Normally, it’s hard to argue that any player taken in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft should be considered a steal – after all, these players are considered the best among that particular draft class. But what if I told you that the Maple Leafs stole the star of the 1986 draft with the sixth overall pick?
Surely there will be some arguments as to how a team can steal a player so high in the draft, but let’s not forget that there were five players that were taken prior to the Leafs pick. That means five teams passed up the opportunity to draft the player that went sixth overall.
So, who is it? Who were the Leafs able to snag in the first round in 1986? Who is considered the biggest steal in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft? The answer, is Vincent Damphousse.
Who is Vincent Damphousse?
Born in Montreal, Damphousse was just 18 when the Maple Leafs drafted him at sixth overall in 1986. He had a successful junior career playing for the QMJHL’s Laval Voisins (who became the Titans) from 1983 to 1986.
During his three year stay with Laval, Damphousse recorded 323 points (109g-214a) in just 203 regular season games to go along with 157 penalty minutes. The team made the playoffs during his first season with them where he put up eight points (5g-3a) in 12 games.
However, as we’ve seen over the years, junior success doesn’t always translate into the same capabilities and skill set at an NHL level. Take players like Alexandre Daigle for example. Taken first overall by the Ottawa Senators in 1993, he never lived up to expectation. Even Nail Yakupov – to some extent – hasn’t lived up the hype that came with him as the number one pick for Edmonton.
But Damphousse was different. Carrying over that ability to see the game, the former sixth-overall pick was able to have a successful NHL career including four NHL All-Star selections (1991, 1992, 2001, 2002), an MVP award in the 1991 all-star game and a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.
"I learned a lot on what to do when I became captain" from Jean Béliveau, Vincent Damphousse tells Sportsnet outside church at funeral #MG
— Stu Cowan (@StuCowan1) December 10, 2014
“Damphousse was an extremely valuable skater – being able to play both left wing and centre with equal efficiency. He was an extremely cleve player who somehow has always made those who played with him better. His puck control and passing were only matched by his superior hockey sense,” writes Joe Pelletier.
Damphousse By The Numbers
Over his 18-year NHL career, Damphousse played in 1,378 regular season games. During that time, he recorded 1,205 points (432g-773a) with a slightly higher goal-to-assist ratio than his days in junior. But his successes didn’t end there.
Damphousse saw playoff action in 14 of his 18 seasons. While he only won the Cup once, he did make his presence felt during postseason action with 104 points (41g-63a) in 140 games.
He currently sits 39th (tied with Joe Sakic) on the NHL’s all-time list for games played, 62nd all-time for goals and 35th (tied with Teemu Selanne) all-time for assists. And while he sits 44th all-time in points, he’s one of 82 players to have scored 1,000 points in NHL regular season play.
Travelling Back: The 1986 NHL Draft
Now, while the Leafs were able to snag Damphousse with the sixth overall pick, what makes him a steal so high in the draft? For starters, let’s take a look at the five players taken before him.
With the first overall pick, the Detroit Red Wings selected Joe Murphy – a right-winger out of Michigan State University. While Murphy did play parts of 15 seasons in the NHL, the former Spartan was a journeyman. He played 779 games with seven different clubs – recording 528 points (233g-295a) during that time.
Following the Red Wings, the Los Angeles Kings took centre Jimmy Carson from the QMJHL’s Verdun Junior Canadiens. Carson did accomplish some milestones in the NHL including an NHL record 86 regular season games played in 1992-93 (shared with Bob Kudelski). He’s also the second youngest player in NHL history to record 100 goals behind only Wayne Gretzky who achieved the feat 74 days younger.
While Carson did have two season of 100 points in the NHL, he never really lived up the expectations of a second-overall pick. He played 626 regular season games notching 561 points (275g-286a) over his career with five different clubs.
With the third pick in 1986, the New Jersey Devils picked Neil Brady – a centre from the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers. Brady played just 89 regular season games over five seasons with the Devils, Senators and Stars before heading to the IHL for the remainder of his professional career.
Following New Jersey, two defensemen were taken by the Penguins and Sabres. First, the Penguins took Zarley Zalapski before the Sabres took Shawn Anderson.
Zalapski, taken from the Canadian National Team, played parts of 12 seasons in the NHL for the Penguins, Whalers, Flames, Canadiens and Flyers. While he did compile an impressive 384 points (99g-285a) in 637 regular season games, being the fourth overall pick brings higher expectations – even for a defenceman.
At fifth, Anderson was a disappointment to say the least. The Sabres’ pick played in just 255 games over a span of eight seasons with four different teams. He recorded 62 points (11g-51a) over his career before heading overseas to finish his professional career.
While some will argue that Brian Leetch – taken by the New York Rangers with the ninth overall pick – should be considered the biggest steal of the 1986 draft, Damphousse is still arguably the best asset added to any team during this draft.
The 1986 draft saw 252 prospects drafted over 12 rounds – 109 of them played at least a game in the NHL. That’s about 43 percent of those players who saw NHL action and those who did only averaged 280 games during their careers. In a draft class that averaged 41 goals and 118 points over their careers, Damphousse’s numbers are simply hard to argue.
Most points at age 35 or older, Sharks history: Sergei Makarov 68 ('93-94), Vincent Damphousse 61 ('02-03), Joe Thornton 58 ('14-15)
— Darin Stephens (@SharksStats) March 17, 2015
He was the highest scoring player out of his draft class and played in the most regular season games. While other players from that draft – like Teppo Numminen and Jyrki Lumme – could also be considered steals, Damphousse remains a top contender for the biggest steal of 1986.
For more, follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes or his THW column at @Tape2TapeTHW.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.