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Seven young players who were traded too soon

Sunday, 08.11.2013 / 10:00 AM / NHL Insider

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Seven young players who were traded too soon
NHL.com looks at seven players whose original teams likely wish they'd had a bit more patience.

It's every general manager's nightmare: You draft a player but don't see him develop as fast as you'd hoped. Another team comes along offering a deal that fills a need and wants that kid. You make the deal, and the young player you traded away becomes a star.

The deal might not be so bad if it provides the piece that makes you a champion -- the Calgary Flames (Brett Hull), New York Rangers (Tony Amonte) and Dallas Stars (Jarome Iginla) got the missing pieces to championship teams by dealing away young players who went on to outstanding careers. But the history of the NHL is replete with players who blossomed after a team gave up on them too quickly without getting much, if anything, in return.

Here are seven players whose teams probably wish they'd been a little more patient:

Cam Neely

If there's one trade in their history the Vancouver Canucks would love to undo, it's the one they made in June 1986 that sent Neely, their first pick (No. 9) in the 1983 NHL Draft, to the Boston Bruins after three seasons of learning on the job.

Neely scored 51 goals in three seasons with the Canucks after making the team as an 18-year-old, but the team felt his development had plateaued. On his 21st birthday, they traded him to Boston for center Barry Pederson, who was two years removed from a 116-point season.

Pederson had a couple of OK seasons in Vancouver but was never really an offensive force again, while Neely went on to become one of the great power forwards in NHL history. He reached the 50-goal mark three times, made four postseason All-Star teams and was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

To make things worse, the Canucks threw in a first-rounder that wound up being the third pick in the 1987 draft. That pick turned into defenseman Glen Wesley, who played in the NHL for two decades.

Rick Middleton

A decade before the Bruins wheedled Neely away from the Canucks, they did the same thing with Middleton, a talented youngster who the Rangers were ready to give up on.

Middleton was a young player on a very veteran team who had shown flashes of offensive ability but didn't always pay as much attention to defense as the Rangers would have liked. Nine months after acquiring Phil Esposito in a mega-deal from the Bruins, the Rangers swung another trade to bring in Espo's longtime right wing, Ken Hodge, sending Middleton to Boston.

Middleton soon showed the Rangers they had given up on him too quick. He had seven consecutive 30-goal seasons for Boston from 1978-79 through 1984-85, including five in a row with 40 or more goals, and finished his career with 448 goals and 988 points. Hodge lasted a little more than a year in New York.

It's every general manager's nightmare: trading a young player who later turns into a star. Examples include Roberto Luongo, Mats Sundin and Zdeno Chara. (Photo: Getty Images)

Hodge was on the other side of a similar trade in the summer of 1967, when he was a 22-year-old. The Chicago Blackhawks included him in a trade that sent Esposito to the Bruins; he became a two-time First-Team All-Star and helped Boston win championships in 1970 and '72.

Mats Sundin

The Quebec Nordiques made Sundin the first European-born player taken with the No. 1 pick in the draft when they selected him in 1989. Sundin made his NHL debut a year later, scoring a goal in his first game and putting up 114 points in his third season. He dropped to 85 points in 1993-94, and the Nordiques decided Sundin was the odd man out in their blossoming corps of centers -- so they traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs for power forward Wendel Clark.

The deal stunned Toronto fans, with whom Clark was immensely popular. But they soon grew to love Sundin as well. He led the team in scoring in his first season with the Maple Leafs and went on to become the franchise leader in goals (420) and points (984) on the way to a berth in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Ironically, one of his teammates for a couple of those seasons in Toronto was Clark, who was reacquired by the Maple Leafs in 1996.

Kris Draper

A dollar didn't go far in 1993, but it was enough to get the Detroit Red Wings a 22-year-old checking center who was key to four Stanley Cups.

That $1 price was all the Red Wings had to pay to land Draper, a fourth-round pick (No. 62) by the Winnipeg Jets in 1989 who had played only 20 NHL games in three stints with the team. Draper was never a major offensive force, but he became a reliable checking center and penalty-killer for one of the NHL's elite organizations. He won the Selke Trophy in 2004 and earned a berth on the Canadian Olympic team two years later to go along with being a member of four Stanley Cup championship teams.

In all, Draper spent 17 seasons with the Red Wings. That's pretty good value for a buck.

Zdeno Chara

The New York Islanders seemed to be in a perpetual rebuild in the late 1990s when they selected Chara, a 6-foot-9 defenseman from Slovakia, in the third round (No. 56) of the 1996 draft. By 1998, he was an Islander, playing mostly in a defensive role. He scored two goals in each of his three full seasons on Long Island, only rarely giving a hint that he was capable of more than being a good role player.

After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for seven consecutive seasons, the Islanders were desperate for some star power in the summer of 2001, so they swung a deal with the Ottawa Senators to bring in center Alexei Yashin. Part of the price was Chara, only 24 and still growing into his body; they also surrendered the No. 2 pick in the draft, which became Jason Spezza.

Chara quickly became one of the NHL's best defensemen, both with the Senators and later with the Bruins, with whom he signed as a free agent in 2006. Chara won the Norris Trophy in 2009, captained the Bruins to the Stanley Cup two years later and is still going strong at age 36. Yashin played five seasons with the Islanders before having his contract bought out.

Randy Carlyle

Long before Carlyle took over behind the Maple Leafs' bench, he was one of their most promising young players, a 22-year-old defenseman they had taken with the 30th pick in the 1976 draft. But after bouncing between Toronto and the minor leagues for two seasons, the Maple Leafs dealt him to the Pittsburgh Penguins with forward George Ferguson for veteran defenseman Dave Burrows in June 1978.

Burrows lasted just over two seasons with the Maple Leafs and retired after 1980-81 -- the same season in which Carlyle had 83 points and won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman. Carlyle was one of the NHL's most consistently productive defensemen for another decade with the Penguins and Jets before retiring in 1993. He then went into coaching and led the Anaheim Ducks to the Stanley Cup in 2007. He took over in Toronto in March 2012 and in 2012-13 led the Maple Leafs into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Roberto Luongo

As was the case with Chara, the Islanders weren't patient enough with Luongo, who became the highest-drafted goaltender in NHL history when he was taken with the fourth pick in 1997.

Luongo spent two more seasons in junior hockey and part of the 1999-2000 season in the minors before joining the Islanders, where he showed promise despite a 7-14-1 record on a last-place team. But New York used the No. 1 pick in 2000 to take college goaltender Rick DiPietro, then traded Luongo and center Olli Jokinen to the Florida Panthers for forwards Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha as well as Florida's first-round pick.

Kvasha and Parrish had serviceable NHL careers, but Luongo has gone on to win 348 games with Florida and the Canucks. He backstopped Canada to the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics and took the Canucks to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.

Quote of the Day

It was the look in his eyes. Hockey is the most important thing in his life. He wants to be a hockey player, and nothing's going to stop him from being a hockey player.

— Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin on forward Alex Galchenyuk's potential