Many fans always felt bad for Hugh Jessiman and players like him.
Well, except for New York Islanders fans, maybe.
Jessiman is a celebrated poster boy as a NHL draft bust. The New York Rangers drafted the giant 6'6" Connecticut born forward 12th overall back in 2003 - arguably the strongest draft class in hockey history.
Dubbed "Huge Specimen" because of his enormous size, the Rangers wanted the almost-home grown star badly and raised eyebrows in doing so with the 12th pick. Jessiman was still considered to be a project at the time.
So while the Rangers passed on the likes of Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, Hugh Jessiman went on to play two NHL games in his career, both with the Florida Panthers in 2011.
Jessiman got off to a bad start. His three year hockey career at Dartmouth were riddled with injuries. He then left college a year before graduating. It may have been a critical mistake. He turned pro after missing much development time. Had he played that final year in school he may have been able to get a season of conditioning in and make a better pro debut.
As such Jessiman struggled out of the gates of his pro career and, as far as the NHL was concerned, he never got untracked. He continued to toil around the minor leagues for 8 long seasons, bouncing from small town to small town, wearing the draft bust label begrudgingly.
It is a bit of a mystery as to why these guys hang on in the minors for so long. Maybe it's because they don't know what else to do with their lives. Maybe because riding the bus is better than working at a mill. Or maybe it's because the dream of making it to the NHL never dies.
The New York Times recently caught up with Jessiman and revealed he has since moved on to Europe to prolong his career. Last season he played in Croatia. This year he is in Vienna. Hockey is giving him life experiences now that AHL cities like Binghamton or Rockford could never provide. He explores everything the city has to offer. And he is able to take business classes while playing, and plans to complete his degree from Dartmouth next year.
The Times also was able to talk to Jessiman about his two games in the NHL. He only played a combined total of about 15 minutes, but for Jessiman he will always remember his family in attendance, minus his mother who died in a hiking accident two years prior.
“What I remember most is after the first game, seeing my dad and my brother and my best friend and just breaking down,” he said. “It wasn’t really about me getting there. I had kind of a tough couple years before that where we lost my mom. It felt like it was not just a reward for me, but all these people that have put in that time for me.”
The New York Times article makes it sound as if Hugh Jessiman has come to find peace with his hockey career, draft bust label and all. And while he is not quite ready to hang up the blades just yet, he is preparing for the day he does.