Late and great: The Buffalo Sabres snagged Ryan Miller with the 138th pick in 1999.
If the National Hockey League’s 1999 Entry Draft became a ship, it would be the Titanic. Leading role would go to Patrik Stefan as the protagonist, not Leonardo DiCaprio. The first round is our iceberg, and…well you get the idea.
There’s little doubt that this class played with the emotions of clubs, as there was so much promise from the talent pool, yet how much was solidified? Stefan, the first overall pick, garnered a huge amount of press attention for his shortcomings, and put the exclamation point on his career by blundering an empty net break-away.
For anyone who purchased his hockey cards in the hopes that they’d be worth a substantial amount of money in the future like myself, you might as well treat it as toilet paper because they are estimated to be that expensive today.
Pavel Brendl, who was chosen fourth overall by the New York Rangers, did wonders for the Calgary Hitmen in the Western League. Too bad he swung, and missed with three teams, and couldn’t play a full season’s worth of games in his short career. Washington’s pick at No.7, Kris Beech, made his biggest impact as being tacked onto the package that brought Jaromir Jagr over in 2001.
The stories don’t get much better down the list, and from that year’s opening round of 28 players, only six are still hanging around in the NHL. While much of the 1999 class was woeful or non-existent. some of the general managers made out just fine. Here is a rundown of the players who are employed in the world’s elite league 12 years after their involvement in a despicable draft year.
They came, they saw, but only a few conquered. I use the word conquered loosely.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin (2nd and 3rd overall selections): The genius that is Brian Burke knew what he was doing when he scrambled to get the second pick in addition to the third he already held. Other general managers were in disbelief that he took Henrik so early, leaving Brendl up for grabs. But Burke wanted two players who had it in them to play well together, and the brothers are magical. Henrik won the Art Ross Trophy in 2010 and Daniel earned the honor this season, as the two tear defensemen to shreds with their cycling, vision, and hockey IQ.
Tim Connolly (5th overall selection): A piece of the transfer that flew Michael Peca to Long Island, Connolly’s dodgy injury history has robbed him from exploiting his ingenuity. His problems can be traced back to 2004, when post-concussion syndromes eradicated his season and he didn’t play one minute. There is no question about his raw talent, as Connolly can punch holes in any defense with his subtle movement, speed of thought, and flair for a wounding through pass. Sadly, we’ll always reminisce on what could have been for the 30-year-old.
Taylor Pyatt (8th overall selection): And, introducing the second portion of the Peca trade, Pyatt has faded from the public eye since joining the Phoenix Coyotes—no offense, but who doesn’t? People, their arena is in a desert. He’s the right size for a checking forward and you can’t teach that, as he’s come to terms with his role as more of a third line player. Still, he’ll hit anywhere from 15-20 goals, and not get lousy behind the puck.
Nick Boynton (21st overall selection): Sticking with the sunken ship theme, Boynton would bully his way onto a lifeboat before drowning. He’s had a few run-ins with discipline disputes: dismissed, and instructed to leave the Florida Panthers amidst a three-game road trip in 2009—not to mention a one-game suspension for threatening Blair Jones with a throat slashing gesture in the pre-season. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and Boynton compromised his lifestyle after being diagnosed with diabetes as a 19-year-old. Learning how to treat his condition, the hard-hitting defenseman kept charge of his career, and eventually won a Stanley Cup in Chicago.
Martin Havlat (26th overall selection): Hard-headed, and insistent on a heavy contract extension, Havlat must be wishing he took that one-year offer from the Chicago Blackhawks. Nevertheless, the sly winger joined the Minnesota Wild after the mesmerizing 2009 Conference Final march, and aired his grievances toward general manager Dale Tallon over twitter. A teenager out of the Czech Republic when drafted, he announced his arrival on the scene by scoring 19 goals, and 42 points as a rookie to get himself nominated for the 2001 Calder Trophy. In 2005, Havlat netted four goals in a dismantling win over the Buffalo Sabres, putting teammates Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza at a loss for words. "That’s not fair," both said in unison.
Alex Auld (40th overall selection): You’ll excuse Auld for not unpacking the bags in his residence too rashly—he’s played for eight organizations in six years, and secretly has airport routes memorized. All kidding aside, the reliable custodian can be a rock when the starter is injured or feeling the heat from expectations. If you don’t have a back-up plan, as in a secondary netminder, you don’t have a plan. Auld will be an unrestricted free agent this upcoming July. Oh no, not again.
