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1997 Draft was Launching Pad for Today's Stars

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
The 210 prospects that will get picked in the 2012 Entry Draft in Pittsburgh are hoping some of the magic of the last draft class to hear their names called in the Steel City rubs off on them.

The 1997 Entry Draft was held at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, and of the 246 players selected through nine rounds, 24 have played at least 500 games, and two have surpassed the 1,000-game mark, with a third rapidly approaching that milestone. Three players have scored at least 300 goals, while three have at least 700 points, topped by one 1,000-point scorer.

That would be Joe Thornton, taken by the Boston Bruins with the No. 1 pick. The lanky 6-foot-4 center was taken after an outstanding two-season junior career with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League.

Thornton endured a rough start to his career under coach Pat Burns, scoring just 3 goals in 55 games, but soon developed into a franchise stalwart. He's scored 20 goals 11 times in his 13 full seasons with the Bruins and San Jose Sharks, won the Art Ross and Hart trophies in 2006, scored his 1,000th point late last season and played in his 1,000th game Oct. 21 against the New Jersey Devils.

The Bruins actually scored a double at the draft, as they selected Russian center Sergei Samsonov with the No. 8 pick. Samsonov had an outstanding rookie season, scoring 22 goals, winning the 1998 Calder Trophy and helping the Bruins go from the fewest points in the League to second place in the Northeast Division.

While Thornton struggled in his first season, the No. 2 pick, San Jose's Patrick Marleau, had a solid start. He had 32 points as the Sharks made the playoffs after a two-season drought, and to date they've missed the postseason just once in his 13 seasons. Marleau was captain for four seasons and ranks as the club's all-time leader in games played (1,042), goals (358) and points (771).

With the third pick, the Los Angeles Kings selected Finnish center Olli Jokinen. He was only with the Kings for parts of two seasons before being traded to the New York Islanders. It was there that he became teammates with the fourth pick of that 1997 draft, goaltender Roberto Luongo.

Luongo and Jokinen were teammates on Long Island for just one season before they were packaged together in a trade to the Florida Panthers on June 24, 2000.

Both developed into All-Stars in Florida. Jokinen spent seven seasons with the Panthers and holds franchise records for goals, assists and points. Luongo spent five seasons in Florida establishing himself as one of the League's elite goaltenders.

With the No. 12 pick, the Ottawa Senators nabbed another elite player -- Slovakian right wing Marian Hossa.

Hossa had at least 29 goals in five of his six seasons with the Sens, and has gone on to become one of the League's top scorers, with seven 30-goal seasons and three 40-goal campaigns.

Other players taken in that first round that went on to have impressive NHL careers are Eric Brewer (No. 5, Islanders), Danny Cleary (No. 13, Blackhawks), Scott Hannan (No. 23, Sharks), and Brenden Morrow (No. 25, Stars).

The first round wasn't the only place teams found quality prospects. In the second round, the Florida Panthers found left wing Kristian Huselius with the No. 47 pick, and one spot later, the Buffalo Sabres drafted defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who is now withy the New Jersey Devils.

Even better for the Sabres was their third-round choice, right wing Maxim Afinogenov, who had 334 points in 569 games with the team.

The Kings found defenseman Joe Corvo in the fourth round, while the Edmonton Oilers chose left wing Jason Chimera in the fifth round.

Teams that did their homework were able unearth some real gems in even later rounds of the draft.

Before Matt Cooke helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win a Stanley Cup, he was a sixth-round pick (No. 144) of the Vancouver Canucks. And 12 slots later, the Buffalo Sabres found a future All-Star in defenseman Brian Campbell.

Two members of the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins came out of latter stages of the 1997 draft. Shawn Thornton was taken by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the last pick of the seventh round (No. 190), and defenseman Andrew Ference was taken by Pittsburgh in the eighth round (No. 208).

In all, 101 of the players chosen in Pittsburgh went on to play in the NHL, including left wing Jay Henderson, taken by the Bruins with the 246th and final selection. He played 33 games spread across three seasons with the Bruins.

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

Author: Adam Kimelman | Deputy Managing Editor

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