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November 20, 2001 - Draper plays a big man's game
My Kris Draper Page

11/20/2001 10:52:00 AM

Draper plays a big man's game

by By Karl Samuelson

"Small man ... big heart."
The label can be applied to several small players who serve as the engine of their respective team's offense Theoren Fleury of the New York Rangers, Paul Kariya of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Martin Straka of the Pittsburgh Penguins. While each have a basket of skills that enable them to dominate on the ice, the common denominator in all successful small players is confidence bordering on cockiness. It's an attitude that started early and was nurtured through successive years of having to prove themselves on every rung of the ladder. While small players know that their size in not always an advantage, they never let it become a disadvantage.

"You have to do something really well to play at this level if you are 5-foot-11 or under," says Kariya. "Each guy has individual traits to play in the NHL, but all have great heart and determination. People have probably told them for so long that they couldn't do it and they had to build up a little cockiness to get beyond the criticism."

The Detroit Red Wings have a contingent of small players forming the nucleus of their team, including Steve Yzerman, Igor Larionov and Pavel Datsyuk, but none have been more instrumental in the team's quick start in 2001-02 than Kris Draper.

"Kris is a small player who plays like he's huge," says teammate Tomas Holmstrom. "He is tough to play against because he never stops working. Kris uses his speed to pressure the other team's defense and it seems like he never stops skating. Maybe he doesn't hit as much or as hard as some of the big, power forwards in the league but Kris is a strong skater, a great forechecker and can get the puck."

The 30-year-old
Toronto native is no overnight sensation. After playing two seasons with the Canadian National Team (1988-1990), Draper spent the next three seasons as a part-time player with the Winnipeg Jets, appearing in only 20 games. Interestingly, the young minor-leaguer drew inspiration from another small player who was playing in the prime of his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs Doug Gilmour.

"I was in the
Winnipeg organization when Doug Gilmour was playing for the Leafs," recalls Draper, who was obtained by the Red Wings on June 30, 1993. "I was always back home in Toronto at playoff time and used to go down to Maple Leaf Gardens with my father and some friends to watch the games. Toronto
had some great playoff runs in the early 1990's and Gilmour was one of the key guys. He always played against the other team's top lines and put himself up there in scoring too. Gilmour was responsible against the opponent's top line but was going out and contributing offensively. He really showed what a great two-way center he was in his heyday."

The Gilmour example made a permanent impression on Draper. Through hard work and dedication, the 5-foot-11, 185 pound forward has transformed himself from a potential NHLer to a core player in the Red Wings leadership group.

"I've known Kris since he played in the Canadian Olympic program," says former San Jose assistant coach Drew Remenda, now color analyst on Sharks telecasts. "Kris is a very coachable guy and worked his tail off to become a better player. He recognized what he needed to do to get better in his game. A major factor in his success is that Kris is absolutely devoid of any ego. He has no ego whatsoever and worked like hell on the weaknesses of his game to become a really solid two-way player."

"Kris is a great character player," agrees Detroit General Manager Ken Holland. "He brings a great dimension to our team great speed, great energy, passion, enthusiasm for the game and he's a pest. When Kris is on the ice he tracks people down, creates turnovers and he's the reason why for a number of years the Kirk Maltby-Kris Draper-Darren McCarty (Grind) Line was so effective. He brings such speed, energy and passion. Kris has been a big part of our success over the past four or five years and this season he's been given the opportunity to play with Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan. They have a real good chemistry."

Kris Draper is a versatile player who can play all three forward positions.
A versatile performer who can play all three forward positions, Draper was moved to right wing to fill a hole caused by the retirement of Doug Brown and the departure of Martin Lapointe and Pat Verbeek.

"Kris was the logical guy to move to right wing," says Detroit coach Scotty Bowman. "We had the luxury of moving a centreman and with Kris we could utilize his forechecking, his speed and he can still kill penalties. He also gives us the extra man on faceoffs, but what he does the most is bring speed to the line."

The Red Wings are in the enviable position of boasting two potent lines. If the Draper-Fedorov-Shanahan line is held in check, the team can send out Yzerman, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille.

"We try to get two lines for the other team to worry about," Bowman said. "Most teams don't match lines as often as they used to but they try to get a good defense pair against the top line. We used to do that against Anaheim when they had Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya together. Now we have two lines to play offense and most teams have a strong pair of defensemen that they can use. But they might have to split up their top defense pair or choose which line they're going to check tonight."

Whether it's checking the other team's top player, killing penalties, working the puck deep in the offensive zone or creating turnovers in the neutral zone, Draper will accept every role assigned to him and do so without complaint. The success of two Stanley Cups and the Red Wings position as a perennial contender in the NHL has instilled confidence in Draper a well-earned belief that he make the difference in a hockey game.

"Absolutely," says Draper. "I want to be in the sticky situations. I want to be out there in the last two minutes of a game and I want to be playing against the other team's top lines. It doesn't matter who you are, if you go out there and have a lot of confidence in yourself you can make good things happen. That's how I feel. I want to play as much as possible, play against the top players and contribute."

Draper joins a plethora of players who never let their size determine the heights of their success. His example shows that player evaluation requires the assessment of the total package. While size and strength are important elements to ponder, so too are hockey sense, reaction time, creativity and the type of player one might be on the bench, in practice and off the ice. Draper is living proof that one factor is more critical than any other in reaching achievement in the NHL.

"Heart," says Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson. "The one thing you must measure for success in the NHL is the size of a player's heart."