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December 19, 2002 - DRAPER'S DECADE: $1 trade turns into 10 seasons, 3 rings
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DRAPER'S DECADE: $1 trade turns into 10 seasons, 3 rings

The Red Wings acquired Kris Draper for $1. Ten seasons later, the fan favorite still shines

December 19, 2002

BY HELENE ST. JAMES
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER

The clerk was callous. Correct, but callous.

DECADE OF DRAPER
Born: May 24, 1971, in Toronto.

Vitals: 5-feet-9, 190 pounds, shoots left.

Career notes: Played for Team Canada in 1988-90 and 1990-91. Drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the third round (62nd overall) at the 1989 NHL draft. Played parts of three seasons with the Jets from 1990-93 before they traded him to the Red Wings for future considerations June 30, 1993.

Best year: Last season, when he scored 15 goals among 30 points in 82 games.

Career high point: Scored on Washington goaltender Olaf Kolzig at 15:24 of overtime in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals in 1998.

Career low point: Being crushed into the boards by Claude Lemieux during the Western Conference finals in '96.

Driving Mr. Draper: Did commercials for Metro Detroit Ford dealers.

Frenemies: Scored two goals on longtime buddy and ex-roomie Chris Osgood when Osgood came to town with the New York Islanders last season.

Best line: One-third of Grind Line with Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty, who replaced Joe Kocur.

Best put-down by own coach: Scotty Bowman's remark two seasons ago that "usually the safest place to be is in the net when Draper's shooting."

Best imitation: Has his own bobblehead doll.

Best use of Stanley Cup: As breakfast bowl for daughter Kennedi's Froot Loops.

By Helene St. James

Kris Draper was checking into the Pontchartrain Hotel on Jan. 24, 1994. He had been called up from Adirondack for his first game with the Red Wings, and he stood at the counter with his hastily packed bags and waited for the clerk to find his name. He liked the first part he heard -- "Oh, yes, Mr. Draper, with the Detroit Red Wings." That had a nice sound to it. But what came next wasn't quite so pleasant.

"We have you checking in today . . . and checking out tomorrow."

Draper, now 31, laughed when he recounted the story. He wound up checking out after two nights -- the Wings were off to play at Chicago -- but never from the Wings. It has been 10 years since he arrived in the summer of '93, bought from the Winnipeg Jets for all of $1.

"And who knows," Draper said, "if that dollar was ever even paid?"

Draper greeted the trade with mixed feelings. He was going to an Original Six member of the NHL -- that part was neat. He also was going to a good team, and that was less inviting. He had tried for three years to stick with the not-very-good Jets, yet he never played more than 10 games in a season.

"It's not like they were tearing up the National Hockey League and I couldn't get a break there and play for them," he said. "Then you get traded to an organization like Detroit and you're excited to get a fresh start, but you kind of wonder, like, if I couldn't make it with the Winnipeg Jets, how am I going to make it with the Detroit Red Wings?"

Draper didn't, at first. He was sent to the Wings' American Hockey League club in upstate New York, before training camp ended. When he got there, Adirondack's general manager, Doug MacLean, and the coach, Newell Brown, told Draper he would be counted on heavily.

"Right off the hop, it was a role I hadn't been used to for probably two or three years, going out there and playing on the power play and killing penalties, 5-on-5 situations -- everything you could ask for," Draper said. "Things started to happen, I started to score goals and get assists, and things were going really well."

Then came the coveted call from the higher-ups. He played his first game as a Red Wing at Joe Louis Arena on Jan. 25 against Chicago -- the night after he checked in to the Pontchartrain. Toward the end of the game he was batting at the puck and wound up cutting Steve Smith of the Blackhawks, who required about 25 stitches. The Wings lost, 5-0.

Draper flew with them to Chicago the next day for a game the following night, unsure of his situation. Teams often make changes after losses. Draper stayed in. He had an assist. The Wings won, 4-3, in overtime. He continued to play.

"It was great," he said. "I didn't want it to end. I didn't want to go back to Adirondack. But every day you're kind of looking over your shoulder wondering, is this the day it's going to end and I get sent back?"

That day never came.

Ten seasons later, Draper is a regular contributor and a fan favorite. He's not a superstar, and he doesn't have much of a shot. But he does have job security and, even more important, three Stanley Cup rings -- which is more than even he could have imagined.

After joining the Wings, Draper spent the next couple of seasons steadily working his way into becoming a regular. He had speed, and what he lacked in offensive talent he atoned for with a sound commitment to defense. In March 1996, the Wings acquired Kirk Maltby, and before long he and Draper started killing penalties together. Now they are one of the Wings' go-to pairs of forwards during opponents' power plays.

