Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Darren Veitch

Paul Coffey, one of the greatest offensive defensemen in NHL history was selected 6th overall in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft. He was the 4th defenseman taken. Ahead of him were long time NHL battlers Dave Babych and Larry Murphy and some guy named Darren Veitch.

Darren who?

Veitch's journey through the NHL and the minor leagues began in the Montreal Forum at the '80 draft.

The Montreal Canadiens had just drafted centre Doug Wickenheiser from the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats. Veitch, Wickenheiser's teammate in Regina, was an all-star defenceman also waiting to go high.

The Winnipeg Jets next picked Babych from Portland of the WHL. Third up was a little centre from the Quebec League's Montreal Jr. Canadiens named Denis Savard. Chicago drafted him.

Drafting fourth overall, Los Angeles chose Murphy from the Ontario Hockey League's Peterborough Petes.

Finally, with the fifth overall pick, the Capitals chose Veitch, who led the WHL in assists with 93 in 71 games, and a total of 122 points. The Oilers then selected Paul Coffey directly after after Veitch.

Coffey, Murphy and Savard appear destined for the Hall of Fame. Dave Babych also had a splendid career. Veitch had a steady if unspectacular career, posting 48 goals, 209 assists, 296 penalty minutes in 511 career games with Washington, Detroit and Toronto from 1980 to '91. But needless to say, aside from that one draft day in Montreal, he was never in the same class of player as those stars.

The Washington Capitals, starting in the 1980s anyways, have long be known as a franchise with a fetish for standout defensemen, although they demand their defensemen be very solid in their own zone and durable. They had acquired the likes of Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Larry Murphy, Scott Stevens and Kevin Hatcher to a name a few.

It was hoped Veitch would be a big part of of the Capitals, and it started out promising. He had a heavy right handed shot from the point and became a fixture on the powerplay  In his second season he scored 9 goals and 53 points.

His career would be forever changed following an early season game in 1982 against the Vancouver Canucks. Veitch missed the rest of the season and part of the following season recovering from a serious collarbone injury.

With Veitch injured and slow to return to form when he did come back, the Capitals took measures to acquire a top offensive rearguard fearing that Veitch would never be the same. They went out and acquired one of the best d-men in the game in Larry Murphy.

Veitch struggled to regain his status in Washington once he did return. He did fully recover from the collarbone injury, and did improve his defensive game, but he fell down the depth chart. At the very best he was the 4th but often was on the 3rd pairing and received less ice time.

Because of these circumstances, it would be wrong to say Veitch was a first round draft pick bust. He was actually quite serviceable even if he never reached the high expectations placed upon him.

Veitch was moved to Detroit in exchange for a couple of more typical 5th and 6th defensemen in John Barrett and Greg Smith. In Detroit Veitch had a chance to return to his offensive game, and he did not disappoint as he posted career highs in 1986-87 with 13 goals and 58 points, while being a respectable +14. He was solid but never a bonafide true offensive leader.

Veitch played with the Wings until 1988 when he was sent to Toronto for the erratic Mirko Frycer. Veitch however played sparingly for the Leafs and actually spent more time in the minor leagues than in the NHL.
Veitch's last NHL appearance came in 1990-91, but he continued to play hockey until 1999. He appeared in the AHL, IHL and WCHL and briefly in Germany.

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