Ask any New York Rangers fan about “the one that got away” and they will have a list of players in recent history that they will tell you about.
In the 2003 Draft, the Blueshirts selected Hugh Jessiman with the 12th overall pick. The players who were selected after him included the likes of Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, and Mike Richards.
Jessiman never played a game in a Rangers jersey.
However, the Rangers’ biggest miss came over half a century earlier. For it was then that the Blueshirts organization passed on a 15-year-old youngster who would later be known as “Mr. Hockey”.
In 1943, the Rangers invited Gordie Howe to their training camp. The boy from Floral, Saskatchewan had learned to skate and play on the frozen ponds of Saskatoon, and caught the eye of Rangers scout Fred McCorry.
At that particular time, it was not uncommon for teams to sign players at Howe’s age to either a C-form or a B-form contract. In fact, the Montreal Canadiens signed Jean Beliveau to a contract as a 15-year-old just three years after Howe’s tryout with the Rangers.
But in this case, the 15-year-old Howe had difficulty acclimating to pro training camp both on and off the ice.
“I had never been out of my town before,” Howe recalled. “I took the train there and I had to walk to the hotel. I had no idea where the hotel was, and had no money either.”
Growing up without a lot of money, Howe never had a full set of hockey equipment. Before boarding the train, Gordie took whatever gear he could borrow from his brother.
Once he got to training camp, Howe was not well received by the Rangers. Although Howe got the equipment he needed from his brother and the organization, he had to watch the other players put the gear on first so he would know how to do so.
Howe received more than his fair share of ribbing from the Blueshirts. In addition to the verbal abuse, a member of the Rangers took Howe’s meals from him. Until veteran Alf Pike stood up for Gordie, this continued for some time, and it took a huge toll on the kid.
“It might have been funny at the time for some individuals,” Howe laments, “but I was young enough that things (like that) hurt a little bit.”
With each passing day, Howe was becoming more and more homesick, and his play on the ice suffered as a result. Finally, Howe decided that he had taken enough ribbing from the Rangers – players and management alike – and wanted to return to Saskatoon.
The Rangers didn’t think twice about letting him walk out of the organization.
Shortly after returning home, Howe was greeted by Red Wings scout Fred Pinckney, and the scout convinced Gordie to attend Detroit’s training camp in 1944. Howe made a positive impression on Red Wings’ coach Jack Adams, who signed Howe to a contract before the training camp ended.
And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.