6 Players That Had an Unusual Road to the NHL
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The dream of playing in the NHL often starts at an early age. Youngsters who show off their talent may get a chance to play junior hockey or play the game at the college level.
At that point, if they continue to improve and show enough of a feel for the game, they may get drafted sometime after they turn 18.
The best players—like Edmonton's Taylor Hall and Boston's Tyler Seguin—may get a chance to play immediately. Others will have to play in the minor leagues for a few years before they make it to the show.
However, not all players follow the usual route. Some may never get drafted while others will play in Europe for many years before they get their chance in the National Hockey League.
Jason Blake, Anaheim Ducks
Jason Blake is a left wing who last played with the Anaheim Ducks in 2011-12.
Blake has also played with the Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders and the Toronto Maple Leafs. He scored 40 goals for the Islanders in 2006-07. Blake was diagnosed with leukemia in 2007-08 while playing with the Maple Leafs.
He played with the University of North Dakota from 1997 through 1999, and finished his college career at the advanced age of 25.
Blake was never drafted and was signed as a free agent by the Los Angeles Kings in 1999.
Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh Penguins
Chris Kunitz scored 26 goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. The left wing scored 23 the season before, and has scored 20 goals or more five times in his career.
Not bad for a player who was never drafted.
Kunitz signed as a free agent with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003 after playing his college hockey at Ferris State.
He played two full years of minor league hockey before he scored 19 goals in his first full NHL season in 2005-06.
Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
Tim Thomas is one of the few players not impacted by the 2012-13 lockout because he was planning to take the year off from hockey.
However, Thomas is not officially retired. His unusual decision is open-ended and he may return in the future.
Thomas led the Boston Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. He has also won the Vezina Trophy twice in his career.
His road to stardom has been anything but easy. He was drafted in the ninth round of the 1994 draft by the Quebec Nordiques.
However, before he ever had a chance to play with the Bruins, he played in the ECHL, the IHL and with various teams in Sweden and Finland.
Thomas didn't get his first chance to play regularly in the NHL until 2003-04.
He took advantage of it and became one of the top goalies in Bruins' history.
Alex Burrows, Vancouver Canucks
Alex Burrows became an infamous player when he bit the finger of Patrice Bergeron's glove in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals between Vancouver and Boston.
It was clearly a classless move that reflected badly on the Canucks and helped stir up the Bruins.
To be fair, there's a lot more to Burrows' career than that unfortunate incident. He has scored 20 or more goals in each of the last four years, including a 35-goal season in 2009-10.
Not bad for a player who was never drafted. Burrows was signed as a free agent by Manitoba of the AHL in 2003 and by the Canucks in 2005.
Andy McDonald, St. Louis Blues
Andy McDonald is a quick-skating forward with the St. Louis Blues who knows how to get open and take advantage of his scoring opportunities.
He has scored 20 goals or more four times in his career.
McDonald played four years of college hockey at Colgate and was a big-time scorer for the Red Raiders, but he was not drafted.
He signed a free-agent contract with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2000 and was a role player for four seasons, troubled by concussion-related problems before breaking through with a 34-goal, 85-point season in 2005-06.
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay
Martin St. Louis has been playing regularly in the NHL since the 1999-00 season when he played 56 games for the Calgary Flames. He scored three goals that season before he was released and signed by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
He has had a brilliant career since then, scoring 323 goals and 529 assists. Not bad for a player who was never drafted.
St. Louis starred at the University of Vermont and is in that school's athletic Hall of Fame. Listed at 5'8" and 176 pounds, St. Louis may actually be an inch or two smaller. That lack of size scared off NHL teams.
However, he is a giant on the ice with speed, quickness, balance and notable hand-eye coordination.
Not drafting St. Louis was a mistake and the Lightning have made 29 other teams pay for it.