Before beginning our 1989 NHL Entry Draft breakdown, let’s take a second to remember what life was like back before the 90s rolled around. A gallon of gas was 97 cents, a BMW 325 was $21,400, the Gameboy was just released, and the fall of the Berlin Wall meant the Cold War was beginning to thaw across Eastern Europe. This meant the opportunity for Soviet players to potentially come to the NHL if they were willing to do something that took a tremendous amount of courage, defect from Russia. Thankfully, Jim Devellano and the Wings organization took a gamble on a few fearless Russians. The rest is history.
1989 NHL Entry Draft –
In hindsight, it’s amazing there wasn’t a long list of general managers willing to take a risk on drafting members of the infamous Red Army. But times were different, which meant airing on the side of caution, rather than being bold. Flash-forward 30 years and three of the top ten 2021 NHL prospects are European. Certainly a far cry from the days of smuggling in defectors. Luckily, the Wings brass got a good return on their 1989 investment with the players selected tallying 5,995 games donning the Red & White.
Prior to discussing the infamous overseas selections, let’s remember who the Wings drafted 11th overall. Detroit opted to draft Regina Pats forward Mike Sillinger. While the Saskatchewan native only played a little over 130 games, lit-the-lamp 16 times, and tallied 47 assists during his tenure in Hockeytown, he still managed to carve out nearly two decades in the world’s greatest league. Would they have rathered drafted Adam Foote, Olaf Kolzig, or Byron Defoe? Probably, but you can’t win them all, and there’s no denying the rest of the draft was a home run for Detroit fans.
After a strikeout with Bob Boughner, the Wings landed their Swedish beauty in the third round. Nicklas Lidstrom remains the most decorated defenseman with 1564 games played, 264 goals, 878 assists, and an out-of-this-world +450 plus/minus during his two decades of entertaining Detroit fans. Lidstrom’s trophy cabinet is far from empty – four Stanley Cups, seven Norris trophies, first European-born player to win the Conn Smythe, 12 All-Star Game appearances, and a 2006 Olympic Gold medal. Not too shabby for a guy that had to watch 52 other players get selected before him.
Who went next? None other than Mr. Handsome himself, Sergei Fedorov. When you look back at Fedorov’s arrival to North America, it reads more like the plotline of an 80s spy movie than that of a hockey player joining the NHL. Hotel lobby meetings, secret letters, and private jets, but what makes this story especially compelling is that it was all being done by a 20-year-old kid from Pskov, Russia. Fedorov would go on to play 13 seasons in Hockeytown, and tally six All-Star appearances, two Selke trophies, a Hart Trophy, and three Stanley Cups. The sad reality is that none of these accolades could have been achieved if he didn’t make the gut-wrenching decision to defect from his native land in the summer of 1990. Wings fans will have their fingers crossed that 2021’s fourth-rounder turns out to be half as good as Fedorov was.
Following the selections of Shawn McCosh, Dallas Drake, Scott Zygulski, Andy Suhy, Bob Jones, Greg Bignell and, Rick Judson, the Wings capped off their amazing draft off with Vladimir Konstantinov in the eleventh round. The Vladinator was selected after he impressed a scout in the 1987 World Championships during a Soviet Union – Canada game. He was given one of the best hockey-compliments you can give a player, “He was one of the only Russians that fought back.” Konstantinov tallied over 400 games, 47 goals, 128 assists, and an impressive 838 penalty minutes during his six seasons in Detroit. Unfortunately, the last game Konstantinov ever played in the Red & White was when the Wings got their brooms out and sent the Flyers home during the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals.
June 13th, 1997 was a tragic day Wings fans will never forget. The unfortunate series of events that allowed Slava Fetisov, Vladmir Konstantinov, and Sergi Mnatsakonov to jump in a limousine with Richard Gnida, who had a suspended license after consecutive drunk driving convictions is absolutely heartbreaking. The stories of Darren McCarty and Brendan Shanahan trying to convince their friends not to leave strikes a chord with anyone who has seen their friends’ leave a party concerned for their safety. The tragic accident that left both Mnatsakanov and Konstantinov in a coma altered the Wings’ DNA, while simultaneously robbing Konstantinov from playing another game in the NHL.
The 1989 Draft will remain a part of Detroit’s history forever. Not only because it helped propel them to 25 consecutive playoff appearances, four Stanley Cups, and yielded them three legendary All-Stars. But because they will forever be remembered as true draft pioneers. Will Yzerman aim to follow in his predecessors’ footsteps on Friday? Wings fans should hope so because if lightning can somehow strike twice, the rebuild will be over before we know it.
Make sure to tune in tomorrow for a breakdown of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft before settling in to watch which member Stevie Y welcomes to the Detroit family in 2021.