It’s hard to root against the underdog in sports. Regardless of who we are at some point in time we’ve identified as the player or team that managed to overcome the odds and achieved their dream. With SB Nation’s underdog week just passing we’ve remembered several athletes who excelled at their sport despite being given little expectations of success from others. Nothing illustrates the underdog mentality like becoming one of the best players in a league where you went undrafted.
The Philadelphia Flyers have had their fair share of undrafted players go on to make organizational impacts. Michael Raffl, Phil Myers, and Alex Lyon are players currently with the Flyers’ franchise who have worked their way into being NHL regulars at one point in time after being overlooked in the NHL Entry Draft. They also signed undrafted goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who has infamously gone on to win a pair of Vezina Trophies after he made the jump to the NHL with the Orange and Black. These four players are worth mentioning as underdogs in regards to their pursuit of reaching the NHL, but they don’t compare to the level of success these six former Flyers had after not being taken in the draft.
Ed Van Impe
Left-handed defenseman Ed Van Impe joined the Philadelphia Flyers through a draft, but it wasn’t the NHL Entry Draft. Following a 61-game 1966-67 campaign where he accrued 19 points and 111 penalty minutes to finish second in Calder Memorial Trophy voting to Bobby Orr, Van Impe was left unprotected in the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft, where Philly took him 16th overall.
He’d post 17 pts and 141 PIMs in 67 games with the Orange and Black during their inaugural season before being dubbed the franchise’s second captain following Lou Angotti’s lone season as the club’s first. The physical, gritty blue liner went on to serve as the Flyers’ captain for the next five seasons before Bobby Clarke was handed the captaincy for the 1973-74 season. Even though he didn’t have the C on his sweater, Van Impe was still a vital part of Philadelphia’s defense as he manned the blue line in all 34 postseason tilts the Flyers played during the 1974 and 1975 Stanley Cup runs. His point total of seven points overall during those two playoffs don’t do justice to how much his presence impacted the team. A solid representation of his toughness and ability to throw his weight around came during the Flyers’ exhibition game against the Red Army team when he planted Valeri Kharlamov with an open-ice hit, which led to Red Army head coach Konstantin Loktev pulling his team off the ice after a penalty wasn’t called.
The hit came a few months before Van Impe was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins with goalie Bobby Taylor for netminder Gary Inness, a 1977 eighth-round pick (Pete Peeters), a 1977 ninth-round pick (Tom Bauer), a 1977 tenth-round pick (Rob Nicholson), and a 1977 11th-round pick (Jim Trainor). Van Impe totaled 19 goals and 107 apples for 126 points and 891 penalty minutes (14th-most in Flyers’ history) in 620 games (17th-most in Flyers’ history) with Philly, which helped him to be inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame in 1993.
Also an integral part of the Orange and Black’s blue line during their Cup runs, Joe Watson was another rearguard who spent their rookie season elsewhere in the league before being snatched up by Philly in the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft. Following a 15-point campaign in 69 (#nice) games with the Boston Bruins as Orr’s defensive partner during the 1966-67, Watson was picked 21st overall in the Expansion Draft to start his 11-year tenure with the Flyers. Much like Van Impe and his brother Jimmy, Watson took part in all 34 games the Flyers needed in the 1974 and 1975 postseasons to bring home a pair of Cups, as he accumulated a combined goal and eight helpers. Watson also played a role in the Flyers’ 4-1 win over the Red Army in 1976 as he put home a Don Saleski rebound for a shorthanded goal.
What Watson is more known for is being the Flyer holding onto the puck as the dying seconds of Game 6 in the 1974 Stanley Cup Final tick away.
The savvy and reliable d-man totaled 36 goals and 162 helpers for 198 points in his 746 games (6th-most in franchise history) with Philly. With then general manager Keith Allen looking to make the team’s blue line younger, Watson was traded to the Colorado Rockies in the summer of 1978 for cash. He’d play all of 16 games for Colorado before a gruesome leg break brought an end to his career. Watson was elected into the Flyers Hall of Fame in 1996.
Nothing illustrates the underdog story quite like going from being undrafted to an NHL team making a statue of you outside their arena. Gary Dornhoefer was looked over at the NHL Draft, but he went on to have a 14-year career in the NHL where he produced 214 goals and 328 assists for 542 points. After he spent his first three seasons with the Boston Bruins, where he accumulated 12 goals and 12 helpers for 24 tallies in 62 games, Dornhoefer was scooped up by the Orange and Black with the 81st selection in the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft.
