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From Jason Herter to Jeff Libby and beyond, the Mike Milbury era saw several players make their lone NHL appearance (and briefly rub shoulders with Zdeno Chara) in a New York Islanders uniform.
Earlier this week we introduced the concept of those lucky yet poor saps who only managed one NHL game in their careers, including 16 New York Islanders (though some still have a chance to escape the club).
Previously, we covered the handful from the franchise's first two decades. By the mid-'90s and the reign of Milbury, however, the frequency of one-game wonders accelerated. These are their stories.
1995-96: Jason Herter
Jason Herter at one point going into the 1989 draft was considered the top prospect available, but eventually was considered the second best North American skater. By the time the draft rolled around, Mats Sundin was taken first overall by Quebec, and the Islanders with the second overall pick took Dave Chyzowski. Herter fell to the Vancouver Canucks at 8th overall, the last of a trio of defenseman taken in sequence with Adam Bennett (Chicago) at 6th overall and Doug Zmolek (Minnesota) at 7th.
(Ironically, Herter had a fellow one-game wonder just five slots behind him in that first round: The Montreal Canadiens took Seattle defenseman Lindsay Vallis at 13th.)
Herter though was undone by chronic groin injuries which limited his games in college for Notre Dame. He signed with the Canucks following his junior season in 1991-92. The Canucks gave up on him and he was signed by the Dallas Stars during the 1993 offseason. Before the Stars traded him to the Islanders for cash, he had played four seasons in the minor leagues (three in the IHL, one in the AHL) but never a complete season.
It's not surprising Herter ended up playing a game for the Islanders, as they went through 16 different defensemen that year. Five of those played in less than 10 games, and one other (Jason Strudwick) played in only one game for the team that year. Herter's assist was on a Ziggy Palffy goal against the Hartford Whalers in a 7-4 loss. Herter though ended up being a quality addition in other ways. He was a key player for the Utah Grizzlies who won the IHL Championship that year. He had 58 points in 74 games and then 14 in 20 playoff games.
Herter would play two more seasons in the IHL, playing for the Kansas City Blades and Orlando Solar Bears. With the Solar Bears he had another nice playoff run, with 12 points in 17 games. He left for Europe following the 98-99 season and played out the rest of his career in Germany. He played four seasons in the DEL, three of them for the Munich Barons before retiring.
1996-97 Nick Vachon
At first glance, this 12th round pick of the 1990 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs looks like your average goon. Season after season of 100 PIMs, mostly middling offensive stats except for a season in the ECHL and his overage year in the WHL. But then you look at his physical stats and see that he was all of 5'10 and 185 pounds and realize there was something more to his playing style.
Drafted by the Leafs out of high school after 42 points in 20 games, he barely got any playing time in college for Boston University and left school for the WHL. He exploded for 91 points in 66 games for the Portland Winterhawks while still amassing 100 PIM. He spent the first year of his pro career mostly with the ECHL Knoxville Cherokees, posting 86 points in 61 games. One of his Knoxville teammates was Scott Gordon, who was struggling with a sub .900 SV% in the final year of his career.
Vachon would join the Phoenix Roadrunners of the IHL, and would eventually be signed by the teams NHL affiliate, the Los Angeles Kings. Vachon's first season was his highest point production in the IHL, but his PIM would continue to increase each season. During his 3rd season with the Roadrunners he was traded to the Islanders for Chris Marinucci and played mostly for the Grizzlies. He managed 110 PIM in just 33 games and had his 1 game for the Islanders. Vachon would play one more season, splitting time between the IHL and AHL before retiring.
Interestingly, Vachon and Marinucci were both drafted in 1990. Marinucci was a 5th round pick, and although hindsight is 20/20 and not much became of either player, Marinucci was clearly more promising. Put it down to another Milbury attempt to add toughness.
Trivia: Although Vachon has been out of hockey, he has something of a film career. He starred as the title character in the 2003 short film "Clark, The Canadian Hockey Goalie" showing some of the charisma that probably had him loved by his teammates and annoyed his rivals, ya hoser.
1997-98 Jeff Libby
Jeff Libby is probably by far the most tragic story on this list. The defenseman was a walk-on at the University of Maine, and while his first two seasons weren't spectacular, he exploded for 31 points in 34 games as a Junior. He was going to be captain as a senior but decided to jump to the NHL when the Islanders offered him a contract. In 1997-98 he played 47 games for the Utah Grizzlies, posting 6 points and a +4.
During 97-98 the Islanders went through an amazing 14 defenseman. So it wasn't surprising that Libby got a shot to play a game, considering the blueline was graced with such talent as Vladimir Chebaturkin, Jason Holland, John Namestnikov and some tall lanky Slovak kid who was basically the world's biggest orange cone. So while he was undrafted, there was definitely the possibility that Libby could make a career with the Islanders.
That all came crashing to an end though in his 5th game of the 98-99 season with Lowell, when a freak accident led to a skate cutting his right eye. He eventually made the decision to have the eye removed a week after the injury.
While many people might not be able to recover in life after having their dream crushed, Libby is apparently doing quite well. The Islanders paid for all medical bills, paid out his signing bonus and what was left of his salary. The NHLPA also helped him with compensation and his dad helped to keep him grounded. He currently owns the Rivalries Sports and Pub Grill in Portland.
2005-06 Masi Marjamaki
Truthfully, I've written about Marjamaki before, and something about him is always offputting to me. This is despite the fact that I've never seen him play. It's just another draft pick by Milbury that makes almost no sense. Originally drafted in the 2nd round by the Bruins in 03, he re-entered the draft in 05 after not coming to term with the Bruins. While he improved his point total in each season in the WHL, he was never a huge offensive force.
Somehow his 31 points in 77 games during his first AHL season for Bridgeport was enough to earn him a look at the NHL level. In his one game he had a total of 5 minutes of ice time. The following season in Bridgeport he had just 17 points, was commonly scratched due to his poor on ice decisions and was a team worse -27. His +/- was nearly twice as bad as the next closest player on the team.
The following year he was scratched for the first 7 games of the year and asked the team to transfer him to Finland. He's been playing in Finland ever since, starting in 07-08 for Assat Pori and since 08-09 for Ilves Tampere. He's actually off to a good start this season with 3 points in his first 4 games, but is a -3. He seems to be in a weird niche considering his defensive liabilities combined with an agitating style of play.
2005-06 Cole Jarrett
Cole Jarrett was a Defenseman picked in the 5th round pick by the Blue Jackets in the 01 Draft. The Jackets drafted him after he posted a 48 point season in his second OHL season for the Plymouth Whalers. He followed that up with a 38 and 48 point season, but was not signed by the Jackets after his overage season. The Islanders snagged him as a free agent.
From 03 to 06 he was a constant on the Bridgeport blueline. While there was nothing that jumps out about him (he posted 16, 20 and 23 points during those seasons and was twice double digit negative +/-), it's easy to see why the Islanders kept him around. During those three years in Bridgeport the most impressive defenseman prospects were Bruno Gervais, Chris Campoli and Dustin Kohn.
That Cole's one appearance in an NHL game was the very last game of the 05-06 season for the Islanders probably says the team paid back the youngster for being a good solider in Bridgeport by giving him a game. It was also the same game that Masi made an appearance in. He's been in Europe ever since, bouncing between Finland and Germany. Since 09-10 he's been in Austria playing for the Graz99'ers, and is also the captain of the team.
Those are the one-game wonders under Milbury. Tomorrow, we finish up with the rest of the post-lockout Isles, including some that might not remain on this list.