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Draper worth more than a buck

August 1, 2011
The Mining Journal

He was, without a doubt, the best $1 pickup in sports history.

Kris Draper, acquired by the Detroit Red Wings from the-then Winnipeg Jets in 1993 for a buck, wound up playing 1,137 games for the Hockeytown franchise.

"I never thought I would get a player at the cost of a Smoothie at McDonald's. But it happened," Wings owner Mike Ilitch said last week after Draper announced his retirement.

The speedy center, revered for his checking, penalty-killing and face-off skills, will long be remembered by Wings fans as a consummate team player and "Grind Line" member.

With now-retired linemates Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty, "Drapes" endeared himself to Hockeytown faithful with his blue-collar work ethic and team-first play.

Not that he couldn't score. Draper wound up with 161 goals and 203 assists in his 20-year NHL career, including 24 goals and 16 helpers in 2003-04 when he pocketed the NHL's Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward.

Draper was all about speed and trying to stop the other team from scoring, however. At that, he did a remarkable job for a long time, more often than not in crucial situations.

Draper, 40, knew his pro hockey career was coming to an end. He had hoped to play another year with the Wings. But team general manager Ken Holland is determined - and rightfully so - to move some younger players into the lineup.

There simply was no room for an aging player who had lost a step or two, no matter what he had meant to the organization for so long.

For years, Draper had been the unofficial spokesman for the Wings' players. Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom are men of few words, but there wasn't a television sound bite or a newspaper quote Draper wasn't eager to provide.

Always with insight. Usually with a smile. Certainly with class.

"He was a role model for all of our younger players and a leader in the locker room," Holland said.

Draper helped the Wings win four Stanley Cup titles in his career (1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008). Now, only two players - Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom - remain from that first Cup win.

Draper may be gone, but his influence on the Wings' team and organization will long be remembered.

No. 33 will be greatly missed.

Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.



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