June 15, 2019

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Still Doan believe it

Former Jets GM dumbfounded, then delighted when Oilers passed on 'pretty special' Alberta kid at '95 draft who became Coyotes' legendary leader of the pack

There’s a long-standing belief the Edmonton Oilers did their NHL brothers two provinces to the east no great favours in the years before the Winnipeg Jets 1.0 dashed to the desert.

Edmonton, not Winnipeg, won the Wayne Gretzky sweepstakes in 1978. And the scrawny kid with the choppy skating stride and the rest of his cronies, many future hall-of-famers, tormented the Jets for a decade, kicking them to the curb en route to four Stanley Cups in five years with The Great One in Oilers blue and orange.

Back then, Edmonton was the blessed, Winnipeg the blighted, almost to the very end. Almost.

But a major slip-up by the Oilers at the 1995 NHL Draft led to a colossal strike for the Jets. And they didn’t have to drill deep for Shane Doan.

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There’s a long-standing belief the Edmonton Oilers did their NHL brothers two provinces to the east no great favours in the years before the Winnipeg Jets 1.0 dashed to the desert.

Edmonton, not Winnipeg, won the Wayne Gretzky sweepstakes in 1978. And the scrawny kid with the choppy skating stride and the rest of his cronies, many future hall-of-famers, tormented the Jets for a decade, kicking them to the curb en route to four Stanley Cups in five years with The Great One in Oilers blue and orange.

Winnipeg Jets General Manager John Paddock in 1995.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Jets General Manager John Paddock in 1995.

Back then, Edmonton was the blessed, Winnipeg the blighted, almost to the very end. Almost.

But a major slip-up by the Oilers at the 1995 NHL Draft led to a colossal strike for the Jets. And they didn’t have to drill deep for Shane Doan.

"I couldn’t believe we’d get him," admits former Jets 1.0 general manager John Paddock, still expressing genuine incredulity almost 24 years later. "He fell right into our hands. (Jets chief scout) Billy Lesuk said we were going to get him, and he was absolutely right.

"Every team has their philosophies or tendencies, and the guy the Oilers took, Steve Kelly, was an electrifying skater. But I still didn’t believe it until Edmonton announced their pick, and we were super excited to get Shane."

The Oilers, drafting in their own barn — old Northlands Coliseum — ignored the burly Alberta farm kid, despite chants of his name reverberating through rafters, stuck with their own scouting course and grabbed Kelly with the sixth-overall pick.

More on that dubious decision later.

Suffice it to say, the Jets pounced on Doan with the seventh pick, adding a sure-fire stallion to a stable of young prospects whose maturation took place a long way from long-suffering Manitoba fans.

Doan acknowledges the crowd during a ceremony honouring his 400th NHL goal and his 1,500th NHL game.

ROSS D. FRANKLIN/ THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

Doan acknowledges the crowd during a ceremony honouring his 400th NHL goal and his 1,500th NHL game.

Doan spent only his rookie year in Winnipeg (1995-96), scoring seven goals and collecting 17 points while registering 101 penalty minutes — beefed up by five fighting majors — in 74 games. He showed intermittent flashes of the all-world power forward he would inevitably become over the next 20 seasons in Arizona until his retirement just before the start of the 2017-18 NHL season.

In 1,540 NHL games, he amassed 972 points (402G, 570A) and remains the Jets/Coyotes leader in all four categories. He also served as Coyotes captain for 13 seasons in Phoenix. Keith Tkachuk, Teppo Numminen and current captain, defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, are the only other skaters to have worn the C.

Doan’s No. 19 jersey will be retired and raised to the rafters Sunday night when, fittingly, the Coyotes host the Jets at Gila River Arena.

"He’s a sports icon in Phoenix but he would have been an icon anywhere. It would have been something for Winnipeg fans to see the kid get drafted, make the team as an 18-year-old and play as long as he did with just the one organization," says retired NHL forward Dallas Drake, Doan’s former teammate in Winnipeg and Phoenix. "There’s no doubt he would have done all the same things over the course of his career if the team had stayed up north."

