How close were the San Jose Sharks to drafting Scott Niedermayer over Pat Falloon?
“It was split,” then-San Jose GM Jack Ferreira recalled to San Jose Hockey Now. “There was a good portion that wanted Pat and the other guys were interested in Scott.”
Let’s go back 30 years. It was the 1991 NHL Draft, held in Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium. Eric Lindros was the undisputed first-overall, a generational talent in the vein of Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. But the expansion Sharks, slotted at No. 2, never had a chance at the “Big E.”
Three prospects were considered likely to go after Lindros, the winger Falloon, along with defensemen Niedermayer and Scott Lachance.
It was an easy choice in hindsight: Niedermayer played 1,263 NHL games and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013. Meanwhile, Falloon was out of the NHL by 27 and Lachance enjoyed a solid but unspectacular career as a stay-at-home defender.
“Lachance was never considered,” Ferreira said, contradicting news reports from that time.
So between Niedermayer and Falloon for the first draft pick in franchise history, the San Jose Sharks selected Falloon.
“I think the deciding factor was that most people felt that Pat was a little more NHL-ready [than Scott]. He stepped in the next year and played,” San Jose’s then-Eastern scouting supervisor Ray Payne remembered.
Falloon did jump into the expansion Sharks’ line-up out of juniors and lead the club with 25 goals. Niedermayer, plucked by the New Jersey Devils after Falloon, received just a four-game cup of coffee at the beginning of the 1991-92 campaign.
“The feeling was from us as a new franchise, we needed some young blood,” Payne said. “The guys that we got in the [expansion] draft, a lot of them were older players on the downside of their career.”
Essentially, the expansion San Jose Sharks wanted a flashy star like Falloon to dangle immediately in front of a new market.
“He was a goal scorer. In junior hockey, nobody could score like the kid could,” Payne pointed out. “He had magical hands.”
There was good reason for the San Jose Sharks to opt for Falloon: 64 goals in 61 games in his final season at WHL Spokane was nothing to sneeze at. Neither is a 25-goal rookie campaign as a teenager: Falloon finished fourth in the 1992 Calder Trophy vote, behind Pavel Bure, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Tony Amonte.
But that would be the high point of Falloon’s time in teal. He would never surpass the 25-goal mark over a nine-year NHL career and San Jose would deal him to Philadelphia in 1995.
“The general consensus was that he just didn’t have the commitment to do what he needed to do in order to remain an elite player. He might have been one of those guys who relied on his natural talents more than his drive and desire,” Payne opined.
Niedermayer, on the other hand, has a good case to go No. 1 in a re-draft of the 1991 class.
“He is the guy we should have taken,” Ferreira acknowledged. “I’m not bailing on this, but I let my head scout take who he wanted. I’m not throwing anybody under the bus, that’s just the way I’ve always operated. I let people do their job.”
Chuck Grillo was Ferreira’s chief scout. To Grillo and the rest of the Sharks front office’s credit, their next two picks were Ray Whitney, the leading scorer of the 1991 Draft, and Sandis Ozolinsh, 1997 Norris Trophy finalist.
But imagine if the San Jose Sharks had tabbed Niedermayer, Whitney, then Ozolinsh with their first three picks?
That could’ve been the best start for a franchise at an NHL Draft this side of Edmonton’s first three picks — Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier, then Glenn Anderson — in the 1979 Draft.
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