injury, he still managed to be a 20-goal guy. He also hit the 30-goal mark twice as a Whaler including his 1989-90 season in which he first eclipsed 100 points. Francis was a fan favorite and served as captain for most of his Whaler career. However, questionable management again reared its head, as he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991. The franchise had lost it's face.
Francis excelled in Pittsburgh, playing with Hall of Famers like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Tom Barrasso. Francis made it known to Penguins fans what he had cemented in Hartford already, he was ready to be a big-time factor in the team's success. He spent seven years with the Penguins, captaining the team twice in the absence of Lemieux. He won two Stanley Cups in the early 90's and provided the Cup-winning goal in his later victory. He also became the first Penguin to win a Selke Trophy. After the 1997-98 season, in which he posted 87 points, he returned back to the organization that drafted him, signing on with the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Canes didn't want Francis just to have a sentimental reunion with a player they missed though. They knew he was one of the best centers in the league and could maybe help the new franchise win. Francis served as an alternate captain until the holdout and subsequent trade of Keith Primeau, when he was named the team's third captain. After six seasons and the Hurricanes in the pits of the NHL's standings in 2003, Francis was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Trade Deadline. While there will always be a bitter taste in fans' mouths that his last NHL game was with the Maple Leafs, they know that Ron Francis will always be considered a Cane. His number is retired by both the Whalers and the Hurricanes.
Francis was never one to showboat or brag about statistics/awards but he certainly could if he ever wanted to. He has been named to four All-Star Games ranging from 1983 to 1996. In addition to his two Stanley Cups and Selke Trophy, he has also been awarded the Lady Byng Trophy three times (1995,1998, 2002) and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy once in 2002. His numbers will always speak for themselves as he sits in a distant second place in NHL history when it comes to assists. His 1,249 assists trails only Wayne Gretzky (1,963) and leads the third place Mark Messier by 56. His 1,798 points sits him at fourth place all time. He has played more games than everyone except two people in history. Francis' numbers put him in such an elite category, but it was his consistency that made him a star. He tied Gordie Howe for the most consecutive 50-point seasons with 22, coming 10 points shy of breaking the mark in his final year.
So there you have it. Like I stated before, feel free to correct my choices and please throw some more names in the pot as there were some I felt bad about leaving off.