By all accounts, Doan should have stayed north, donning Edmonton’s legendary oil drop on his chest for a decade or two. He was tough, talented and there for the taking.

RALPH FRESO / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Paddock says the son of Bernie and Bernice Doan, ranchers from Halkirk, Alta., about 210 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, who also run a Christian kids’ camp, was high on the Jets’ wish list after the team’s bird-dogs did their groundwork prior to the draft.

"Halfway through (1994-95 Western Hockey League season) he was a top player. He wasn’t going first overall in the draft but he was in a group of others to really watch," recalls Paddock, Winnipeg’s head coach from 1991-95 before being hired as GM. "Definitely a character guy, terrific upbringing. He was a big, strong kid, a solid player who could play both ends.

"You have to do some projection any time you draft, and we liked what his projection would be. Our scouts starting bearing down on Shane and a handful of guys when it became apparent we were going to be out of the playoffs."

The Jets went just 16-25-7 during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 NHL season, finishing well below the playoff line, and would eventually be assigned the seventh pick in the June draft, originally scheduled for Winnipeg Arena but shuffled to Edmonton once it became clear the franchise was Phoenix-bound.

But out west, the intrigue and excitement of Doan’s last season in the WHL was gathering steam.

Edmonton Oilers Jason Smith (right) is checked by Doan.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Edmonton Oilers Jason Smith (right) is checked by Doan.

The 18-year-old right-winger had fired 37 goals and 94 points in 71 regular-seasons for Kamloops in his draft year and was a driving force as the WHL Blazers captured the Memorial Cup on home ice, their second-straight national junior hockey championship. He was also named the tournament’s most valuable player on a squad with future slam-dunk hall-of-famer Jarome Iginla and long-time NHLer Darcy Tucker.

His off-ice personality – the integrity, sincerity and spirituality — only intensified the interest.

‘That’s what Shane was all about, then and now. You never hear a negative word about the man," says Lesuk, a pro scout for almost 15 years with the Jets/Coyotes franchise. "We checked into Shane pretty closely. We did our homework, let’s put it that way. Just good people… a pretty special kid."

A kid, simply, who was born to be an athlete. The Doans are all athletes.

His father, a defenceman, played junior in Calgary and was a sixth-round choice (80th overall) of the St. Louis Blues in 1971, although he never suited up in the NHL. Shane’s sister, Leighann, was recently inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame after a sensational university and pro (Europe) basketball career.

Shane Doan’s cousin is Olympic medalist Catriona LeMay Doan.</p></p>

JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Shane Doan’s cousin is Olympic medalist Catriona LeMay Doan.

Shane’s cousin, Canadian speed-skating legend Catriona LeMay Doan, participated in four Olympics, winning gold medals in the 500-metre at Nagano in 1998 and again in Salt Lake City in 2002. She also won a bronze medal in the 1,000m in ‘98 and was a five-time world champion.

Perry Pearn, whose first NHL coaching gig was with the Jets in 1995-96, played with Bernie Doan in Stettler, Alta., as teens and have remained friends for more than 50 years.

"Bernie was a cowboy, no question. He was a really good hockey player, too, and probably could have been a good pro, but I don’t think he liked being away from home. They’re ranchers and really connected to the land," says Pearn, currently serving as head coach of Canada’s national women’s team. "To an extent, Shane was as well. But as his hockey career changed, as good as he was, you knew he wasn’t going to be living on the farm forever."

Draft day began pretty much as expected, with a run on defencemen. The Ottawa Senators plucked U.S.-born blue-liner Bryan Berard with the No. 1 overall pick, the New York Islanders took Brandon Wheat Kings star Wade Redden and the Los Angeles Kings chose Finnish-born Aki Berg.

