Hall of Snubs
All fans love to see their favorite teams find a diamond in the rough. Sometimes, it happens in the form of a guy who was chosen in a late round of the draft and then defies all projections to become a star. Other times, a guy who went undrafted leaves us all to scratch our heads as to how he was overlooked when he strings together a long, respectable career. In this post, I want to look at the rarest of these players -- those who went from undrafted free agent to Hall of Famer.
First, some ground rules. If a guy was not draft eligible, then he is not eligible for this list. Therefore, players who entered the NHL before the creation of the NHL Amateur Draft are not eligible for this list. Likewise, Wayne Gretzky is not eligible for the list because he was ineligible for the NHL draft due to his signing with the Oilers when they were in the WHA and the terms of the merger. So then, ground rules established, let's dive into the list.
It is somewhat understandable that Salming was undrafted, since Europeans in the NHL were virtually unheard of at the time. They were generally thought of as soft at best, and were often persona non grata. Even so, Salming's spot on this list could be considered earned since when he was discovered by the Maple Leafs' Gerry McNamara, the scout was actually targeting his teammate, Inge Hammarstrom. The gritty Salming signed with Toronto in 1973 and proved to be the total antithesis of the European stereotype.
Salming proved to be one of the top defensemen of his era as a two-time first team all-star and two-time Norris runner-up. In fact, he is widely considered to be one of the best defensemen never to win the Norris. He retired with 787 points and 1,344 penalty minutes in 1,148 regular season games. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.
Again, one could understand why Stastny went undrafted. As a native of Czechoslovakia, the Iron Curtain stood in the way of his freedom to move to North America to play. But, as with Salming, one could say his spot on this list is deserved since those factors did not prevent his younger brother Anton from being drafted. Truth be told, had Anton not been drafted, we might not have the dramatic story of the defections of the three Stastny brothers to play with the Quebec Nordiques.
Of the three brothers, there can be no doubt that Peter was the best of the bunch. Other than Wayne Gretzky, no one scored more points in the 1980s than Peter did. He won the Calder in 1981, and managed to post six 100+ point seasons despite not reaching the NHL until he was 24 years old. His 1,239 points in 977 career games averages out to a highly impressive 1.27 points per game. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998.
Let it never be said that Joe Mullen had a charmed childhood. He grew up in the then appropriately named Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. Many of his acquaintances died at young ages because of drug and gang involvement. Mullen's story is not one of merely being undrafted. He also started his college career as a walk-on. He earned a scholarship in his first college season, but even after a successful college career, he was considered too small to play in the NHL.
Mullen overcame his size to become one of only four American-born players to score at least 500 career goals. He was a first team all-star in 1989, and won the Lady Byng in 1987 and 1989, as well as posting the league's best plus/minus rating in 1988-89. Over the course of his career, he ammassed 502 goals and 1,063 points in 1,062 games. Those stats earned him a Hall of Fame selection in 2000.
Injuries no doubt played a role in Dino Ciccarelli's not being drafted. In his final pre-draft eligibility season in the OMJHL, he played in just 30 regular season games, managing a mere 19 points. He signed with the Minnesota North Stars in 1979, and had a rebound season in juniors immediately following. In his first full NHL season, the 1981-82 campaign, there was no doubt left as to the level of talent the North Stars had signed when he put up 106 points in 75 games.
Ciccarelli was often a source of controversy, but the numbers are impressive. His 608 goals make him one of just 18 players to ever reach the 600 tally milestone, and are the most of any draft eligible player that went unchosen. In 1,235 regular season games, he earned 1,200 points and 1,425 penalty minutes. He received the sport's highest honor in 2010 when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Adam Oates was a high school dropout and a self-described "punk." It seems likely that those facts hurt his draft stock, but the final nail in the coffin was his speed. Most scouts simply believed that Oates was too slow to play in the NHL despite numbers in junior and college level play that suggested his now well-known playmaking ability. Finally realizing their mistake after his junior season in college, NHL teams began courting Oates and he signed with the Red Wings in 1985, becoming the NHL's highest paid rookie.
The numbers prove the scouts wrong. Oates led the league in assists three times and posted an incredible 142-point season in 1992-93. His passes helped turn Brett Hull into the 70 and 80 goal scorer that he was in the early 1990s. When he retired, Oates had 1,420 points in 1,337 games. He took his place in the Hall of Fame in 2012.
Despite helping lead the University of North Dakota to a national championship in 1987, Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour went undrafted by NHL teams. It took him a while to make his breakout, but as a 25-year-old in the 1990-91 season, he won the Vezina, leading the league in wins, save percentage, and goals against average. All-in-all, he led the league in wins once, save percentage twice, goals against average twice, and shutouts four times.
Belfour's career numbers are astounding. Despite becoming a regular netminder at a relatively late age, he is third in all-time wins with 484. He won two Vezinas and was a finalist on two other occassions. In his breakout season, he was even a Hart Trophy finalist. In 1999, he backstopped the Dallas Stars to the Stanley Cup. He was given his due in the form of a Hall of Fame election in 2011.
Players like the guys listed above are truly rare, but theirs are stories of perseverance that inspire many both in the world of hockey and outside. If there is ever a reminder that the seemingly impossible can be done, they serve such a role. These members of the Hall of Snubs are the greatest of all diamonds in rough.