It goes without saying that not every NHL player is a consensus first round pick, nor does every player blossom into a star.
Success can be defined in many ways, and in honesty, even playing a single game in the NHL can be considered a massive accomplishment. According to the IIHF, 1.64 million people around the world play organized ice hockey, and to be one of the 700 or so lucky few who become NHL roster regulars is truly amazing considering this.
This is why the players who still make it to the NHL in spite of the incredible odds, in addition to various affecting phenomena, are so inspirational. They may not all be amazingly talented clear-cut first line or top pair talents, but they made it.
Here are some of the most noteworthy in Flyers history.
It’s not uncommon in today’s world to see undrafted European players arrive to the NHL later after having shown promise in heavily scouted leagues such as the KHL. If you’re looking for an example, Artemi Panarin came to the NHL from the KHL in 2015 as a 24 year old, and was near immediately an elite first line talent, scoring 77 points in 80 games and winning the Calder trophy.
However, there are other players who aren’t as hyped nor scouted to that level who slip through the cracks. This can be due to NHL scouts’ opinion, the league they play in, or just the invisibility that comes with breaking out late in one’s career.
For Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, though he showed early promise, it didn’t help that the Frenchman was playing in the Ligue Magnus (the top division in France), which hasn’t been known to produce NHL calibre talent. The only NHL players I could find who entered from the league as opposed to playing there during a lockout were Philippe Bozon, Alexandre Texier (who was the first ever to be drafted from France) and Cristobal Huet. Bellemare first entered the Ligue Magnus as a 17 year old in 2002, scoring one point in 11 games, and through four seasons in France, became a point-per-game player.
Though he was rapidly improving, he still received essentially no attention from NHL scouts, and signed to play in the Swedish second division (Allsvenskan) to develop his game. After three years, he signed with an SHL team, Skellefteå AIK. He played five seasons there, scoring 125 points in 238 games. He was gaining a reputation as a two-way center with heart and that good ol’ fashioned grit, having served as an alternate captain on back-to-back championship teams.
At this point, Bellemare was 29 years old, and was getting interest from NHL teams after 12 years of playing hockey professionally across Europe. In the end, he signed a one year contract with yours, ours and my Philadelphia Flyers. He would go on to play three seasons with the Flyers, scoring 34 points in 237 games, and would somewhat serve as a scapegoat for the mediocrity of the Hakstol-era Flyers. Most of the jeering was reserved for Chris VandeVelde and Andrew MacDonald, and with Bellemare, the frustration was mainly directed at his usage. Unlike VandeVelde, Bellemare was and still is a capable fourth line center, and upon his exit from Philadelphia, he started to find somewhat of a scoring touch, hitting 22 points this current season with Colorado as he was played properly.
Regardless, Bellemare making the NHL in the first place should serve as an incredible story of perseverance, and that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.
Just think that a four time 50 goal scorer was undrafted. Yep.
I’m of the opinion that in any other year, Kerr would have been drafted, however, with the WHA merger and its teams joining the NHL, the 1979 draft would be a memorable one. Not only were any under underage players who had played in the WHA draft eligible (as was the case with Mark Messier), the minimum draft age was lowered from 20 to 19, creating one of the deepest drafts in NHL history.
In the end, Tim Kerr signed a free agent contract with the Flyers in 1980, and took a few seasons to emerge as a premier NHL talent, and dealt with injury issues. However, by 1983-84, Kerr managed to score 54 goals in a season and fulfilled his sniper reputation he had earned in his last year in major juniors.
Succeeding despite being undrafted is only half of what makes Kerr such an underdog story. Nearly his entire career, Kerr struggled with injuries, in particular to his shoulder and knee. His perseverance to continue his career in the 1988-89 season after missing nearly the entire previous season earned Kerr the Masterton Trophy. Kerr scored 88 points, 48 of which were goals, in 1988-89.
Matt Read is a very interesting case to look at, since he did have early success.
In 2004-05, while playing Junior B hockey, he finished as the runner up for the WOHL rookie of the year, losing out to Logan Couture. Due to his success, he then played Junior A hockey for a year, and followed that up with a year in the USHL. He was not drafted into the CHL to play in Major Junior, and therefore went on to play college hockey.