Although he wasn’t the most gifted forward, Dornhoefer’s ability to crash the crease helped the forward to a 30-goal season in 1972-73 as well as three additional seasons of 25 goals or more and another 20-goal campaign in his 11 years of work with Philadelphia. Some of his most notable goals came in the postseason, as he produced 16 goals and 34 points in 58 playoff games from 1973 to 1976. Dornhoefer’s most important playoff goal came in the 1973 NHL postseason and helped pave the way to the club winning back-to-back boats the following years.
After being swept twice and winning a total of three games in their first three playoff appearances in the club’s first five years, the Flyers faced off against the veteran-laden Minnesota North Stars in the 1973 Quarterfinals and found themselves in a 2-2 series for Game 5. Danny Grant put Minnesota up halfway through the first period, but Rick MacLeish was able to erase the lead 36 seconds later and his second of the game early in the middle stanza gave Philly a 2-1 lead for the third period. Bill Goldsworthy’s first of the 1973 postseason with just seven minutes left in regulation set the stage for Dornhoefer’s overtime magic, as he beat Cesare Maniago in dramatic fashion to give the Flyers a 3-2 advantage in the franchise’s eventual first playoff series win.
The goal not only helped the Flyers take their first playoff series (they’d win Game 6 4-1 before bowing out to the Montreal Canadiens in the next round), but it helped the club gain valuable experience they would use the next few seasons to win back-to-back championships. To honor Dornhoefer’s organization-altering marker a statue was dedicated to the moment he beat Maniago outside of the old Spectrum.
Although his goal in 1973 was the highlight of his postseason career, Dornhoefer played a critical role in a handful of other Flyers’ playoff wins. In the team’s 1974 Semifinals series against the New York Rangers he provided three apples in the club’s 4-0 Game 1 decision and potted two goals in the second half of Philly’s 4-3 Game 7 victory. The following postseason he scored two goals in the Stanley Cup Final against the Buffalo Sabres including the game-winner in Game 5.
Dornhoefer ranks 15th in club history with 202 goals and 12th with 316 assists for 518 points (13th in team history) in 725 games (tenth). Following his playing career Dornhoefer was elected into the Flyers’ Hall of Fame in 1991.
According to Hockey-Reference, these are the only four players in NHL history to record four or more 50-goal seasons after going undrafted: Wayne Gretzky (nine), Phil Esposito (five), Bobby Hull (five), and Tim Kerr (four). Those four 50-goal seasons came in consecutive years for Kerr from 1983-84 to 1986-87 while donning the Orange and Black. Unfortunately for Kerr he didn’t really get a shot to make it five straight, as lingering severe shoulder and knee injuries limited him to just eight games in 1987-88 before he returned to post 48 goals and 40 helpers for 88 points in 69 tilts during the 1988-89 regular season to earn the Masterton Trophy.
After going undrafted earlier in the year, Kerr signed with the Flyers in October of 1979. This marked the start of a tenure with Philly that saw him post 363 goals (third in franchise history behind Bill Barber and Brian Propp) and 287 helpers for 650 points (seventh in franchise history and most for an undrafted player) in 601 games with Philly. On top of that Kerr is the only Flyer to post four 50-goal seasons with the team and he has a third of the franchise’s 50-goal campaigns. His 20 hat tricks in both regular season and playoff play is the most in franchise history and nearly a tenth of the club’s 204 hat tricks.
Kerr’s ability to light the lamp naturally led him to providing a lot of postseason memories for the Flyers and their fans. He’s one of just four Flyers to have a pair of playoff runs that produced ten or more goals and his 39 postseason goals are sixth in franchise history. His four-goal game (where he scored all four goals in an 8:16 span late in the second period) helped the Orange and Black to a 6-5 decision in Game 3 of the 1985 Division Semifinals to sweep the Rangers. This came before he scored a goal in three of the team’s five games during their next five-game series against the New York Islanders, where Kerr also had a four-point game in the team’s 5-2 Game 2 victory. Kerr also had a goal in Game 1 and Game 2 of the 1987 Stanley Cup Final against the Oilers for ten goals and 14 points in 12 postseason games during the run.
