It wasn’t that long ago, we put Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov on the cover of The Hockey News, hamming it up in a headlock, with the headline Teen B’s: Boston’s face of the future.
The Bruins picked them both in the first round of the 1997 draft and hockey writers across the world had their lead story that weekend. Now, it’s clear the NHL career of Samsonov is over and he’s not yet 30.
The Blackhawks put Samsonov on waivers this week and with no takers on his $3.5 million salary, shipped him to Rockford of the AHL.
His contract expires at the end of this season and if he wants to continue playing next season, it’ll likely be in his Russian homeland.
Where did it all go wrong for Samsonov, the NHL’s rookie of the year in 1997-98? It’s hard to believe there was actually a time when people thought the Bruins lucked out at getting him eighth overall in 1997 at a time when first overall pick Thornton was stumbling out of the gate.
Samsonov outpointed Thornton 47 to seven that first season and 143 to 108 their first three seasons. It wasn’t until their sixth year in the league that Thornton passed the injured Samsonov in points.
Samsonov went scoreless in 23 games with Chicago this season.
Hawks assistant GM Rick Dudley was a big believer in the Russian being able to recapture his mojo. Dudley was GM of the International League’s Detroit Vipers the year Samsonov was drafted and was telling the world at the time how mesmerizing his puck skills were.
Hawks coach Denis Savard wanted to see Samsonov succeed and gave him quality ice time on the top two lines the first month of the season. Eventually, Samsonov played himself onto the checking line, then the buffet line in the press box.
It wasn’t until the post-lockout season that Samsonov’s game started to go south. The darting speed and 1-on-1 skill that were so special in Boston inexplicably escaped him last year in Montreal. Conditioning became an afterthought.
During an era in which smaller players flourished, his career went flush.
It’s never a pleasant story hearing about a still-young player who’s all washed up. It has happened before and it’ll happen again.
Dale McCourt, Tony Tanti, Jimmy Carson, Sergei Samsonov.
All fantastic players in their teens and early 20s, all out of the NHL well before the age of 30.
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