Peace, Pronger

Dryden’s Chris Pronger, left, acknowledges the crowd after being selected second overall in the 1993 NHL draft. At right is Hartford Whalers general manager Brian Burke.

Since the National Hockey League first began drafting players back in 1963, a total of 93 players from Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario had their names called by NHL clubs.

Of that group, 23 of them hailed from communities outside the Lakehead.

Topping that list is one of the greatest players ever from the area, in Dryden’s Chris Pronger.

The Hockey Hall of Fame honoured member was chosen second overall by the Hartford Whalers at the 1993 NHL Draft held in Quebec City. He earned a spot on the NHL All-Rookie Team in 1994, was a six-time league all-star, won the Norris and Hart trophies and NHL top defenceman and most valuable player, respectively, in 2000 — the same year he was named a first team all-star on the point.

A three-time second team honouree, Pronger skated in the Stanley Cup final with three teams: The Philadelphia Flyers, Edmonton Oilers and the Anaheim Ducks, winning the Cup with Anaheim in 2007. He also helped Canada win a pair of Olympic gold medals and was listed as one of the NHL’s Top 100 players of all time.

Pronger also won gold with Canada at the 1993 world junior hockey championship and the 1997 world championship, which put him into the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Triple Gold Club, emblematic of those who have won the Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and a world championship.

Four others from the area were also first-round picks in the draft.

Back in 1968, Danny Schock of Terrace Bay was chosen 12th by the Boston Bruins. You also had Ryan Parent of Sioux Lookout, picked 18th overall by the Nashville Predators in 2005, with Kenora’s Curtis Bowen drafted by the Detroit Red Wings with the 22nd choice in 1992.

The other first-round draftee was Kenora’s Mike Richards, an eventual two-time Stanley Cup champion, who went 24th to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2003.

Meanwhile, a couple of Fort Frances products ended up being taken in the second round of the draft. As a member of the Fort Frances Royals, defenceman Gary Wood was picked 12th overall by the Oakland Seals in 1967.

Then 13 years later, forward Mike Allison went to the New York Rangers in the second round, 35th overall, while a member of the Sudbury Wolves.

Third-round participation over the years saw five regional players chosen.

Charlie Simmer of Terrace Bay was scooped up by the California Golden Seals in 1974 and went to a solid NHL career that saw him play at nearly a point-per-game pace with 711 in 712 contests.

In 1976, Mike McEwen, who hails from Hornepayne, was added by the Rangers, but went on to be a multi-Stanley Cup winner with the rival New York Islanders as part of his 716-game run in the NHL.

Sean Pronger of Dryden was picked in the third round in 1991 by Vancouver, Red Rock’s Chester Gallant called by Philadelphia in 1996 and Joe Basaraba was chosen by the Florida Panthers in 2010.

Past fourth round selections featured blueliner Dennis Owchar (1973, Dryden - Pittsburgh Penguins); goaltenders Murray Bannerman (1977, Fort Frances- Vancouver Canucks) and Rick St. Croix (1975, Kenora - Philadelphia Flyers) as well as right winger Cameron Mann (1995, Balmertown - Boston Bruins).

Among those drafted in the fifth round, you had defencemen Mark McMahon (1996, Geraldton- Hartford Whalers) and Jesse Black (1996, Terrace Bay - Los Angeles Kings).

In 2002, Florida chose D-man Jeremy Swanson from Red Rock after playing for Barrie of the OHL. The most recent NHL draftee from the region was Longlac’s Tyler Tucker, tabbed in the seventh round by St. Louis in 2018, after also playing for Barrie.

Rounding out the list of regional NHL draft choices were goaltender Chris Burns of Dryden, taken by the San Jose Sharks in the ninth round in 1992; Atikokan’s Spencer Meany, called by the Buffalo Sabres in the 10th round in ’91 and Sioux Lookout’s Jimmy Roy, who was selected in the 10th by the Dallas Stars in 1994.

Also, Wayne Strachan of Fort Frances was tabbed eighth overall in the 1993 NHL Supplemental Draft by the Rangers.

Next week, we’ll delve into the names of those from Thunder Bay who have been selected in the NHL draft.

Tom Annelin’s column appears weekly in The Chronicle-Journal. Contact Tom at tommyhockey@tbaytel.net.

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