There is no doubt about it, Kris Draper has been an integral part of the Detroit Red Wings since being acquired in 1993 from the Winnipeg Jets.
While he never put up flashy stats—his career high in points is only 40—Draper has obviously had a profound effect on the Wings, having been apart of four Cup championship teams in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008.
Draper found his niche with the Wings while being the centre for the grind line between gritty forwards Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty. Those three combined to make a third line that could hit, fight, play defence and even chip in with a goal or two.
Draper won the ultimate award for his defensive play when he was voted as the best defensive forward of the year for the 2003-04 season, earning himself the Frank J. Selke Trophy.
However, his downward spiral that began in 2007-08 has left Wings fans fuming as he continued to block younger players from getting chances to prove themselves. His $1.5 million cap hit also continued to hinder a team that was always near the cap limit.
A lot of Wings fans even found themselves relieved when it was reported that Draper would be lost for the first two months of the season as he recovered from groin surgery.
However, Draper has found an extra gear that has not been evident in the last couple of seasons and he is playing some good hockey, performing well on a line with Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves/Drew Miller. Draper has six goals so far this season, is playing some good defence and has been winning more than 50 percent of the draws he takes.
Unfortunately for Draper, his mini-renaissance will likely not be enough to get him a contract offer next year, even for the league minimum. The Wings have two young players, Corey Emmerton and Jan Mursak, who cannot be sent to the AHL without first being susceptible to waivers. Tomas Tatar also seems to be nearly ready for the next level and to offer Draper a contract with all these young players waiting in the minors would not be sensible.
If this is indeed Draper's last season in a Red Wings uniform, it will be the end of an era, with Maltby retiring before this season began. I wish Draper all the best in his future endeavours—he truly was a great Detroit Red Wing.