Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Over the years, there have been many a time when an NHL team drafts a player with the hopes that they can be a building block for the franchise, only to be disappointed by said prospect’s development, a development that eventually fades away as a bust. This failed prospect has sometimes been followed in a subsequent draft by the same team, in which a relative of the same prospect ultimately becomes a major contributor in the lineup; to the point of being one of the most important players in franchise history. This scenario has happened with two of the NHL’s most prominent Eastern Conference clubs, the Washington Capitals and the Carolina Hurricanes, in recent memory. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle chronicles those players and the familial tie the second time around.
In the 1983 NHL Entry Draft the Washington Capitals drafted a forward by the name of Anders Huss in the 11th-round with the 216th overall pick. Huss was born in Sollefteå, Sweden on April 6, 1964 and at the time of the draft, was playing with Brynas IF J20 in the Swedish Under-20 Junior League. Even though he was a later-round pick, there was still the potential for Huss to make the jump to North America to begin his pro career, however, this scenario never came to fruition. Instead, Huss played for Brynas IF in the Swedish Elite League for the next 15 seasons, beginning with the 1983-84 season through the 1998-99 season. He played two additional seasons with Timra IK before retiring after the 2000-01 season.
The Capitals would have much better luck when the team drafted his nephew in the first-round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft several seasons following Huss’ retirement, selecting Center Nicklas Backstrom with the fourth pick overall.
Backstrom has played with the Caps since the 2007-08 season and currently ranks first on the Capitals’ Franchise Assists List, second in Points, and fourth in Goals. Huss was a teammate of Backstrom’s father Anders with Brynas from 1983-84 to 1987-88. Anders Huss was present at Backstrom’s Day with the Stanley Cup, and his own son Viktor, Backstrom’s cousin, has had a long career in Sweden himself.
In the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, the Carolina Hurricanes drafted a right wing by the name of Jeff Heerema in the first-round, with the 11th overall pick. Heerema was born on January 17, 1980 in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and did not sign a contract until 2000, close to the signing deadline. Heerema would turn out to be one of the Hurricanes’ worst first-round picks in recent memory, as he played just 10 games with the team during the 2002-03 season, scoring three goals and recording no assists. The following season (2003-04) he played 22 games with the St. Louis Blues, scoring one goal and recording two assists in what would be the final season of his NHL career. That proved to be the end of his NHL career, though he bounced around the American Hockey League for several years and then several European leagues, ending his professional hockey career after the 2011-12 season.
Following the failed first-round pick’s only season with the Hurricanes, the team drafted a maternal cousin of Heerema’s with the second overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, forward Eric Staal. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, they had much better luck with Staal’s development than they had with Heerema. Staal played in Carolina for 12 seasons and was appointed Team Captain midway through the 2009-10 season, remaining in that role until he was traded during the 2015-16 season. Staal was a member of the Hurricanes team who captured the Stanley Cup in 2006, just two seasons after Heerema’s only campaign in Carolina.
Staal was not the only member of his immediate family who played with Carolina. The team acquired forward Jordan Staal, Eric’s younger brother in a trade before the 2012-13 season; Jordan has since been appointed captain of the team. Eric and Jordan’s younger brother Jared also played two games with the team during the 2012-13 season, which proved to be the only two games of his NHL career.
By Diane Doyle