July 29, 2005
NHL Draft Preview Schedule
Great Overlooked Collegians
Many NHL stars were overlooked in college
By Adam Wodon
Special to CSTV.com
The NHL Draft, like all drafts, is an imperfect science. Players slip through the cracks, and a dozen years later you slap your head and wonder what in the world you were thinking when you didn't use the opportunity to grab a player that turns into an NHL star.
But most of the NHL star players who went undrafted were not drafted for a reason. Sometimes those reasons are based on old prejudices, but sometimes they are for sound philosophy. These days, especially with advanced scouting methods, a player rarely, if ever, just slips through the cracks by accident.
Clearly, the best former college hockey player to go undrafted is Adam Oates. The 5-foot-11 centerman played 1,337 games in the National Hockey League, scoring 1,420 points. He is known as perhaps the best passer in the last 20 years outside of Wayne Gretzky. Oates spent three seasons at RPI, winning a national championship in 1985, before reaping the benefits of that distinction.
Oates entered school as a 20-year old freshman, already past his draft eligibility, when he blossomed at RPI. Often times, this is what happens when players are overlooked. Oates went on to sign a lucrative free agent contract with the Detroit Red Wings. Actually, the Red Wings binged that offseason on a series of big-ticket free-agent deals, but only Oates panned out.
And pan out he did. Among the top 50 points scorers in NHL history, Oates is the only one from the draft era who was not drafted.
Jamie Macoun was not a defenseman that put up impressive numbers, but the Ohio State product wound up playing 1,128 games in the NHL through the 80s and 90s. Other defensemen that were overlooked included Norm MacIver, a North Dakota standout in the early 80s, and Mike Milbury, who played two years at Colgate before a distinguished career with the Boston Bruins. Milbury is one of many ex-college players that are now executives in the NHL, a quickly growing group.
A player like Doug Smail, a star on the
Joe Mullen was in a similar boat, though he had the double whammy of being both small and an American, another bias of NHL GMs of the time. Mullen was from
Perhaps the biggest area of overlooked players, however, comes in the goal. Three huge names in the last 30 years were undrafted college starts who went on to big NHL careers: Ed Belfour (
These days, some of the prejudices have faded away, but not entirely. For evidence of that, you need look no further than the most recent NHL MVP -- Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 5-foot-9 skater was a wonder in juniors, but bypassed in the draft because of his size.
He went to the
The story of other more recent college stars is less dramatic, and in most cases, NHL GMs can't really be faulted.
In Halpern's case, he was a relative no-name, a native of
Todd White had the size problem, but also vision problems which later turned out to be cataracts. When that was solved, he exploded in 1997 and beat out
Others on the overlooked list are John Madden (Michigan), Brian Rafalski (
This year, in particular, may create a lot of overlooked players, because the draft has been reduced from nine rounds to seven. But if history tells us anything, it's that, if you're talented enough, you'll make it one day eventually, draft or no draft, bias or no bias.