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Upcoming Expansion Draft Brings Former Sharks Down Memory Lane

by Missy Zielinski / sjsharks.com

Twenty-six years ago, the San Jose Sharks were busy planning for a new NHL franchise of their own in Northern California. The logo, name and uniforms were set, but now San Jose needed to identify the first players that would don the now iconic-teal.

Now more than 500 miles south of SAP Center, the 2017 Expansion Draft approaches at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Like the Sharks, the same endless roster dissection is taking place on what the Golden Knights will potentially do, but during this period of change and uncertainty, what's it like for the players involved?

In the campaigns leading up to past expansion drafts, many players were curious if they'd be the ones exposed and mulled over the idea of being picked up by the league's newest franchise at the time.

"It was in the back of your mind for the last couple of months of the season," former Sharks Assistant Coach and 1998 expansion draft selection Bob Boughner said. "People started laying out scenarios of who was going to be available like they are now in the media and my name was always mentioned as one of those guys."

"I was very curious about the expansion draft for all kinds of reasons," Sharks alumni Rob Zettler added. "The chance that you are going to change cities and teams and also the possibility of getting picked up. It was always a bit nerve-wracking, as well as a little bit exciting."

For Boughner and Zettler, expansion drafts were more common during their careers, both seeing at least three each as the NHL spread its wings. But while expansion drafts usually pave the way for new franchises, they were also an opportunity for these two players to get fresh starts and create a new beginning of their own.

Hours before the 1991 Expansion Draft, 24 players were "filtered" to San Jose from the Minnesota North Stars during the Dispersal Draft. The NHL created this system after the Sharks first owners, George and Gordon Gund, sold the North Stars so they could create a team in the Bay Area. The purpose of the draft was to add players to the Sharks, while maintaining the nucleus of the franchise in Minnesota.

Zettler was one of those players acquired through this process with the fourth overall selection and at 22 years old and only 80 games into his professional career, the young blueliner was ready to start on a "fresh sheet of paper."

"You have a bit of love for the team that really gives you your first opportunity to play," he added. "Being looked upon as an everyday player and one of the leaders on the team - that really stuck with me."

Aside from the personal excitement of being on San Jose's inaugural roster, Zettler was able to witness the outpouring of support and the first connection the neighboring community made with the game of hockey in the Bay Area. 

"To be the first people they think of as members of a team is pretty exciting" Zettler said. "You're able to help build something new."

Nearly seven years later, Zettler was involved in yet another Expansion Draft, this time with Boughner, when the Nashville Predators joined the League in 1998. Like Zettler, Boughner recognized the opportunity that lay ahead when he was selected by the Predators as the NHL swelled to 27 teams.

"I'll never forget the day we got drafted and the team was put all together on a roster," Boughner said. "We were all guys built out of the same mold who had to work hard to get there."

Strutting down a red carpet through downtown Nashville fashioned in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, Boughner quickly took to the city as he prepared to call his home arena the surrounding confines of the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame. However having to compete with country icons like the Dixie Chicks and Tim McGraw meant Boughner and his fellow Preds were consistently marketing the newest addition to Broadway.

"That's one thing we knew going down there," Boughner said. "We were ambassadors of the game and had to 'sell' hockey to the people."

But the city and the music it's so fondly known for seemed to quickly take to the team full of journeymen.

"In Nashville the country stars all came out and supported us," he said. "We had some backyard team parties where we'd invite them over, they'd bring their guitar and we'd sit in the back and have a steak and jam with them."

Like Boughner and Zettler, this week 30 players will get the chance to make their mark with the newest NHL franchise. They also have the rare opportunity to breed the newest generation of hockey fans as the NHL welcomes another city to the family. 

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