Was there any trade that meant more to the Red Wings than the Kris Draper trade?
Stay with me, here.
Draper never scored more than 40 points in a season for the Wings and was only a 20 goal scorer once in those 17 seasons in Detroit. He was never on the cover of an NHL game, or even any other non-EA Sports game, heck, he could probably walk around Detroit and only be recognized by every 30th person who walked by him. Kris Draper was never a superstar in a Wings uniform, but he was (and still is) wildly loved and revered by Red Wings fans and never for his stats.
Draper was a scoring machine in Midget. 76 points in 41 points is nothing to shake a stick at. 0.43 and 0.55 points per game with Canada’s National Junior Team in 2 separate years showed a decline in his production, but it earned him a start in the AHL, and 3 games in the NHL before he ever played a game of junior. His 10 games of pro and work with the Canadian National Team clearly put him back in scoring form as he put up 61 points in 39 games (1.56 PPG) with Ottawa of the OHL. He spent the next 2 years kicking around the AHL and not doing much offensively at the NHL level; that’s when his break came. The Red Wings saw something they liked in Draper, and when they decided on the price that it would cost to get him from the Winnipeg Jets, they knew they couldn’t pass up the opportunity. The Jets opted to receive “future considerations” for Draper which often results in late round draft picks. However, this was in the days of the NHL when cash could be involved in trades (see Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles) and the Wings and Jets settled on the return for Draper being 1 American dollar.
Draper began his work with the Red Wings almost immediately and quickly became a fixture with the Red Wings. He put in 46 games with the then AHL affiliate Adirondack and never sniffed an AHL rink again. The Wings knew they had something special in the West Hill, Ontario native and the Adirondack Red Wings had him on the power play, penalty kill, and 5-on-5 situations; any time they could get Draper on the ice, they would. Once he stuck with the Big Wings, he steadily worked his way into becoming a regular. Whatever he lacked in offensive skill at the NHL level, he made up for in solid defensive work and steady commitment. Once the Red Wings were keen on his defensive skill in the big league, they began using Draper, the newly acquired Kirk Maltby and a combination of Joey Kocur and Darren McCarty to shut down opponents of the Red Wings. They were so successful at doing so, that the line was given a name: The Grind Line. The effort that Draper and his line mates showed on the ice produced results as they would grind their opponents into the boards (and sometimes, the ice) to force them to make plays, and, hopefully, mistakes. This line was a perfect metaphor of the city of Detroit: hard working, blue collar men who never got the accolades but contributed just as much as (if not more than) the stars. They were front and center for the return of successful, proud hockey in Detroit.
Kris Draper may best be remembered by long time Wings fans for the hit that he took from Claude Lemieux in the ’96 playoffs which left him with a broken jaw, nose, cheekbone, and a concussion. Draper was very much a part of what sparked an intense rivalry between the Colorado Avalanche and the Detroit Red Wings that resulted in many playoff series wins for both sides and even more fights. This rivalry was such a big part of Wings history that all began with a hit on one of Detroit’s most valuable players, Kris Draper.
Draper’s play earned him 4 Stanley Cup rings with the Wings (1997, 1998, 2002, 2008), a call to Torino to play for the Canadian Olympic team in 2006, a Selke trophy in 2004 for the best defensive forward in the NHL and over 1,000 games in a Detroit Red Wings uniform. He may not be as revered league-wide as other Red Wings acquired via trade (Hull, Shanahan, Larionov, Hasek, Chelios, etc.) but he is well respected by Wings fans across the world, and will forever be remembered as a centre piece in the hay days of the Detroit Red Wings.
With a retrospective post, I’m Osgood’s Bucket. Keep your stick on the ice.