Saturday, April 4, 2015

Chris Marinucci Autograph Card

With the slew of undrafted U.S. College hockey players signed to NHL deals in the past couple of weeks, I was wondering how many of them would eventually become full-time players, and how many were little more than lottery picks.

I was also telling myself it'd be nice to have a game of, say, the 30 best of these undrafted players in their early 20s facing off against kids aged 18 and 19 from Canadian Juniors teams who were drafted outside the top 10 picks and devoid of any professional experience, just to see if these educated promising young men actually did have what it takes to further their development. I mean, if they were all NHL-bound, surely they'd have been drafted by now, and it's a recipe more teams than just the Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild would be trying out on a consistent basis.

It's looking more like an ''impending salary cap crunch'' kind of situation than a ''stocking up on great talent'' run. Not that these guys are awful, in any way, it's just that the NHL is supposed to be the best league in the world, where the elite play - not a development program for late bloomers. There are but 660 jobs for skaters, 65 for goalies, and each team is only allowed to have 50 NHL contracts at any given time; somewhere, somehow, something,s going to crack.

And my reflection was started by the fact that not even all Hobey Baker winners (i.e. the trophy for ''Best College Player'') ''make it''; case in point: Chris Marinucci, winner of the 1993-94 award, preceded by Paul Kariya (''The Next One''), ahead of Brian Holzinger (a dependable defensive forward who put up 20-35 points per season, mostly with the Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning).

Marinucci was drated by the New York Islanders out of high school (90th overall in 1990), then proceeded to play for four seasons for the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, his local team considering he hails from Grand Rapids. His NCAA stats read like this:
 1990-91: 6 goals, 10 assists, 16 points and 20 PIMs in 36 games
 1991-92: 6 goals, 13 assists, 19 points and 41 PIMs in 37 games
 1992-93: 35 goals, 42 assists, 77 points and 52 PIMs in 40 games
 1993-94: 30 goals, 31 assists, 61 points and 65 PIMs in 38 games
He got better as he got older, except that last season where he was probably subjected to better opposition, which might explain why his penalty minutes got higher, although that increase is consistent throughout the years.

He ended up playing 12 games with the Islanders in 1994-95 before getting traded to the Los Angeles Kings and playing one game with them, but spent the bulk of his career in the IHL, with notable stints with the Denver/Utah Grizzlies and Chicago Wolves, before moving to European leagues at the turn of the millennium, winning a Norwegian championship with the Storhamar Dragons in 2003-04 - his last season of record.

He won the Ken McKenzie Trophy as the IHL's best American-born rookie in 1994-95 as well as their Man Of The Year award in 1998-99 for his community work and charitable efforts. He did put up 365 points (on 157 goals) in 405 IHL games, so it's not like he wasn't any good. However, knowing as a kid that he and Kip Miller were Hobey Baker winners did teach me a thing about minor-league stars not always turning into elite professionals.

Here he is showing off his trophy while wearing the Bulldogs' white (home) uniform, from Classic's 1994-95 Classic set - the signed insert version of card #100:

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