Remembering the Bruins’ 1997 NHL Draft

(Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

By: Nathan Anderson | Follow me on Twitter @nathandrsn

Over the past five years, the infamous 2015 draft has been brought up more and more often as the players selected in three sequential picks have been dealt away, requested to be traded, or injured. Players chosen after the Bruins’ three picks have made all-star games and won awards. With the NHL Draft being the main event in the NHL season right now, I wanted to look back at a draft that went a little bit better for the Bruins.

I will admit that I am not the biggest fan of current NHL drafts. I follow the big names, your Shane Wrights, Auston Matthews, and Connor McDavids of each draft, but when it comes to anything outside of the top round and even the top 15, I do not know enough about players to make a judgment on them. So, as someone who loves the history of the game and looking at a player’s path to where they are now, I often find myself looking back at past drafts to see who may have been a surprising pick or if there was anything unusual happening.

My favorite draft moment of all time is when the Vancouver Canucks acquired the second and third pick in the 1999 draft (which just so happens to have been held in Boston, by the way) and used those picks to draft both Sedin twins at the same time. Ever since I heard they were picked together, I thought it was such an extraordinary moment. I also realized I had never really thought about how both twins ended up together for their whole careers before that.

That is what I mean when I say “anything unusual happening.” Having two picks in the top ten is very odd because those are hard to acquire! You must be terrible for a year or trick another team into giving up their prime real estate to get a top ten pick. No matter how you look at it, getting one top-ten selection is challenging, let alone two.

In 1997, the Bruins found themselves in that exact situation. They found themselves with the first-overall pick by being the worst team in the NHL in the 1996-1997 season and winning the lottery. However, they also were lucky to have traded Glen Wesley to the Hartford Whalers in 1994 for three years of first-round picks. The Whalers also were terrible in all three seasons, giving the Bruins top-ten spots in 1995, 1996, and 1997.

It would have been hard for the Bruins to miss with their first pick. They took Joe Thornton first overall after scoring 122 points in his final junior season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. “Jumbo Joe” would go on to play just over seven seasons with the Bruins before being traded to the San Jose Sharks midway through his 2005-2006 Hart Trophy-winning season, which is still one of the strangest things I think has ever happened in pro sports.

Thornton scored over 450 points with the Bruins and served as team captain before being traded. His trade also helped the Bruins acquire key pieces to turn the team into a true contender. While many fans probably would have liked to see Joe lift the Stanley Cup in a Bruins uniform, by no means was he a bust of a number one selection.

The Bruins also had the eighth overall pick in the ’97 draft from that trade with the Whalers I mentioned previously. They used their second pick to draft Russian forward Sergei Samsonov. Samsonov stayed with the Bruins just a little longer than Thornton but was also traded in the 2005-2006 season to the Edmonton Oilers as they made a run at the Stanley Cup, losing eventually to the Hurricanes in seven games in the Stanley Cup Final.

Samsonov won the Calder Trophy in his rookie season and was a dynamic forward for the Bruins in his eight seasons. He scored over 150 goals and 350 assists with the Bruins before making stops in Edmonton, Carolina, Montreal, Chicago, and Florida throughout his career. He, too, was key to the Bruins’ restructuring as the pick acquired in the trade was used to select Milan Lucic.

Unfortunately, neither Thornton nor Samsonov was able to make any significant history while playing for the Bruins. When looking at their careers as a whole, it would be hard to argue that either pick was misguided. I will have a hard time not watching old Bruins highlights the rest of the day after seeing how much fun both guys were to watch.

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