If Ray Payne had his way, Chris Pronger would’ve been drafted by the San Jose Sharks.
Going into the 1993 Draft, the Sharks held the second-overall pick. Alexandre Daigle was the consensus No. 1. The NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau had future Hall of Famer Pronger after Daigle among North American skaters.
“Everybody made the mistake on Daigle,” Payne acknowledged. “95 percent of the scouts made a mistake on Daigle.”
But Payne, who was San Jose’s Eastern Scouting Supervisor from 1990-94, would’ve been more than pleased with Pronger: “I lived in Toronto at the time. He was playing in Peterborough, which is about 80 miles away from where I lived.
“I saw practically every home game that Chris played. I thought he was going to be an outstanding player.”
But the Sharks had set their eyes far from Peterborough.
“A lot of the staff was hung up on the Russian kid [Viktor Kozlov],” Payne said. “We’d be talking about Pronger and they’d be calling him Pronger. But after we interviewed Kozlov, they were always calling him Viktor. And I thought, I can see where this is going.”
On Draft Day, the Sharks sent the No. 2 pick to the Hartford Whalers for the No. 6, No. 45, and No. 58 in the 1993 Draft, and 35-year-old winger Sergei Makarov.
“I saw Pronger a lot, so people probably thought I was biased,” Payne said. “I was pretty pissed off at the table, but you do what the group wants to do.”
Bob Friedlander, Sharks video scout from 1990-2006, went in more detail: “When you go into the draft meeting, how many people does Chuck Grillo got in that room? More than Dean [Lombardi], more than Ray, more than Timmy [Burke]. That’s how they ended up with Kozlov.”
In 1993, Lombardi was Director of Hockey Operations, Grillo was Director of Player Personnel, and Burke was Director of Professional Scouting.
“Wasn’t [University of Maine star Paul] Kariya in that Draft too? That’s who Tim Burke wanted. Big time,” Friedlander revealed. “You got to look at it this way. Tim Burke is the college guy. Ray Payne is the Ontario League guy.”
Future Hall of Famer Kariya went fourth-overall to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. The San Jose Sharks selected the 6-foot-5 Kozlov with the sixth-overall pick, Czech defenseman Vlastimil Kroupa with the 45th, and Finnish winger Ville Peltonen with the 58th.
“Like the Dallas Cowboys were America’s Team, Chuck wanted the Sharks to be known as the World’s Team,” Friedlander said. “Could you say he was wrong? We tried that way and did get a lot of good hockey players.
“Chuck knew at that time you could find players nobody else could [in Europe]. How do you think they found Nabokov? Nobody was scouting Europe [in person].”
Payne acknowledged: “Kozlov was a big, strong centerman, the type of the kid who you think is going to help make your club a contender.”
Meanwhile, a May 1993 Canadian Press report noted “Kozlov, who was expected to give Daigle a run at the first pick overall, was a disappointment at the recent European junior championship.” (“Flashy Daigle still top dog in hockey treasure hunt.” The Canadian Press, May 8, 1993.)
Kozlov was indeed tantalizing, and the Russian enjoyed a solid 14-year NHL career.
But of course, he was no Pronger or Kariya.
“You get these guys in the room, all these guys that Chuck hired, they ain’t going to go against Chuck,” Friedlander said, laughing. “I hate to say it, but the loudest voices in the room don’t always win. And Timmy Burke was always the loudest voice in the room and so was Ray.”
They just weren’t loud enough to secure a Hall of Famer for the San Jose Sharks in the 1993 NHL Draft.
Did Sharks Get Solid Draft Value in Return for Pronger Pick?
San Jose Hockey Now contributor Erik Fowle weighed in on the San Jose Sharks trading the No. 2 pick for the No. 6, 45, and 58 picks and Makarov: “Per Dom Luszczyszyn’s newest measure — the No. 2 pick is worth 12.3 in game score value added. No. 6 and No. 45 and No. 58 are worth 10.6 game score value added.
“So they lost a bit of value trading back. They should’ve tried to get a bit more. The difference of 1.7 game score value added lost in the transaction is the same GSVA of a mid-second pick.
“As for Makarov, for a championship-caliber team, I’d say adding a solid NHL’er for a second is good work. For a new or rebuilding team like the Sharks, you’d hope the player would make a more lasting impact.”
The 35-year-old Russian was a big part of back-to-back surprising playoff runs for the San Jose Sharks, before his Hall of Fame-worthy career petered out.
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