The names of about a half-dozen forwards were on most NHL organizations’ scouting lists as ones likely to start coming off the board, and Doan was among them. Paddock says he was certain the 18-year-old, a gifted scorer, playmaker and punishing hitter would be long gone, so he started calling his counterparts.

Perry Pearn as the Winnipeg Jets’ assistant coach in 2013.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Perry Pearn as the Winnipeg Jets’ assistant coach in 2013.

"I tried to make a deal with a couple of teams to move up and get Shane. I was prepared to give up up a player off our roster and our first-round pick to move up two or three spots. Nobody wanted to make that move," says Paddock, the current GM of the WHL’s Regina Pats.

Curious hockey hounds are out of luck. Paddock insists the statute of limitations on identifying any player he made any attempt to trade, ever, remains in effect in perpetuity.

As anticipated, a pair of forwards immediately got swiped from the draft board. Chad Kilger went to the Anaheim Ducks in the fourth spot (he would get traded to the Jets in the Teemu Selanne blockbuster only months later) and Daymond Langkow went to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Oilers general manager Glen Sather and his crew, including chief scout Barry Fraser — considered the architect of Edmonton’s championship squads of the ‘80s — were on the clock. To the 10,000-plus in building that day, the choice was crystal-clear.

It certainly was to Paddock, an Oak River product who played 10 years pro, including 87 games in the NHL split between the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and Quebec Nordiques. But the guy seated to his right at the draft table had the scoop.

John Paddock went on to coach the Ottawa Senators.

TOM HANSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

John Paddock went on to coach the Ottawa Senators.

"After Langkow was taken with the fifth pick and the Oilers are up, (Lesuk) says to me, ‘You don’t have to worry any more, you’re going to get Doan.’ And I said, "What are you talking about, Billy? Why would you say that?’" Paddock recalls. "It didn’t make sense.

"I could hear it. Everybody could hear it. The people in Northlands they were shouting, ‘Doan, Doan, Doan.’ I said, ‘Listen to them!’ And Billy said, ‘Edmonton’s going to take Steve Kelly because of his skating, his speed.’ And I said, ‘Come on, Billy. I just don’t believe that.’

"He said, ‘But they are.’ And they did."

The Oilers didn’t want Doan and they didn’t want Iginla — born and raised in the Alberta capital — either. He was grabbed 11th by Dallas and went on to score more than 600 goals, although none for the Stars, who dealt him to the Calgary Flames in a deal to acquire Joe Nieuwendyk in December 1995.

They coveted Kelly, a brilliant player with Prince Albert through four WHL seasons who had size and speed, a clutch performer in back-to-back playoff runs for the Raiders. But that success, however, was never duplicated at the NHL level.

Doan carries his son, Josh, and daughter, Karys, prior to a team photo at the IIHF World Hockey Championship in Austria 2005.

FRANK GUNN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Doan carries his son, Josh, and daughter, Karys, prior to a team photo at the IIHF World Hockey Championship in Austria 2005.

Kelly spent three seasons in the Oilers organization and also had stints with the Lightning, New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings from 1997 to 2004 before crossing the pond to play in Germany for three years. He returned to North America and inked a deal with the Minnesota Wild, suiting up for two games during the 2007-08 campaign before retiring in 2009. The Vancouver native scored nine goals and added 12 assists in 149 NHL contests.

Kelly is now a police officer in Calgary, a member of the gang-suppression unit. Three years ago, he helped launch a training program in Canadian junior hockey to teach players about the proper use of social media, the age of consent and sexual activity, alcohol, drugs and gambling, diversity and what it means to be a role model.

THE DOAN DOSSIER

  • Born: Oct. 10, 1976 (42 years old)
  • From: Halkirk, Alta.
  • Height: 6-1
  • Weight: 220 pounds
  • Position: Right wing
  • Drafted by Winnipeg Jets first round (seventh-overall) in 1995.
  • Retired Aug. 30, 2017 as the NHL’s last active player from the Jets 1.0.