After he posted six points in five postseason games in 1986, Kerr compiled eight markers and five helpers for 13 points in 12 contests during the 1987 Flyers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final before his shoulder and knee injuries removed him from the lineup. Kerr helped the most during the squad’s seven-game Division Finals battle against the New York Islanders, where Kerr had a hat trick in Philly’s 4-2 Game 1 decision and two goals as part of a three-point performance in a 6-4 Game 4 win before being shelved for the playoffs after the team’s Game 6 defeat.
These two runs would be when Kerr’s dominance coincided with the Flyers’ closest chances of the 1980’s, but he pieced together a nice run during the 1989 playoffs as well. The Montreal Canadiens took out the Flyers in six games the series before the Stanley Cup, but Kerr was able to produce 14 goals and 11 assists for 25 tallies in just 19 games for the fifth-most points by a Flyer in a single postseason. What makes the feat all that more impressive (or frustrating) is the fact Kerr didn’t produce a point in the team’s six-game series against Montreal. In the team’s six-game series against the Washington Capitals to start the 1989 playoffs Kerr had four goals (including two as part of a four-point night in Philly’s Game 5 8-5 decision) and ten points. The following series, a seven-game series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Kerr accrued ten goals and five assists. He scored a goal in Game 1 before he produced a hat trick in the team’s Game 2 4-2 win and three straight two-goal outings in Games 4 through 6.
Kerr wound up playing two more seasons for the Flyers before being taken ninth overall by the San Jose Sharks in the 1991 NHL Expansion Draft, who quickly dealt him to the New York Rangers for Brian Mullen. He’d play 32 games for New York in 1991-92 and 22 games for the Hartford Whalers in 1992-93 before calling it quits and becoming a member of the Flyers’ Hall of Fame in 1994.
It may not be as exclusive the company Kerr keeps with his 50-goal seasons, but Dave Poulin’s ability to become a captain of an NHL team after being overlooked at the draft is still pretty impressive. After just a little over a season with the franchise, Poulin was named the Flyers’ captain as a 25-year-old for the 1984-85 campaign. Poulin served as the club’s leader for six seasons, two of which concluded with Stanley Cup Finals’ appearances, totaling 161 goals and 233 assists for 394 points in 467 contests. In the postseason Poulin collected 17 goals and 22 apples for 39 tallies in 63 playoff games.
Of those 17 goals the most noteworthy one may have come during the 1985 run to the Stanley Cup Final. After he posted 30 goals and 44 apples for 74 points in his first season as captain, Poulin missed six of the first Flyers’ eight postseason tilts in 1985 with a ligament tear in his knee before he returned for the start of the team’s Conference Finals series against the Quebec Nordiques. In the midst of the Orange and Black splitting the series’ first two games in Quebec, Poulin scored a shorthanded goal in the Game 2 4-2 victory after he suffered cracked ribs thanks to a whack from Mario Marois. The injury took Poulin out of the Flyers’ next two games before his return for Game 5, which was a 2-1 victory to put Philly at home one win away from the Stanley Cup Final.
Rick Tocchet’s third goal of the 1985 postseason had the Flyers up 1-0 heading into the second period, where both Joe Paterson and Brian Propp found themselves in the penalty box by the 1:08 mark to give Quebec a 5-on-3 power play for 1:23. While on the penalty kill, Poulin picked off a cross-ice pass from Marois in the Flyers’ zone before he moved his way up ice to put home the backbreaking goal with a perfect way to get back at the player who broke his ribs earlier in the series. Philly went on to win the game 3-0 thanks to Poulin’s heroics before ultimately falling to the Edmonton Oilers in five games, a series where Poulin lit the lamp once and had three assists.
Two years later Poulin potted 25 goals and 45 assists for 70 points in 75 regular season games before he provided six points in 15 postseason games in another Stanley Cup Finals loss to the Oilers. Poulin also took home the franchise’s second and most recent Selke trophy for the 1986-87 regular season as the league’s best two-way forward beating out Montreal’s Guy Carbonneau.
Poulin totaled a pair of 30-goal seasons and two other 25-goal campaigns in his time with the Flyers before being traded to the Boston Bruins for Ken Linseman in January of 1990. He went on to win the King Clancy Trophy (given to the player who exemplifies leadership qualities both on and off the ice while making a significant humanitarian contribution to their community) for the 1992-93 season before becoming a member of the Flyers’ Hall of Fame in 2004.
