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The Lost Milbury Files: Mike Rupp

Hey, It's Mike Rupp, having yet another big game on yet another big stage for yet another Islanders Rival.
Hey, It's Mike Rupp, having yet another big game on yet another big stage for yet another Islanders Rival.

I hate Mike Rupp. It's one of those things that have nothing to do with the player himself, and everything to do with the bumbling and stumbling by Mike Milbury. There's a few players like that for me, Rick DiPietro being among them. I don't think I'll ever come to grips with my hatred of Rupp though. Every time it seems like his career is over, he rises from the ashes and signs with another team I dislike.

I thought it was over for him long ago. When I first moved to Jersey, I didn't follow hockey as much as I had been. I knew the Devils were in the finals, but the day I picked up the paper and the front page of the sports section was about the Devils unlikely hero Mike Rupp my head exploded. I didn't believe it at first, until I looked it up online. I knew in passing that Rupp had been drafted by the Devils, but didn't believe it was the same one.

Even more amazing is that by helping the Devils to the Stanley Cup, Rupp was one of the most successful Mike Milbury picks in terms of Stanley Cup rings until last year. Out of everyone drafted by Milbury for the Islanders, only Zdeno Chara and Mike Rupp have celebrated with the Cup. To put that in perspective, from 1996 to 2000 the Islanders picked 10 times in the first round and had a total of 54 picks. But it's time to track how Rupp became another in a long line of Milbury drafted players whose career blossomed elsewhere.

The 1998 Draft

In a draft that is infamous for size being extremely overrated, Milbury decided to outdo everyone else by far. The top 5 career point totals from the draft are Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Alex Tanguay, Pavel Datsyuk and Scott Gomez. While Lecavalier was an obvious choice at 1st overall, Richards was a 3rd rounder, Tanguay and Gomez were 12th and 27th overall. Datsyuk is the one that really sticks out, falling to the 6th round due to worries about his size.

Meanwhile Manny Malhotra, Mark Bell and Mike Rupp were all taken in the top 10. Manny was the smallest of them at a still impressive 6'2, Bell was at 6'4 and Rupp at 6'5. While Malhotra and Bell were at least point per game players in juniors, Rupp was near invisible. He had 17 points in 38 games for the Windsor Spitfires before being moved to the Erie Otters, and proceeded to post another 10 points in 26 games. Leading up to the draft there were some rumblings about Rupp being taken in the 3rd round. But his stock proceeded to skyrocket as he posted 3 goals and 1 assist in 7 playoff games for Erie.

Now there were some rumblings that Rupp could go late in the first, but he was considered a dark horse in the draft. Throw in some Milbury madness, and you suddenly have Rupp being taken in the top 10. I believe it's a pick that Milbury always regretted, as there are almost no Milbury quotes on Rupp. The New York Times article on the draft actually has a quote from Rupp himself talking about his size, while Big Deal Neil and Lou both talked up the prospects they had added.

The Amazing Disappearing Prospect

At the time I was in high school, but would read the post and news on a regular basis. While I remember being inundated with news about how Malhotra was going to save the Rangers, there was nothing about Rupp. Even today digging through newspaper articles there's almost nothing on him. Considering Milbury's love of promoting every single first rounder as the savior of the franchise and then dumping them when they stumbled, the quiet was worrying.

Following his stats online wasn't exactly impressive. In his two followup seasons with Erie he had 100 points in 120 regular season games. Fortunately for him, Erie made the playoffs again in his 2nd season and he shined again with 10 points (5 g, 5 a) in 13 games. The Islanders though weren't interested in signing him, and decided the compensatory pick was worth more then any deals they may have been offered.

So Rupp became the second first round selection in Milbury's first three drafts to move on without the Islanders getting much of anything. The compensatory pick in the 2000 draft ended up being packaged in the deal that sent Potvin to the Canucks and returned Kevin Weekes. Weekes was then packaged for the Raffi Torres pick. Torres was then traded (with Isbister) for Janne Niinimaa. Niinimaa was traded for John Erskine and the draft pick that became Jesse Joensuu. Anyone who complains Snow doesn't trade enough, please go back and read that draft tree again.

Rupp Clinches The 2003 Devils Cup Win

Thanks to Wikipedia and writing this article, I now know another fact that will make my head hurt: Rupp is the only player in Stanley Cup history whose first playoff goal was the Cup clincher. For the longest time the Devils were exceptional at developing prospects, and Rupp is an example of that. After getting drafted, Rupp spent 2 full seasons and half of another before getting his first taste of the NHL. Time to develop which he never would have been given on the Island.

