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Thornton, Marleau lasting legacy from 1997 draft

by Corey Masisak

Note: will take a look back at the NHL drafts from five, 10 and 15 years ago this week leading up to the 2012 NHL Draft in Pittsburgh. How would a redux of those drafts look today?

Fifteen years later, the Class of 1997 remains a star-crossed group.

The top talents from the 1997 NHL Draft are known more for postseason disappointments than success. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have shared plenty of playoff misery together in San Jose and are among the top current players in the NHL never to have lifted the Stanley Cup.

Also on that list is the one elite goaltender from this draft, Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo. The one among the four players from the Class of 1997 with Hockey Hall of Fame potential to have lifted the Cup is Marian Hossa, whose career was defined by playoff struggles and near-misses before finally winning with Chicago in 2010.

This draft will not be remembered as a particularly strong one, especially because it wasn't very deep. Only 29 players reached 400 career NHL games, though Mike Mottau could make it 30 with 87 more. Most of the players from this class are or will soon be 33 years old, yet only 18 on this list (plus Mottau) played in the NHL this past season.

Though the talent may have eventually been found wanting, NHL general managers did a remarkable job of identifying it in the top half of the first round. Eight of the top 11 on this list were taken in the first 13 selections, with only Brian Campbell going outside the top 25. On the flip side, the second half of the then-26-pick first round was a big whiff for clubs, save for Scott Hannan and Brenden Morrow.

No team drafted more than two players who have 500 NHL games. This was Boston's draft in 1997 -- Thornton at No. 1 and Sergei Samsonov at No. 8 were the Bruins' foundation at one point. Fifteen years later, it will be remembered as San Jose's draft -- the Sharks have employed the first two picks (Thornton and Marleau) for seven years, not to mention six-plus seasons of Hannan before he moved to Colorado.

Rank Player Drafted Skinny
1 Joe Thornton 1 Could end up with 1,500 points, will he also have a Cup on his resume?
2 Marian Hossa 12 Elite two-way player, made three straight Finals with three different teams
3 Roberto Luongo 4 30 wins from reaching the top 15 in League history, 62 from top 10
4 Patrick Marleau 2 Durable with really good but rarely great production; might need Cup(s) for HOF entry
5 Brenden Morrow 25 Considered a great captain, but physical style of play might be starting to take its toll
6 Brian Campbell 156 Huge contract distorted some opinions; still a great skater and fine No. 2/3 defenseman
7 Olli Jokinen 3 Fourth in goals/points in this class, but always a feeling there was more to give
8 Eric Brewer 5 Steady in own end, top-pair guy for Tampa Bay's 2011 playoff run; needs 160 games for 1,000
9 Scott Hannan 23 Similar to Brewer, but with less offense and more playoff experience
10 Sergei Samsonov 8 Three 25-goal seasons before he turned 25, never more than 18 after
11 Daniel Cleary 13 Four 40-point seasons in six years after nothing close to that before 28th birthday
12 Matt Cooke 144 Always strong on PK, earned more recognition for his skill without dirty element
13 Andrew Ference 208 Second-pair defenseman on a Cup winner, fascinating guy in Bruins dressing room
14 Henrik Tallinder 48 Late start after four post-draft years in Europe, another no-nonsense No. 3/4 defenseman
15 Joe Corvo 83 Similar to '02 draft member Dennis Wideman -- points, suspect D, well-traveled
16 Kristian Huselius 47 Six 20-goal seasons, including 34 in '06-07, missed all but two games in '11-12 with injuries
17 Jason Chimera 121 Blazing speed, tough, great teammate; lack of finishing skills kept him from potential stardom
18 Paul Mara 7 Since start of '98-99, Mara's minus-110 is tied for third-worst with Kovalchuk behind Sillinger (-163), Lecavalier (-111)
19 Maxim Afinogenov 69 Strengths included speed, skill and frustrating Sabres fans
20 Ladislav Nagy 177 Three 50-point seasons but was 29 when he left for the KHL
21 Mike York 136 12th in this class in points (322); best season was his first (26 goals in '99-00)
22 Kyle Calder 130 Had 26 goals in '05-06, only 29 in the next four seasons
23 Magnus Arvedson 119 Drafted at 25 and rare fifth-round pick to play right away; retired at 33 because of back injury
24 Nick Boynton 9 This is a cheat -- Boynton didn't sign with Washington, was drafted two years later (No. 21)
25 Shawn Thornton 190 Played just 79 NHL games before turning 30, but a two-time Cup winner; heart/soul guy in Beantown
26 Karel Rachunek 229 Six-plus NHL seasons, captain of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, among 43 who died in September 2011 plane crash
27 David Aebischer 161 Strong numbers as backup, first year as starter; only 83 NHL games after '04-05
28 Adam Mair 84 More than 600 games, seventh in this class in PIMs (though Scott Thornton will pass him)
29 Todd Fedoruk 164 More than 500 games, second in this class in PIMs (behind Morrow)
30 Scott Clemmensen 215 Late-blooming backup goalie has four straight years of 20-plus games
Missing first-round picks: Daniel Tkaczuk (6), Brad Ference (10), Jason Ward (11), Michel Riesen (14), Matt Zultek (15), Ty Jones (16), Robert Dome (17), Michael Holmqvist (18), Stefan Cherneski (19), Mike Brown (20), Mika Noronen (21), Nikos Tselios (22), Jean-Francois Damphousse (24), Kevin Grimes (26).

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