 

  • Born: Oct. 10, 1976 (42 years old)
  • From: Halkirk, Alta.
  • Height: 6-1
  • Weight: 220 pounds
  • Position: Right wing
  • Drafted by Winnipeg Jets first round (seventh-overall) in 1995.
  • Retired Aug. 30, 2017 as the NHL’s last active player from the Jets 1.0.

 

All-time Jets 1.0/Coyotes franchise leader in:

 

  • Games played – 1,540
  • Goals – 402
  • Assists — 570
  • Points — 972
  • Power-play goals – 128
  • NHL all-star appearances – 2004, 2009

 

NHL honours

 

  • King Clancy Memorial Award: "To the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice, and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community." (2010)
  • Mark Messier Leadership Award: “To the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice during the regular season." (2012)
  • Played in the fourth-most games with one team in NHL history
  • Retired as the longest-tenured captain in the NHL (13 seasons)

 

Team Canada

 

  • Winter Olympics: 2006
  • World championships: 1999, 2003 (gold), 2005, 2007 (gold), 2008, 2009
  • World Cup: 2004 (gold)

 

Memorial Cup national junior titles

 

  • 1994, 1995 (Kamloops Blazers)

Lesuk, retired and living in East St. Paul, says that’s just more proof that selecting teens at the draft was a crap shoot then and still is today, even with major advances in technology to break down every morsel of information on a young player, from body measurements to strength and conditioning to on-ice analytics.

It’s also an acknowledgement people have different callings in life.

Shane Doan collected 17 points in his rookie year as a Winnipeg Jet.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Shane Doan collected 17 points in his rookie year as a Winnipeg Jet.

"Definitely, Shane is one of the picks I’m most proud of. Tkachuk and Selanne are maybe the other ones. We had some really good ones. We watched Shane over the course of a couple of seasons. You do what you can, but you have to be lucky, too," says Lesuk, a former NHLer who played for the Jets during their World Hockey Association glory days of the mid-’70s.

"Just because they’re leading their team in many categories and are a big part of the team’s success, it doesn’t mean success at the next level. It’s like a kid with great marks in high school who has lots of trouble in university. They hit some of those courses and it eliminates you from a lot of jobs.

"The ones that have the grit to go the extra mile and stay focused, the mental toughness, those are the ones that succeed," Lesuk says. "And Shane had that in spades."

Doan didn’t explode onto the scene like some rookies, and there were some early struggles. During his third season (1997-98), he was mired in a slump with just a pair of goals through October and November, and was assigned to the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, to get more ice time and revitalize his confidence. In 39 games there, he fired 21 goals and chipped in 21 assists before being promoted to the big club for the last month of the campaign and a first-round playoff series.

He was never sent down again.

Team Canada’s Doan holds the championship trophy after scoring the winning goal to beat Team Finland 3-2 in the World Cup of Hockey final in 2004 in Toronto.

FRANK GUNN / THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES

Team Canada’s Doan holds the championship trophy after scoring the winning goal to beat Team Finland 3-2 in the World Cup of Hockey final in 2004 in Toronto.

Doan played in a Canada jersey several times, winning gold at a pair of world championships, and competed at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. He was also the recipient of the NHL’s Mark Messier Award for Leadership in 2012, for being "an individual as a superior leader within their sport, and as a contributing member of society."

He, a father of four, and his wife, Andrea, dedicate a lot of time to Arizona-area charities, including United Blood Services, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Children First Academy, a school for homeless children.

"Shane and his family do a tremendous amount of work for the community. He is not someone who backs away from helping others, and he’s been that way since he was a kid," says Drake.

Paddock, who signed Doan to his first pro contract, gets the last word on the man whose jersey number will never be worn in Phoenix again.

"I think it’s one of the ultimate honours that players receive in a team game. It’s a rare honour," says Paddock, who is flying in for the ceremony. "So, if you have the kind of career that Shane has, a hall-of-fame type career with a select group of players, it’s a great honour. It doesn’t just mean he’s an excellent player but also a top-quality person."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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