I think so far though, I've somewhat mislead you. Not only did Rupp score the game winning goal in game 7 of the '03 Stanley Cup. He also had assists on both of the Devils other goals in the 3-0 white washing of the Mighty Ducks. Jean-Sebastien Giguere might have been slightly overrated when it came to his playoff performances back in the day. Rupp was the star after game 7, overshadowing such Devils greats as Pascal Rheaume, Tommy Albelin, Turner Stevenson and Grant Marshall.

From Fishsticks To Caviar To Fishsticks

Fame is fleeting, and despite his heroics Rupp still had to come in and win a roster spot with the Devils. After making the team, he was traded after playing 51 games. The Coyotes sent back Jan Hrdina in the deal. In the end Rupp played all of 7 NHL games with the Coyotes (and an appearance in the UHL during the lockout) before being traded again, this time to Columbus. He was part of the package that got the Coyotes Geoff Sanderson and Tim Jackman.

I don't think you could go much further away from the Cup in the middle of the decade than to play with either the Blue Jackets or the Coyotes. Or the UHL for what it's worth. After playing 39 games with the Jackets, Rupp was sent down to the AHL. That was before suffering one of the worst insults a young player can: Columbus didn't even bother to make a qualifying offer to retain his rights. Adrift in the scary world of unrestricted free agency, Rupp did what anyone would do and went home. By home I mean he signed a deal with the Devils again.

The Devils Stint 2

It's not even fair how this works, the Devils trade away Rupp and then sign him back as a UFA not even 2 seasons later. Rupp wasn't a great player in his second stint with the Devils, but he fit perfectly with their flock of interchangeable forwards. He played 65+ games in all 3 seasons with them, notching 9 points in each season. Much like Manny Maholtra, he had carved himself out a nice little bottom 6 niche in the NHL. The Devils even let him play in the playoffs, as he played 21 games over the 3 seasons.

Those Two Teams We Hate

As a UFA again, Rupp quickly jumped to the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The offensively inclined Penguins also helped lift Rupp's scoring in those two seasons. Despite being a former first round selection and having played 329 NHL games, for the first time ever Rupp had double digit goals on a season. In his first season with the Pens he had 13 goals. During the 3 years of his second stint with the Devils he had a total of 12 goals.

Before the start of this season, Rupp's career total points was at 89. 36 of those points (or basically a third) were in his two seasons with the Penguins. He also was one of the main tough guys for the Pens, racking up 244 PIM during his stint with the team. Another milestone was his first NHL hat trick. His offensive explosion with the Pens along with his grit earned him quite a bump in salary during free agency. With the Pens he had signed a 2 year 1.65 Million dollar deal. With the Smurfs he signed a 3 year 4.5 million dollar deal.

His stint with the smurfs is what really set this whole thing off. You see, it just so happened that the smurfs ended up in the Winter Classic. That means Rupp was in the Winter Classic too, especially when you already paying Wade Redden a lot of money to not play in the NHL. After falling down 2-0, it was Rupp who scored the next 2 goals for the Rags to tie the game. The Rags ended up winning 3-2, and Rupp was named first star of the game. I wanted to throw something at my TV.

While the offense didn't come with him from Pittsburgh, he has been a steady solid player for the Smurfs. While he isn't the main reason for the success of Rags this year (rhymes with Crad Sichards), a quality bottom six player can't be underrated. Oh and of his 4 goals this season, 2 of them have been game winning goals. I don't know how a player can be so annoyingly clutch when he really isn't given that much time to shine in clutch situations.

Final Thoughts

There's no fun rumors with this one. But as I mentioned earlier, the Winter Classic this year really made me interested in writing this. Mostly because no one on the NBC broadcast ever made the slightest bit of a mention that Milbury had once drafted Rupp. Whenever I watch a game on NBC I end up spending a lot of the time yelling at the TV; I might have to stop doing that.

Rupp isn't a great NHL player, but it comes down to the failure of the Milbury era was a thousand little pinpricks like this one. It seems like Milbury almost immediately knew that he had made a mistake drafting Rupp. Yet he didn't seem to learn his lesson about "drafting outside the box." Part of the problem is that for all of Milbury's bluff and bluster, people had stopped taking him seriously. So his time to shine was the draft, and he was going to do something to draw attention to himself.

It's funny, because history would repeat itself only two years later. In the 2000 draft with the 1st overall pick Milbury went outside the box again, and we know how that ended up.