David Poile was far from suspecting it at the time. But his unsuccessful attempt to get along with goalkeeper Ed Belfour in June 2002 was to pay off.
The Nashville Predators GM secured exclusive negotiating rights from the Dallas Stars with the 37-year-old goaltender through forward David Gosselin and a fifth-round pick.
But Belfour turned his back on Nashville and signed a two-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Predators would receive a 2003 second-round pick in the 49e rank, for the “loss” of Belfour.
This choice will play Tuesday evening at the Bell Center his 1000e career game, including 763 games with the Predators. But at the dawn of this famous 2003 draft, Poile and his recruiters were far from suspecting that this obscure colossus of Western Canada would play 1,000 career games, let alone amass 576 points …
Weber had a meager 18 points in 70 games in his first full season with the Kelowna Rockets in the Western Junior League in his year of eligibility.
It was ranked at 72e rank on the list of hopes according to Hockey News, and at 42e rank on the list of North American NHL players. In short, he wasn’t even considered a second-round pick… except Nashville maybe.
“Shea hardly played in Kelowna in his draft year,” recalls Luc Gauthier, then a member of the Predators scouting squad. He was sixth or seventh defenseman. He wasn’t easy to analyze because he didn’t play a lot. But we had a recruiter based in the West, Mike Rooney, who happened to see him at work regularly in the first half of the season, in 2002. ”
Rooney seems to have insisted at the mid-season meeting that the organization travel to Kelowna more regularly. “As of January, we started to follow him more regularly,” continues Gauthier, now employed by the Pittsburgh Penguins. We saw a big guy who moved well, his skills with the puck were correct. He had a good first pass, but nothing extraordinary. ”
The NHL scouts got to see it more at the Memorial Cup, presented in Quebec. Kelowna lost 2-1 to Hull in the semifinals. The Rockets’ defense were led by Duncan Keith, Josh Gorges and Tomas Slovak. Weber had been shut out in four games.
“I saw all the Kelowna games and it was difficult to assess because (even at this stage of the season), he was not playing on a regular basis,” recalls Luc Gauthier.
The Canadiens captain came out of nowhere when he joined the Junior Western League in 2002. Weber had been ignored in the 2000 Western Junior League Draft. Kelowna had placed him on its protection list, however.
Shea Weber started the 2001 season with the Sicamous Eagles of the Kootenay International Junior League, a Junior B grade league in British Columbia. He dominated there, to the point of obtaining an invitation from the Rockets to play the last five games of the 2001-2002 season.
The Predators had many draft picks in 2003 after a tough season: one first-round pick, seventh overall, three second-round picks and four fourth-round picks.
Unsurprisingly, they drafted Ryan Suter early in the first round, ahead of Braydon Coburn and Dion Phaneuf.
They then chose Russian striker Konstantin Glazachev at 35e rank, then another well-rated defender, Kevin Klein, at 37e row, ahead among others Patrice Bergeron.
“Having a number of second-round picks made things easier for us,” says Luc Gauthier. We were comfortable taking it in the second round if there was a possibility. When we met him, nice guy, mature young man. It gave us confidence, we saw a straight young man. It always speeds up the development process when they’re young. ”
Weber increased his production to 32 points in 60 games in his second junior season, then to 41 points in 55 games in his third.
He then began his professional career in the American League at age 20. He played 46 games with the Milwaukee Admirals, and 28 games in Nashville.
The following year, in his first full season in the NHL, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound giant amassed 40 points in 79 games. His career was launched. Eight seasons of more than 40 points would follow, then the captain’s title, until this trade with the Canadian for PK Subban in 2016.
“If there is one person in the hockey world who could predict that he would bring an offensive dimension like he did during his career, he would probably be lying,” said Luc Gauthier. I saw him as a good defender, reliable, robust, a good defensive player. But his offensive side … it revealed itself. ”
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