Read played four seasons at Bemidji State University, a small school in Minnesota (interestingly, Joel Otto also went there!). They compete in Division I of NCAA hockey, though they haven’t produced many NHL players. Read scored 143 points in his college career, and though he was the 2009-10 college hockey player of the year, he was not drafted.
Eventually, the Flyers signed Read to a three year contract as a free agent, and he shockingly made the roster out of training camp for the 2011-12 season. The Flyers were still in a win now mode, despite having just traded Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, and the new look Flyers were still expected to be contenders. While the likes of Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr stole the headlines, behind the scenes the surprise success story of Matt Read was helping to drive the Flyers’ engine. In his rookie season, Read scored 47 points in 79 games, and was considered in Calder trophy voting.
Though Read would never perform as well again, he continued to be a solid bottom six forward for the Flyers, and was a valuable role player. He would play seven seasons in Philadelphia before leaving for Minnesota. Looking back at his career with the Flyers, Read certainly fulfills underdog status, and his time here should not be taken lightly.
Perhaps it’s too early to stick the “underdog” moniker on NAK, however, so far in his career it certainly looks like it could fit well.
Aube-Kubel was taken in the second round of the 2014 NHL draft from the Val-d’Or Foreurs of the QJMHL. He would play two more seasons in juniors before signing an entry level deal and being assigned to the Phantoms in the AHL. In those draft-plus years, Aube-Kubel scored 164 points in 122 games, which the last time I checked, is pretty good! He arrived in the AHL with some real upside, and for any pick other than a first round pick to look that good is a real steal.
However, the next coming years would prove to be frustrating. It felt like we had been waiting nearly a decade for Aube-Kubel to finally stake a claim for an NHL call up. He has gone through periods in the AHL where he scores at a decent level, and others where he was nearly invisible. In the 2017-18 AHL season, he scored 46 points in 72 games, and it looked like his future was incredibly bright. However, Aube-Kubel’s physicality caused problems in the AHL, as he has been suspended a number of times for illegal hits. In that 2017-18 season where Aube-Kubel started to score more, he was also suspended three separate times.
Finally, in 2018-19, he was called up to the NHL. However, he played in nine games and registered no points. It was looking like Aube-Kubel’s chances were fading, especially as a number of other prospects were knocking on the door. This changed in 2019-20. The newly managed Flyers gave Aube-Kubel another shot, and we can give credit to both GM Chuck Fletcher and coach Alain Vigneault. Fletcher saw that Aube-Kubel could still make an impact at the NHL level, and Vigneault knew how to use Aube-Kubel and how to get the most out of him.
So far, in 36 games, Aube-Kubel has scored 15 points. However, more importantly, he has blossomed into an incredibly useful energy forward in the bottom six, and his relentless forechecking combined with his offensive skill upside, makes him such a useful asset.
Additionally, while doing research, I learned that his cousin T.J. Foster also plays in the U.K. for the Guilford Flames. Small world, eh!
Yes, Giroux is a first round pick who turned into a superstar. There isn’t much that is inherently surprising about that. First round picks often turn into at least pretty good players. However, Giroux has been underrated and criminally under-appreciated his entire career.
Even in his junior career, Giroux was a walk-on tryout for the Gatineau Olympiques. He seriously wasn’t drafted by any CHL team! He was the QMJHL’s rookie of the year then in 2005-06, and would eventually set a team record for points in the playoffs (51 points in 19 games).
Despite all this success that Giroux was having, then General Manager Bobby Clarke couldn’t even remember Giroux’s name as he announced the pick during the 2006 NHL draft. Then on, from his NHL rookie season in 2008-09, to his 102 point season in 2017-18, all the way to the present day, Giroux has only marginally been included in national conversation in regards to the best players of the era. He is one of the most criticized Flyers (unfairly in my opinion) and yet, has always come out of the criticism on top.
Especially after his supposed decline from 2015-16 to 2016-17, Giroux proved everyone wrong by responding with his best season to date, being named an all-star for the first time in his career in 2017-18. As much as we can thank Dave Hakstol (ew) for helping him out by moving Giroux to wing, Giroux still needed to put the work in to see the success he had, and for a player whom CHL teams didn’t think was good enough to merit a draft pick, that’s some achievement.