Most players drafted into the NHL dream of making a career with one team, but for most, that isn’t the case. When fans think of long-time Carolina Hurricanes players, they think of Cam Ward, Eric Staal, Glen Wesley, and Rod Brind’Amour — the latter two had their numbers retired by the franchise — and all of these players had brief stints with other franchises in their careers, even if it was for one season.
These four watched many players come and go over the years; some stayed for several seasons while others wore the red sweater for a short time. In this series, we look back at those players whose short stint with the club may have been forgotten.
In our third installment of Forgotten Carolina Hurricanes, we’ll look at a player who spent four seasons with the Hurricanes and later came back to work in the front office: Sergei Samsonov.
Samsonov: Russia and Juniors
Sergei Samsonov was born on Oct. 27, 1978, in Moscow when Russia was still known as the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and the Soviet Union. He showed great promise as a young player and came to North America for the first time at the age of 13 when he represented Russia in the 1992 Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament (or Tournoi International de Hockey Pee-wee de Québec in French).
The tournament was a showcase for future NHL talents. For guys who make it into the NHL, they cite that tournament for how life-changing it was. For Samsonov, the tournament gave him a chance to represent his country and glimpse his future.
With the Red Army Junior team in 1994-95, Samsonov impressed with his ability to score and his quick turns. He scored 110 goals in just 50 games. This ability put him on the Red Army’s elite team where in 64 career games, the young Russian scored 23 goals and 19 assists in 64 career games. In 1996 and 1997, he donned the red sweater at the World Junior Hockey Championship and won the bronze medal in 1997, and Samsonov was named the tournament’s most outstanding forward after scoring six goals in six games. He went on to represent Russian again at the 2002 Winter Olympics, winning another bronze medal.
Between World Championships, Samsonov started playing in the United States for the Detroit Vipers, where he had 29 goals and 35 assists in 73 games and was named the International Hockey League’s (IHL) Rookie of the Year in 1997.
Following his season with the Vipers, Samsonov caught the eye of the NHL and was drafted eighth overall in the 1997 Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins — a pick Boston had received from the Hurricanes. The Bruins also selected Joe Thornton first overall in that draft, and both rookies made the NHL roster right away.
Samsonov’s first NHL goal came on Oct. 25, 1997, a 5-4 loss to the Florida Panthers (the team he spent his last NHL season with). Although “Jumbo Joe” has had a storied NHL career, Samsonov was the one who impressed in that 1997-98 rookie season. In 81 games, he scored 22 goals and 25 assists, earning the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year; he became the only player in history to win the IHL and NHL rookie of the year titles in back-to-back seasons.
In his first five seasons with the Bruins, Samsonov had 124 goals and 164 assists in 393 games. However, that changed eight games into the 2002-03 season thanks to a wrist injury that kept him out for 74 games. The next season wasn’t any better as he missed 23 games due to knee and rib injuries. The Bruins took a chance and signed him for an additional season when he notched 18 goals and 19 assists in 55 games.
The 2003-04 season was his last full one with the Bruins. In 2005-06, he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers, where he made it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first and only time in his career — the Oilers lost to the Hurricanes in seven games. The following two seasons, Samsonov was a member of two Original Six teams, the Montreal Canadiens in 2006-07 and the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007-08.
Hockey in the South
During a less-than-stellar season with the Blackhawks, he was demoted to their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. When the IceHogs put him on waivers to return to Chicago, Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford made the play for the diminutive Russian. In his first 27 games in Carolina, he scored 24 points to prove he could still compete in the NHL.
He impressed Rutherford enough that on April 16, 2008, the Hurricanes signed him to a three-year contract extension worth $7.6 million. He seemed to be getting back to his old form, or at least as good as he could post-injury.
In 2009-10, Samsonov played 72 games and scored 14 goals and 15 assists. The following season he played 58 games and scored 10 goals and 16 assists before he was dealt to the Panthers in exchange for Bryan Allen. However, after 20 games with the Panthers to finish the season, Samsonov announced his retirement, but as with the other Forgotten ‘Canes, Carolina stayed close to his heart.
In 2014, general manager Ron Francis announced that Samsonov would be joining the Hurricanes’ scouting staff based out of Detroit.
“I think he’s a bright guy. He’s a good student of the game, and he’ll be a nice addition to our staff. He’s a guy who played the game and understands the game extremely well. His location is good being in the Detroit area – you can get to NHL games, AHL games and, if we really need him to, he can cover OHL games and college games.”–Ron Francis, Carolina Hurricanes
Three years later, the Russian returned to Raleigh as a member of the training staff, working with the forwards to help their development — a position he took over from Cory Stillman who became a coach with the Sudbury Wolves. It’s a position Samsonov has held for five years.
Samsonov’s talent and hockey prowess is showing with the development of the current Hurricanes forward line. In his five years as a trainer, the team has failed to make the playoffs one time. This season, the team is second in the league with a 21-7-1 record, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is helping the team and Caniacs are happy to see another former Hurricane behind the bench.
On her previous stint with The Hockey Writers, Casey covered the Tampa Bay Lightning, but she has returned to take on the Carolina Hurricanes. Even though she is Steel City born, a former season ticker member with the Lightning, and lives in Orlando, the Canes have always been her favourite team. She started her hockey career as Keeper of Time for the California University of Pennsylvania Vulcan Hockey Club while going to school for Sport Management. She hopes to one day work with Hockey Ministries International as a team chaplain. You can usually find her tweeting about hockey or posting pictures on Instagram.