The Great White Way
The road to the NHL was rough for Todd White but he made it
and has managed to navigate the twists and turns that have led him to Minnesota
Minnesota Wild center Todd White is talking like a rookie this fall.
Ignore the fact that he’s played in 276 NHL games with three different teams. Look past the fact that he’s tallied 159 career points and that he’s appeared in 39 postseason contests. Forget all that, and listen only to his carefully chosen words and you’ll quickly come to the realization that White brought a rookie’s mentality into his first Wild training camp. You’ll also realize why.
The annual NHL Entry Draft is a celebration of the league’s future, a coming out party for the league’s brightest stars and a full-fledged dream-come-true for those who have spent their entire lives working towards an NHL opportunity.
But it can also be a gut-wrenching exercise in humility. Prospects watch from around the world as players are selected, wondering when their names will be called - when their dreams will be realized. Then comes the moment their lives were built around, the 10 seconds or so when a team representative stands at the podium and proudly proclaims that his organization has chosen him. It’s a moment of immense pride and intense relief.
Todd White never experienced that moment. Questions about his size and strength pushed him down (and eventually off) the draft board. Ironic then, that eight years after his college career ended, White was feeling the draft-day uncertainty again.
Despite four successful seasons with the Ottawa Senators, including two in which he played 80 games or more, White wasn’t fitting into the Senators’ post-lockout plans. It had become evident that the seven-year veteran would be traded, so it wasn’t a surprise when he heard on a local sports radio show, that he had been dealt. That’s not to say he expected what he heard.
"There were places that I had heard were interested, but I had never once heard Minnesota," White said. "I actually was sure I was going to the Rangers just a couple minutes before I heard I was going to Minnesota. I was watching the draft and saw the two GM’s - of Ottawa and New York - talking, and I figured the deal was being consummated right then. Two minutes later I hear that it’s been announced that I’ve been traded to Minnesota."
And just like that, the player who went undrafted as an amateur was acquired in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the talent-laden 2005 NHL Entry Draft. It was a bittersweet moment for White, an Ottawa-native who had hoped to someday bring a Stanley Cup to his hometown team.
"It was my hometown, so I loved to be in Ottawa, playing there," White said. "But I got to come to another place where they love their hockey, and that has great fans and a great young team, so I was excited to be coming into a great situation here as well."
The "great situation" being a team that wants him and has high expectations for him within their system. As Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough indicated on draft day, White is the type of hard-worker that fits well into the Minnesota system.
"The thing I like about Todd White is what he’s had to do to get to this level," Risebrough said. "He’s had to work very hard and I respect what he’s done to get here."
A Long Road Home
White’s hard work has meant results that seem to come almost effortlessly. A key team component for each of his four years at Clarkson University, White was a consistent picture of improvement, increasing his point total each season while playing virtually the same number of games. In all, he tallied 198 points (91 goals and 107 assists) in 142 games in his four years at Clarkson, including a senior year in which he notched 74 points in 37 games. He led the ECAC in points, goals (38), assists (36) that year. He was named a first-team ECAC All-Star. A NCAA East First-Team All-American. Hobey Baker finalist. And just a couple months later, an undrafted free agent looking for a chance.
Despite astonishing success at the college level, teams thought his 5-foot-10 frame would put him at a disadvantage against the bigger, stronger athletes of the NHL. But White was undeterred.
"For me, the most important part is my strength down low and being able to prove that I am strong enough to be able to handle bigger players," White said. "I think, if anything, you want to prove people wrong even more. It motivates me."
That motivation meant his chance came sooner, versus later. White made his professional debut with Indianapolis of the IHL the next season and made the most of the opportunity, notching 82 points in 65 games, and parlaying his success into a brief stint with the Chicago Blackhawks, playing in seven games and managing two points in 1997-98.
The hard work had just begun. White split the next season between Chicago’s IHL and NHL franchises and in 1999-2000 dominated minor league play, collecting a combined 94 points in 74 games in the IHL and AHL. Despite leading the IHL in points, White was traded to Philadelphia that season for future considerations, and his winding road to a prolonged NHL opportunity continued.
Signed as a free agent by Ottawa in 2000, White finally got his honest NHL chance in 2001-02 and didn’t disappoint. He collected 50 points in 81 games in his breakout season as well as four points in his first taste of the NHL postseason. The next two seasons were much of the same as White notched 60 points in 80 games in 2002-03 and was in line for similar numbers before injury shortened his 2003-04 season. White played an
integral role for his hometown NHL team, but as the 2005-06 season neared, Ottawa looked to part ways with the center at the 2005 draft. And Ottawa’s loss became Minnesota’s gain.
A Wild Rookie
He’s proved himself as an NHL-caliber player, silenced critics, and made an immediate impact on every team he’s played. So why does Todd White sound like this is his first training camp?
Because making an instant impact on a new team isn’t easy - even though throughout his career this veteran has made it look simple.
"It’s a learning experience, learning new players and a new system," White said. "I just want to continue to grow as a player and I think the coaching staff here is tremendous in terms of teaching and I’m really looking forward to learning from them and improving in certain areas that can make me an even better player."