From undrafted to all-star game, Girardi is a good story | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaFrom undrafted to all-star game, Girardi is a good story

Posted: Monday, January 16, 2012 | 08:31 PM

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Out of 130 undrafted players that have suited up in the NHL this season, New York Rangers' Dan Girardi (5) is the only one to book a spot in this year's all-star game in Ottawa. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press) Out of 130 undrafted players that have suited up in the NHL this season, New York Rangers' Dan Girardi (5) is the only one to book a spot in this year's all-star game in Ottawa. (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

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A decade ago, New York Rangers all-star defenceman Dan Girardi intently followed the 2002 NHL entry draft at the Air Canada Centre.

He watched two buddies from his hometown of Welland, Ont. get chosen. Daniel Paille was taken early, in the first round as the 20th overall pick to the Buffalo Sabres. Andre Deveaux was selected later in the sixth round by the Montreal Canadiens. After the Detroit Red Wings snatched Jonathan Ericsson with the 291st and final selection, Girardi was left out in the cold.
A decade ago, New York Rangers all-star defenceman Dan Girardi intently followed the 2002 NHL entry draft at the Air Canada Centre.

He watched two buddies from his hometown of Welland, Ont. get chosen. Daniel Paille was taken early, in the first round as the 20th overall pick to the Buffalo Sabres. Andre Deveaux was selected later in the sixth round by the Montreal Canadiens. After the Detroit Red Wings snatched Jonathan Ericsson with the 291st and final selection, Girardi was left out in the cold.

"There were probably a number of factors why that was the case," Girardi said. "I didn't play much my first year of junior [six games with the Barrie Colts], and then I was injured for most of my second year. After that, nobody was willing take a chance on me as a 19 year old in the next draft.

"There was no reason to get down. I knew there were other ways to make the NHL, so I decided to finish my junior career and then see what happens."

The serious injury Girardi suffered was a ruptured spleen when he was smacked into the boards in a preseason game. He missed half of the 2001-02 season. Eventually Girardi overcame the slow start to his junior career. By the end of the 2003-04 season scouts began to notice his play when he moved onto the Guelph Storm. Particularly Rich Brown, the Rangers' Ontario-based scout who in Girardi's draft year scouted the U.S. college and U.S. junior loops for the Rangers, but had moved over the Ontario junior ranks in 2003-04.

"He came onto my radar that season," Brown recalled. "They won the OHL title that year and in order to get to the final he had to go up against the London Knights and shut down Corey Perry. The next year when he was an overager in the Memorial Cup, I invited [Rangers director of player personnel] Gordie Clark to have a look at him."

The next season, in his overage year, Girardi was traded and found himself alongside Perry on the Knights. They won the Memorial Cup together. Girardi shut down all the opposition's top offensive performers, including Rimouski Oceanic's slick centreman Sidney Crosby in the Memorial Cup tournament.

Brown liked what he saw on the ice. Now he wanted to find out what sort of character Girardi had in the dressing room. So Brown called his friend, Knights general manager Mark Hunter. Brown was an assistant coach under Hunter with the St. John's Maple Leafs and a few seasons later he was the head coach when Hunter was the Sarnia Sting GM.

Hunter gave Girardi a glowing report. He told Brown about the right hand injury Girardi suffered in the first round of the 2005 playoffs. The Knights wanted the defenceman to get an x-ray on his hand, but Girardi claimed that wasn't necessary and instead opted to play through the pain. After the Memorial Cup win, he had his injury treated and it turned out he played with a broken bone in his hand.

"He probably knew it was broken," Brown said. "It showed how much he wanted to play in the big games.

"Now he's just doing at the NHL level what he did as a junior. He's good defensively. He moves the puck well and he chips in offensively."

Brown called Girardi a good story. After all, not many go from undrafted to all-star. There have been a few recently in Martin St. Louis, Brian Rafalski, Dan Boyle, Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph. But Girardi is the only of the 130 undrafted players who have played in the NHL this season to be going to Ottawa for the all-star game in two weeks.

Not bad for a kid who began his pro career with the Charlotte Checkers in the ECHL in 2005-06. But when Rangers farmhand Joe Rullier was hurt in Hartford, Girardi was promoted to the AHL after only seven games in the ECHL and he never went back to Charlotte. In 2006-07, Darius Kasparaitis was injured. Girardi replaced him and has only missed two regular season games with the Rangers since.

"Starting off it was about getting an opportunity," said Girardi, who leads the NHL in ice-time at 27 minutes and 21 seconds a game. "After that it was about trying to improve every year, whether it was getting stronger or faster, I also just tried to take the knowledge and experience I was gaining every year to become a better player."

Here is a list of the 130 undrafted players to have suited up for a minimum one game in the NHL this season.

