Craig Wolanin

When scouts were preparing for the 1985 Entry Draft, they were all drooling over big defenseman Craig Wolanin.

"This kid is a blue chip prospect. He may need a bit more time than a (Craig) Simpson or a (Wendel) Clark but he'll be worth the wait," preached one NHL scout.

And patient we were with Wolanin. He became a solid but never elite defender.

The New Jersey Devils selected the Michigan born defenseman 3rd overall that year (behind Clark and Simpson). Wolanin's biggest asset was his size. He towered above many at 6'3" and often played between 205 and 215 pounds. However Wolanin's biggest problem was also his size. He was simply too big for the kind of game he was willing to play. He simply seemed to have lacked the desire to play a physical game and often played as though he were 4 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter.

Craig wasn't a great skater by any means, but it was definitely adequate. He lacked the offensive savvy and point shot to contribute much in the offensive zone. He carved out an average NHL career as a positional defenseman. but he could have been dominant.

"He doesn't have the desire to smash people, and doesn't even use his physical gifts to their fullest extents without bashing people" said reporter Jiggs McDonald. "While tremendously strong and with the ability to be a punishing hitter, Craig does not apply his size consistently in front of the net or along the boards. He consistently fails to complete his checks, pushing and shoving instead of taking the body."

After 5 seasons with the Devils, New Jersey traded him and veteran Randy Velischek to Quebec in exchange for aging superstar Peter Stastny. Craig played steady but unspectacular hockey with the Nordiques organization for the next 7 years. In that time he saw the Nordiques go from annual NHL doormats to relocation in Denver Colorado.

Craig only played for one season in Denver. It was a bittersweet season for Craig as it was the year that the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup. Despite playing in 75 regular season games and recording a career high 7 goals and a respectable +25, Craig played in only 7 games in the playoffs.

According to the a Toronto Sun story, Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy argued with coach Marc Crawford about using the veteran defenseman in the playoffs. The story said Crawford and Roy exchanged words after Game 3 of the Avalanche's second-round series with Chicago, a 4-3 Colorado loss that was decided in overtime after Wolanin lost the puck.

While Crawford denied this ever happened, the Avalanche played 13 more games before winning the Stanley Cup, but Wolanin didn't play in any of them.

"If it's true ... if Patrick did say that ... we're all men and we want to be treated with respect," Wolanin said with emotion "You would hope someone would come up to me and tell me to my face if Patrick doesn't feel comfortable playing with me.

"I wasn't on the ice when we won the Cup, but I still enjoyed it," said Wolanin. "We had some lean years and my name's going to be on the Cup forever. No one can ever take that away from me."

In the summer of 1996 he was traded to Tampa Bay for a draft pick. His stay in Tampa was short (15 games) as he was traded to Toronto in January, 1997. Wolanin suffered through a terrible time with injuries in Toronto before eventually have to call it quits.

Wolanin would find a new career in the construction business near Detroit, with a specialty in geothermal contracting.


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