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What the Maple Leafs really need is a young Kris Draper

For all the positive steps they seem to have taken already, the Maple Leafs clearly have a lot of needs heading into next season. And there’s a certain type of player that I’ve admired for a long time that I don’t think the Leaf have--and haven’t had for ages.

I’m not talking about the ultra-talented offensive stars that every club has. I’m more referring to players who are gritty, tenacious, the guys who are the backbone and heart and soul of every really good team. I’m thinking about someone with speed who can force the opposition into mistakes. A guy who is relentless on the ice and can shut down top players on the other team. A “high-end” third-line guy, someone who shows up to play every night and is a leader, and can help the team win big games.

I’ve pretty much described one particular individual who has played for the Detroit Red Wings for more than fifteen seasons: Kris Draper.

In what has turned out to be one of the best trades in the recent era, Detroit obtained Draper back in 1993 for “future considerations”. (Draper had been drafted 62nd overall by Winnipeg in 1989.) I don’t know what the considerations turned out to be, but for Detroit, it was a deal that helped make the franchise a winner after decades in the hockey wilderness. (If I’m not mistaken, Bryan Murray was still GM at the time. He probably deserves more credit for what Detroit accomplished than he receives, just as he laid the groundwork in Anaheim before they won their Cup.)

While Draper missed the devastating Red Wing playoff loss to Toronto in the spring of ’93, he was a young player earning his time as the Wings struggled for ultimate playoff success the next three seasons, suffering more bitter disappointments along the way.

But when the Wings finally put all their talent together under Scotty Bowman and won the Cup in 1997, it was the beginning of an era that may just now be nearing an end, an era that saw the Wings as serious Cup contenders every year. Draper has been, to me, an indispensible part of four Cups in Detroit and he and the Wings came awfully close to a fifth last spring. Fast, skilled, determined, an outstanding penalty-killer and so good defensively that he won the Selke Trophy in 2004.

Draper’s not a big goal-scorer (155 regular-season goal in over 1,100 career games) but he’s scored some important ones and set up or helped create many others. He has been a particularly marvelous playoff performer. (We all remember how he was hammered into the boards by Claude Lemieux and needed extensive surgery to recover. But he never missed a beat and has continued his splendid play right up to and including this season, though he turns 39 this month.)

Draper has been part of several World Championship squads with Team Canada, in addition to representing Canada at the Olympics and the World Cup.

If the Leafs can develop someone that can even somewhat resemble the player Draper has been, it would be a huge plus. You absolutely need players like Draper to win, individuals who sacrifice personal agendas for team goals. GM’s like to talk about “top six” and “bottom six” forwards. Draper has always been a “bottom six” forward but in my books, he has long been an elite player.
Toronto Maple Leaf hockey blog,  maple leaf memories

1 comment:

  1. Greetings, Mike.
    The future considerations turned out to be $1 – no doubt one of the best (or worst) deals in NHL history. After the Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997, in a rally at Joe Louis Arena, Draper reached into his pocket, pulled out a dollar bill, and gave it to owner Mike Ilitch. "Here you go. Investment paid in full!", he said. Today, that dollar bill is framed and hangs in their offices.
    Gene M.