A winger with size who posted a 72 point season in the OHL leading up to the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, Jeff Heerema seemed like a pick with a decent shot at NHL success. He averaged 73 points over his next two season, each spent with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, before making his professional debut with the IHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones, putting up 33 points in 73 games.
The 2001-02 season marked Heerema’s AHL debut with the Lowell Lock Monsters, a season that saw him post 33 goals and 70 points in 76 games. Starting the following season in the AHL, Heerema earned a 10-game call-up in mid-January of 2003, netting three goals before being returned to Lowell. Those were the only games he would play with the Hurricanes.
Heerema would go on to play 22 games for the St. Louis Blues in the 2003-04 season, picking up one goal and two assists. He spent the next three seasons in the American League before heading overseas to spend two seasons in Germany. In 32 NHL games, Heerema notched four goals and two assists.
Can I Get a Re-do?
Unlike Philippe Paradis, there were some notable NHLers taken after Heerema in 1998. Starting with the 12th pick which saw Alex Tanguay taken by the Colorado Avalanche. The offensively-gifted winger picked up 863 points in 1088 career games (he also picked up 21 points in Colorado’s run to the 2001 Stanley Cup).
Then, with the 19th overall pick, Colorado (who had four 1st round picks in 98) took defenseman Robyn Regehr. A big body on the blueline, Regehr appeared in 1089 games over 15 years with Calgary, Buffalo, and Los Angeles. Having recently drafted Nikos Tselios, Carolina GM Jim Rutherford may have been wary of using another first-round pick on a defenseman.
So, moving the focus back to offense, let’s look at the 22nd overall pick, Simon Gagne. A veteran of 14 NHL seasons, Gagne racked up 291 goals and 310 assists playing for Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, and Boston. While injuries led to a decline in play, Gagne averaged 53 points per season over his first nine years in the NHL. Not too shabby.
Had Rutherford wanted a playmaking center, we can look to the final selection of the first round, Scott Gomez. Maligned later in his career for the massive contract that New York Ranger’s GM Glen Sather signed him to (before subsequently being traded to Montreal for Ryan McDonagh), Gomez was a productive player for a long time. While last several seasons of his career saw a steep decline, Gomez averaged 47 points per year, including 575 assists.