Jordan Leopold (44th overall selection): Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier doesn’t crack open the piggy bank for anybody, but Leopold matched the prerequisites. He’s low-maintenance, and low-profile, as Regier seems content to sign players who should rise above their doable expectations. In the first season of his three-year deal with Buffalo, Leopold rewarded Regier’s hunch, lending veteran support to a prosperous defensive corps.
Adam Hall (52nd overall selection): Hall, who was a major scorer as a junior player, struck the right chords in the NHL as a grinder. Demoted to the American Hockey League in 2010, he returned with a vengeance, and new coach Guy Boucher saw a useful role player. Along with Nate Thompson, Hall’s penalty-killing has parachuted the Tampa Bay Lightning onto a 92.3 per cent rating, helping them stick around in games.
Niklas Hagman (70th overall selection): Reduced to ashes in Calgary, Hagman’s 11 tallies ended a three-year streak of scoring at least 20 goals. The word on the street is that the Flames will escort the Finn to the minors, that way his cap hit of $3 million is wiped from the books. Another Toronto cast-off from the Dion Phaneuf deal, Matt Stajan, was equally depressing out West.
Craig Anderson (77th overall selection): He qualifies for this list on a technicality. Anderson’s name was called in 1999, but because he did not reach an agreement with Calgary, re-submitted himself into the draft two years later. Once he went into the deep end, and finally got a chance in Florida before moving to Colorado, there were robberies. Scary number: Anderson is 23-5-6 lifetime when at least 40 shots are on course for him to stop.
Mike Comrie (91st overall selection): You can’t help but think that maybe Comrie should practice auditioning in front of a mirror, because the only line No.1 he’s going to see will be a on a script in Hillary Duff’s latest film. A move to Edmonton in 2009, his start-up organization, was greeted with enthusiasm. His best game was in the pre-season, and the Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t get their money’s worth either—$500,000 for 21 games, and six points.
Ryan Malone (115 overall selection): Although he missed the Stanley Cup parade in Pittsburgh, the priceless ring can still become Malone’s property. Gearing up for Game Seven, the Lightning are in it to win it, and staved off four elimination games to come this close. Their surprising scorer so far, Sean Bergenheim, has clouds above his status for the all-important fixture. No doubt Malone will have to be ready to grab it by the scruff of its neck.
Ryan Miller (138th overall selection): Always alert, Miller’s concentration can’t be broken by chants, insults or threats. He’s other-worldly when he is at his sharpest, and re-adjusts his body position to foil shooters. One way or the other, he’ll save Buffalo’s bread with his heroics. While most general managers were biting their fingernails, and pulling out hair after seeing the final products that belonged to them, the Sabres secured a franchise netminder.
Martin Erat (191st overall selection): On collision course with some form of injury each season, the Nashville Predators still can’t complain because Erat was caught so late. An enigma of sorts, the Czech native has an eye for the spectacular, and the creativity to sniff out plays that average people don’t realize are about to unfold. Erat is another player the Predators plucked from obscurity, just like Patric Hornqvist, and Pekka Rinne.
Henrik Zetterberg (210th overall selection): Detroit’s scouts must voluntarily work overtime. The likes of Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Johan Franzen are a testament to the pristine work they are doing. Henrik, or Hank, stormed up the Red Wing’s roster, and has won almost everything—a Stanley Cup, gold medal, and Conn Smythe Trophy. Years of playing in Sweden taught Zetterberg how to use his talents in North America, and he’s still destined for great things.
Radim Vrbata (212th overall selection): Vrbata has forged a better identity in Phoenix, adapting to Dave Tippett’s system. In Carolina, Colorado, and Chicago, not so much went right. Breaking free from the Tampa Bay fiasco, Vrbata burned that bridge, and crossed over to where he pitched his best hockey as a professional. It goes to show that you shouldn’t mess with a good chemistry. Home is where you make it.
Douglas Murray (241st overall selection): Murray is a tank—shots, and hits bounce off him, which don’t leave a scratch on his body. Whilst far from the master of his trade, the defenseman is never less than fully committed, and prescribes pain for his customers. Unafraid to be stuck on the penalty kill, Murray relieves much of the pressure that would otherwise build up on San Jose’s shaky defense. And he carries a very not-so-Swedish-sounding last name.
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