Andrew Ference, Central Scouting & the Pittsburgh Penguins


Andrew Ference wasn’t particularly well-regarded by NHL scouts in his draft year, and it’s easy to understand why, as 5’11” defencemen typically don’t get a lot of love on draft day. But his response to his low valuation goes a long way toward explaining why, nearly 20 years later, he’s one of the best picks of the 1997 Draft.

Craig Patrick’s Pittsburgh Penguins ended up being the team that drafted Ference. One wonders whether that determined letter caught their attention; if so it didn’t move him anywhere near the top of their list. The Pens ultimately took Ference in the eighth round of the draft, No. 208 overall.

Looking back, it was the team’s best selection:

  • No. 17 Robert Dome, 53 career NHL games
  • No. 44 Brian Gaffaney, did not play
  • No. 71 Josef Melichar, 349 career NHL games
  • No. 97 Alexander Mathieu, did not play
  • No. 124 Harlan Pratt, did not play
  • No. 152 Petr Havelka, did not play
  • No. 179 Mark Moore, did not play
  • No. 208 Andrew Ference, 901 NHL games and counting
  • No. 234 Eric Lind, did not play

Ference has delivered more than twice as many major-league games as the rest of Pittsburgh’s draft picks combined. He’s also one of just 11 players selected that year with more than 900 career games played.

Many of those games were played in Pittsburgh. Ference jumped to the NHL as a rookie professional in 1999-00, playing 30 games. The next season he appeared in 36 and was a shocking offensive contributor in the postseason, putting up 10 points in 18 games in a surprise run by the Pens. At that point he was effectively a full-time NHL defenceman.

A short while later, Pittsburgh made one of those mistakes that bad teams tend to make. Ference was a defensive defenceman on one of the worst rosters in the NHL; that’s never a combination that tends to make a player look good. The Penguins flipped him to Calgary for a conditional draft pick in February 2003 at the age of 23. The next season Ference would average 24:13 per game in the playoffs as the Flames went to the Stanley Cup Finals.


  • His drive to prove those in power wrong was indicative of his tenacity as an undersized player. His commitment to community is even more powerful than his on-ice performance during his career. Class Act and I am delighted that he finishes his career with Edmonton where he is from.

    • Czar

      I’d rather they rotate the captaincy than keep the C on Ference. I know he’s great away from the rink and I enjoyed him beating up Stepniak but otherwise,what has he done on the ice that warrants another year?

      • fran huckzky

        What a captain does on the ice is only a part of his job. What does in the room and community and actin as a liason between players and management are equally as important,

        • Czar

          What he does on the ice is the most important part of his job, the rest is secondary. What has he done in the room by the way? It’s been a couple years and it doesn’t look like he’s improved anything. He should never have been chosen as Captain,especially before he even entered the dressing room, thanks again Eakins.

          • Czar

            Didn’t have to be in the room to see that our Captain was more worried about whether he’d put the recycles out that morning than what he was doing on the ice.

            Ference is a heck of a citizen and deserves a key to the city but for the sake of the team, keep him off the ice.

            Joey says HI

          • positivebrontefan

            Sorry, but there isn’t an organization in the NHL who would grant a captaincy based solely on on-ice performance. The in dressing room issues have been significantly resolved. Are they perfect NO, but putting one of the trouble makers in charge would not help. It’s up to the younger superstars to prove they deserve it and not because they are owed it. The entitlement has to stop and I applaud the Oilers for doing that. If you’re wondering why they haven’t moved the C to someone else perhaps it’s because no one else has demonstrated the ability. It doesn’t mean that the Oiler brass are idiots just that no one else is capable. Ference talks to the refs, talks to the other team, talks to the players, is an example on and off the ice, he’s a professional! When the rest start learning what being a professional means they can move the C.

          • Czar

            The moment Horcoff was traded they should have named Smyth captain.

            I would credit the arrival of Todd Nelson with any improvements in the dressing room or on the ice way before I’d give Eakins boy Andrew that credit. Last year Gordon or Hendricks would have done a better job than Ference as Captain and lead by example on the ice, not at the local recycling station.

        • As captain, he didn’t even notice Yak was getting down. People here and in the media have denounced effort and culture in dressing room and on the ice. Sounds like a poor captain and leader to me. Very active in community for sure but, but his time has past as an NHL captain and maybe even as a contributing player.

          • fran huckzky

            Certainly his on ice abilities are diminishing but if you think a captains duty is to baby sit a player who is feeling down, then you don’t really know the difference between professional hockey and pee wee or atom.

          • O.C.

            Fran, please enlighten me. What is the duty of an NHL captain? All his off ice community envolvement is admirable but, others have similar involvement never being in professional sport let alone a team captain. Seems to care more about strangers (exceptional) than his team mates.

    • I would pick RNH as our captain today, and forever.

      I think this will be a breakout year for RNH, now that other teams will have to worry about our second line. I hope they can continue that great chemistry they showed in the second half of last year.

  • O.C.

    Funny, that 1997 draft class was uber weak; even more surprising that Andrew didn’t make the Central Scouting list.

    Maybe a product of the difficulty in scouting players who shut down opponents? Back then all that was available was TOI, points, and +/-

    • What about that letter ‘lacks spine’. Where is your proof that he is a poor captain. He has a cup and been to the final twice. Show me someone with more experience. Integral part of the November Project, Created the NHL carbon-offset program with David Suzuki, from Edmonton, countless hours at the Stollery.

      Yah.. sounds like a really bad choice for a captain..

        • One Cup, two appearances. 17 NHL seasons.

          A Captain isn’t the strongest, but his experience pulls the ship through the storm.

          He’s not a Chara or a Getzlaf. Admittedly. But we haven’t had that since Pronger. You’re looking for change without a bonified answer – Something you and Suzuki have in common 😉

  • Czar

    What is the point of this reminiscence?
    Ference has been spent force since he joined the Oilers. In fact, with Eakins, set back the core of this team.
    History means nothing in this context.
    He should have been forced out by the Oilers long ago.

  • Flames fan here. Personally I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Flames de-evolution into a bunch of disinterested primadonnas started after Ference was shipped to Boston.

    Worked hard, played tough, and always showed up – certainly more than can be said for the guys that followed him in Calgary (case in point: Lee “Speedbag” Stempniak).

    Is he nearing the end of the road? Undoubtedly, but you can’t question the guy’s heart and determination. Dude’s earned every minute of his ice time during his career (time under Eakins excepted), and been a solid citizen throughout.

  • O.C.

    Shows the quality of the man behind the hockey player nothing but respect for Andrew. His determination will force other players to earn their spot the kind of competition you want on a team.