Some of you have probably seen my articles on underachievers in the NHL. It's really not that hard to point out those who didn’t make it, those who should’ve been good, but never became the stars they were supposed to, and those who disappointed and underachieved.
It’s really easy. You simply need to look at high draft pick selections and see who were the busts and who were the greats.
But overachieving in the NHL is no easy feat. So with the uprising of surprise Chicago Blackhawks prospect Kris Versteeg, a fifth round pick, I wanted to give a shout out to those players we thought wouldn’t make it, and were too small or were "not good enough" to make an impact.
I wanted to show how impressive their careers are, and how they had to overcome much more obstacles than their first, second or third round teammates.
When you’re a late round draft pick, you don’t get the same exposure or the same opportunities. So here are those that raised the bar for the rest of them, and proved to us we were wrong about their talent and dedication.
For this first part, I’ve looked at a 20 years span starting in 1980 up to 2000.
Here they are:
In 1980, the Chicago Blackhawks drafted a smallish kid from the OHA, now known as the OHL. That kid was Steve Larmer and at the time of his drafting, he was only 5’10 and 170 pounds. He was considered a low risk/potential high reward prospect.
Even after a 114 points and 133 points season in the juniors, the Blackhawks still didn’t think much of Larmer who was too small, thus they sent him to their AHL affiliate club the New Brunswick Hawks. It didn’t take him long to prove them wrong however.
In 74 AHL games, he piled 38 goals and 82 points. After that season, Larmer never looked back and ended his career with 441 goals, 571 assists, and 1012 points in 1006 games.
In 1982, Doug Gilmour was drafted by St. Louis as a seventh round pick, 134th overall, and became a legend through the NHL.
Some love him and others hate him, but nobody can deny he was one of the great leaders the NHL has ever seen. He set records in Toronto for most points (127) and assists (95) in a season, as well as the most assists in a single game with six. He holds the record for quickest consecutive shorthanded goals in a game (four seconds apart).
He ended his career posting great numbers. In 1474 games, he received 450 goals, and 964 assists for 1414 points.
In 1983, the Philadelphia Flyers took a chance on a player that could’ve ended up being just a simple enforcer like so many other before him. At that point, the Flyers already had a few of those. So, by choosing Rick Tocchet with their sixth round pick, 121st overall, the Flyers could’ve had just another goon on their hands.
Tocchet though, became much more that just an enforcer. While racking up penalty minutes, Tocchet also racked up the points. He became a regular 30 goal scorer, putting up over 40 goals, three times in his career. He also reached the 100 point mark with 109 in 1992-93.
There are very few players, if any, in the NHL today that can do what Rick Tocchet used to. That kind of combination of brawn and talent would be priceless in the NHL we know today. He ended his career with 440 goals, 512 assists and 952 points in 1144 games.
To end this first part, I have four players that were drafted the same year. It seems 1984 was the year of over-achievement! The next four players are very well known and have earned a place amongst the great. Don’t be surprised if some, if not all of them, get their place in the Hall of Fame.
The first in line is Luc Robitaille. I’ve already spoken about him in my Calder Trophy surprises article. He is indeed a surprise Calder winner because as I mentioned, nobody really expected a ninth round pick to win the Calder Trophy, nor do they expect him to have the career he had.
Robitaille was simply dominant, he became the most prolific left wing in NHL history and surprised everyone with consistent 40 goal seasons, even scoring 63 in 1992-93.
To make an even better point, Robitaille is the most prolific player the Los Angeles Kings have ever drafted. He stands first in points with 1394 (second is Larry Murphy at 1216), first in goals with 668 (second is Bernie Nicholls with 475), third in assists with 726, and second in games played with 1431. Pretty impressive.
The second individual needs no introduction. He recently made the news by acquiring pest Sean Avery from free agency last summer, and was a very high scoring forward. This player goes by the name of Brett Hull.
Hull was a sixth round pick, 117th overall by the Calgary Flames. The Flames made the big mistake of trading him for some "loose change" in Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley. To their defense, they probably had no idea Brett's production would explode the next year. They should’ve known because he did score 105 goals in 57 games in the minors.
On the all-time list, he is currently third in goals with 741, scoring 131 goals more than his legendary, Hall of Fame father Bobby Hull. It’s unlikely someone will drop him to fourth place soon, the closest active player being Joe Sakic with 625 goals. With 1391 points in 1269 games, Brett Hull will likely get a place beside his father in the Hall of Fame as one of the best snipers in NHL history.
Third on my 1984 list is Cliff Ronning. Although not as flashy as others on the list, Ronning deserves to be mentioned.
Few players reached the 1000 games played mark, as well as 800 points. Ronning, however, reached both. Ronning was drafted in the seventh round, 134th overall by St. Louis. He will likely be passed by many players, but currently stands 99th on the all time scoring list.
An interesting fact about his career is that although he broke scoring records and won multiple awards in the juniors, Ronning never found his scoring touch with the Blues. It’s only after he spent a year away from the NHL in Italy no less (scoring an astonishing 74 goals and 135 points in 42 games), and got traded to Vancouver, that he started producing regularly. He ended his career with 869 points in 1137 games.
Last but not least is Hall of Famer Gary Suter. Again, ninth round picks are not expected to have significant careers and win the Calder trophy. So, it stands to reason that fact that he is considered one of the great defensemen in the NHL. Suter was drafted by the Flames, 180th overall.
Few defensemen have had more than a point per game in a season. Suter achieved it in 1987-88 with 91 points in 75 games and a year later, he was lifting the Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames.
Throughout his career, Suter was able to maintain a plus/minus of 126, which was not an easy feat to accomplish. Currently, he stands at N. 109 on the all-time scoring list, a mere point behind Marcus Naslund.
It seems they have great defensive abilities in the family, his nephew Ryan Suter being a first round draft pick and pivotal piece of Nashville’s defense corp. Gary ended his career with 203 goals, 642 assists for 845 points, in 1145 games played.
More to come later on!! Keep watching!