  • Sean Avery, NYR
  • Niklas Backstrom, Min
  • Jay Beagle, Was
  • Jordie Benn, Dal
  • Marc-Andre Bergeron, TB
  • Stu Bickel, NYR
  • Jason Blake, Anh
  • Sergei Bobrovsky, Phi
  • Francis Bouillon, Nsh
  • Rene Bourque, Cgy-Mon
  • Darryl Boyce, Tor
  • Dan Boyle, SJ
  • Tyler Bozak, Tor
  • Sheldon Brookbank, Anh
  • Fabian Brunnstrom, Det
  • Alexandre Burrows, Van
  • Bobby Butler, Ott
  • Ryan Carter, Fla-NJ
  • David Clarkson, NJ
  • Sean Collins, Was
  • Ty Conklin, Det
  • Chris Conner, Det
  • Mark Cullen, Fla
  • Stephane Da Costa, Ott
  • Mathieu Darche, Mon
  • Jason Demers, SJ
  • David Desharnais, Mon
  • Andrew Desjardins, SJ
  • Raphael Diaz, Mon
  • Davis Drewiske, LA
  • Mike Duco, Van
  • Pascal Dupuis, Pit
  • Mark Eaton, NYI
  • Andrew Ebbett, Van
  • Matt Ellis, Buf
  • Andreas Engqvist, Mon
  • Ruslan Fedotenko, NYR
  • Brett Festerling, Wpg
  • Vernon Fiddler, Dal
  • Kris Fredheim, Min
  • Jason Garrison, Fla
  • Trevor Gillies, NYI
  • Matt Gilroy, TB
  • Mark Giordano, Cgy
  • Dan Girardi, NYR
  • Curtis Glencross, Cgy
  • Josh Gorges, Mon
  • Andy Greene, NJ
  • Erik Gustafsson, Phi
  • Jonas Gustavsson, Tor
  • Micheal Haley, NYI
  • Jeff Halpern, Was
  • Jack Hillen, Nsh
  • Jonas Hiller, Anh
  • Ben Holmstrom, Phi
  • Raitis Ivanans, Cgy
  • Jason Jaffray, Wpg
  • Randy Jones, Wpg
  • Henrik Karlsson, Cgy
  • Bracken Kearns, Fla
  • Zenon Konopka, Ott
  • Tomas Kubalik, Cls
  • Chris Kunitz, Pit
  • Pierre-Cedric Labrie, TB
  • Chad LaRose, Car
  • Ville Leino, Buf
  • Mark Letestu, Pit-Cls
  • Ben Lovejoy, Pit
  • Steve MacIntyre, Pit
  • John Madden, Fla
  • Peter Mannino, Wpg
  • Andy McDonald, StL
  • Cody McLeod, Col
  • Zbynek Michalek, Pit
  • Andy Miele, Pho
  • Brad Mills, NJ
  • Steve Montador, Chi
  • Chris Mueller, Nsh
  • Antti Niemi, SJ
  • Colton Orr, Tor
  • Jed Ortmeyer, Min
  • Jarod Palmer, Min
  • Rod Pelley, NJ-Anh
  • Dustin Penner, LA
  • Warren Peters, Min
  • Rich Peverley, Bos
  • Joe Piskula, Cgy
  • Darroll Powe, Min
  • Nate Prosser, Min
  • Teddy Purcell, TB
  • Greg Rallo, Fla
  • Matt Read, Phi
  • Dylan Reese, NYI
  • Dwayne Roloson, TB
  • Jerome Samson, Car
  • Curtis Sanford, Cls
  • David Schlemko, Pho
  • John Scott, Chi
  • Ben Scrivens, Tor
  • Tim Sestito, NJ
  • Ryan Shannon, TB
  • Jody Shelley, Phi
  • Derek Smith, Cgy
  • Jerred Smithson, Nsh
  • Frederic St. Denis, Mon
  • Martin St. Louis, TB
  • Tim Stapleton, Wpg
  • Brad Staubitz, Min
  • Andy Sutton, Edm
  • Paul Szczechura, Buf
  • Chris Tanev, Van
  • Matt Taormina, NJ
  • Iiro Tarkki, Anh
  • Bill Thomas, Fla
  • Jim Vandermeer, SJ
  • Aaron Volpatti, Van
  • Tim Wallace, NYI
  • Joel Ward, Was
  • Mike Weaver, Fla
  • Dale Weise, Van
  • Casey Wellman, Min
  • Eric Wellwood, Phi
  • Kevin Westgarth, LA
  • Derek Whitmore, Buf
  • Jason Williams, Pit
  • Clay Wilson, Cgy
  • Ryan Wilson, Col
  • Jesse Winchester, Ott
  • Harry Zolnierczyk, Phi
  • Mats Zuccarello, NYR

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