"They're both really good at reading plays and anticipating where to go and being in lanes," defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "With the speed they have, they really help me out in the corners. When they're chasing a guy down they can kill 20 seconds off the clock because opponents will have to pass the puck back and bring it back around."

Draper's biggest role then, though, was as a checking-line center. He began playing with Maltby on his left wing and Joe Kocur, then Darren McCarty, on the right. Kocur now is a Wings assistant coach. They were such a hit that during the '97 playoffs, they got their own nickname, the Grind Line.

"It's pretty neat," Draper said. "You see the Grind Line posters and T-shirts, and now with the Stanley Cup flags. It's something we're proud of. A lot of people have talked about it, and when they mention the success of the Detroit Red Wings, you hear about the Grind Line. That's something all four of us are proud of."

Still, when the line was broken up last season, Draper wasn't the least bit sorry. Former coach Scotty Bowman came to Draper during training camp and asked him if he had ever played right wing. Draper said no, not really. Bowman told him that's where he would be playing. Draper said OK. Then Bowman told him he would be playing with Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan.

"I just kind of looked and waited for a response or reaction, but that was it, he just walked away," Draper said, laughing. "I was really excited. I'd never had an opportunity like that before. I was always centering a checking line. And then you get an opportunity to go play on a scoring line. The most exciting thing was an opportunity to get more minutes. Some nights I was playing around 20 minutes a night."

The move yielded Draper a career-best 30 points in 82 games, and Bowman stuck with the line as the playoffs began. But when the Wings dropped the first two games, he shuffled players around and reunited Draper with Maltby and McCarty. They have, quite simply, become a line that defines reliability.

"They're a very nice option to have," coach Dave Lewis said. "There are not many lines that are better than them as far as shutting an opponent down."

Draper had 14 points after 30 games this season, most of it spent centering Maltby and McCarty, although he recently spent a seven-game stretch back with Fedorov and Shanahan.

"The one thing I realize for myself is, I am an effective centerman with Malts and Mac," Draper said. "We feel we're not only tough to play against, but we can go out and score some goals and chip in offensively and we take a lot of pride in that."

Score some goals. Chip in offensively. It's a topic that eventually leads to Draper's Achilles' heel: his heartrendingly ineffective breakaway. No one keeps statistics on such things, but Draper willingly took a guess at his own success rate on breakaways.

"Oh, it's probably around 1 or 2 percent," he said, laughing. "It wouldn't be high."

His inability to convert is noticeable largely because with his speed, he gets so many chances. Two seasons ago Bowman joked that "usually the safest place to be is in the net when Draper's shooting."

Even a good friend like Maltby can't help but burst out laughing when asked what he thinks when Draper is on a breakaway.

"My thought is, backhand, five-hole," Maltby said. "That's what I think he's going to do. I'm not sure if he's thinking too much, but he always seems to shoot, not deke."

The thing is, Draper tries. He has gone to countless sources for advice over the years: former teammate Chris Osgood, now a goaltender with the Islanders; Dominik Hasek; Curtis Joseph. He has pulled aside Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Fedorov. Almost all have told him the same thing -- slow down.

"At a good speed, if he can freeze the goalie and just keep coming and be more patient with the puck, the net should be open," Hull said. "But from what I've seen, he gets the breakaway, makes a good move, and then he wants to get rid of it too quick and the goalie is still where he was."

Draper has practiced breakaways ad nauseam, working heavily last season with Hasek. He has watched clips on videotape. And he has reviewed every last one of them in his mind over and over and over.

"To be honest, after a game I'm lying in bed and I'm playing it again and again," he said. "If only I'd done this or slowed down. . . ."

There's always next time. Draper has another season left on a four-year deal he signed in the summer of 2000, and still has no more desire to leave Detroit than he did that January day in '94. He is close to his parents, who live in the Toronto area. He has built a life here with his wife, Julie, and their two children -- Kennedi, who will be 3 in the spring, and Kienan, who is coming up on 1 year. The little ones dominate his interest away from hockey.

"When I'm not at the rink, home is where I want to be," he said. "I want to try to be the best dad. That's what I call fun now -- being a dad."

He's quite adept at it. Dirty diapers are "no problem -- I get right in there and fire things up," he said with a smile. He's handy in the kitchen, too, where "I do bottles, feed Kienan, and get Kennedi's dinner ready. That's the fun stuff."

Occasionally, he shows them his three Stanley Cup rings, though he can't wear all three at once on one hand because his fingers simply won't spread that wide.

Though Draper rarely is at a loss for something to say, at times he can't find the words to describe how delightful this decade has been. He was driving home one day late in November from the Fox Theatre, sitting next to his wife, and they kept glancing at the third Cup ring he had just received.

"You're just kind of like, 'Holy, geez,' how fortunate am I, considering where I came from," Draper said. "That's when you think how thankful you are."