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.
Found some gold going through old stuff at the house. Faxed this to every GM when I wasn’t ranked for the draft. pic.twitter.com/CDhxDjWfA7
— Andrew Ference (@Ferknuckle) August 13, 2015
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.
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