The best undrafted player so far in Philadelphia Flyers’ history and perhaps maybe the best the franchise will ever see is Bernie Parent. On top of being the best goaltender in franchise history, Parent was the man in net for the organization’s only two Stanley Cups and is the only player in team history to win two Conn Smythes while with the club. He’s one of only six players in NHL history to win the award two times or more (Patrick Roy has three, Sidney Crosby, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Bobby Orr) and is one of only three players to win the award in back-to-back postseasons (Lemieux in 1991 and 1992, Crosby in 2016 and 2017).
Following two seasons with the Boston Bruins where he went 16-32-5 with an .896 save percentage and one shutout Philadelphia selected Parent second overall in the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft after the Los Angeles Kings took Terry Sawchuk first. After three-and-a-half seasons the Flyers dealt Parent to the Toronto Maple Leafs in February of 1971 with a 1971 Amateur Draft second-round pick (Rick Kehoe) for Bruce Gamble, Mike Walton, and the Leafs’ 1971 Amateur Draft first-round pick (Pierre Plante). A little over two years later, after Parent spent a season with the Philadelphia Blazers in the World Hockey Association, he was dealt back to Philly in May of 1973 with Toronto’s second-round pick in the 1973 Amateur Draft (Larry Goodenough) for a 1973 Amateur Draft first-round pick (Bob Neely) and future considerations (Doug Favell).
In his second stint with the Flyers Parent took the league by storm. Not only did he win back-to-back Stanley Cups and Conn Smythe trophies, but Parent was able to win back-to-back Vezina trophies to become one of 22 goalies to be named the league’s best netminder at least twice. During the 1973-74 campaign Parent led the league with 1,870 saves on a league-high 2,006 shots against to finish first with a .932 save percentage, 1.89 goals against average, and 12 shutouts. Outside of Tony Esposito (the Chicago Blackhawks’ goaltender who finished second in every one of these categories with the stat line of 1,836 saves on 1,977 shots against with a .929 save percentage, 2.05 GAA, and ten clean sheets) no goalie was even remotely close to Parent’s numbers. For perspective Gary Smith of the Vancouver Canucks was third in both saves and shots against with 1,747 on 1,955. Favell finished tied for third in save percentage with .909 and stood alone with the third-lowest GAA at 2.71. Gilles Gilbert of the Boston Bruins was third in the league in shutouts in 1973-74 and didn’t come close to double digits, as he ended six tilts that season without a single goal against.
The 1974-75 season was more of the same for Parent despite the fact his workload was lightened a bit. As his 1,537 saves were the fourth-most in the league on the fifth-most shots against with 1,674, Parent’s .918 save percentage was second only to Kings’ goalkeeper Rogie Vachon. Parent finished first with a 2.04 GAA as Vachon’s 2.24 finished second while the Flyer’s 12 shutouts was double that of Vachon, Smith, and Esposito who all tied for second with six.
In the postseasons during the team’s Cup runs in 1974 and 1975 Parent went 22-10 with a .929 save percentage, 1.96 GAA, and six shutouts. In the 1974 Stanley Cup Final Parent denied 37 Bruins’ shots to help the Flyers win their only game in Boston in Game 2 and posted a 30-save shutout in the Cup-clinching Game 6 1-0 decision. In the 1975 postseason Parent posted shutouts in Games 2 and 3 of the Flyers’ sweep of the Maple Leafs in the Quaterfinals and shut out the New York Islanders in a 1-0 Game 3 victory during the Semifinals for three blankings in a personal four-game span. He also provided another shutout in a Cup-clinching game, as he stopped all 32 of the Buffalo Sabres shots in Philly’s Game 6 2-0 win in the 1975 Stanley Cup Final.
Parent went on to play in four more seasons for the Flyers before he suffered a career-ending eye injury on February 17, 1979. The incident came in a game against the Rangers when Jimmy Watson’s stick blade managed to go through the goalie’s mask and damaged his right eye. His 231 wins is second in franchise history behind Ron Hextall and his .917 save percentage is the third-highest in club history, which considering how much he played is still an absurd feat. Parent was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Flyers’ Hall of Fame in 1988.
*Stats courtesy of Hockey-Reference, NHL.com, and the Flyers’ website.