Mike Donnelly was a classic late bloomer.
And maybe it was a stretch, at least until his final season with the Spartans. In 44 games, Donnelly amassed 59 goals and 38 assists for 97 points, catching the eyes of several NHL teams. After all, his 59 goals set a new NCAA single season record. And his final goal of the season broke a 5-5 tie in the dying minutes of the NCAA championship game, giving Michigan State the NCAA title.
The Livonia, Michigan native opted to sign with the New York Rangers. Donnelly, a magnificent speedster, had a good first year of pro playing with the Rangers farm team in New Haven of the AHL. He had 27 goals and 34 assists for 61 points in 58 games. He added 1 goal and 1 assist in his first 5 game call up to the NHL.
Donnelly made the Rangers lineup from training camp the following season, but after just 17 games was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, where he played 40 games, notching 6 goals and 14 points. His stay in the Queen City was short however, as he became a regular minor leaguer with AHL Rochester. He was called up for 34 NHL games over the two year span.
Donnelly's fortunes changed in 1990-91 when he signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings. He signed with the Kings because if he was to be demoted to the minor leagues, he wanted to live and work back in New Haven. Aside from 18 games that first season, Donnelly would not see much minor league time in the early 1990s. Instead he became an important member of the Los Angeles Kings. He even earned ice time on Wayne Gretzky's left side.
It wasn't until the 1991 playoffs that Donnelly showed he could be a scorer in the NHL. Having scored just 10 times in 53 games that season, Donnelly surprised many with a 5 goal, 9 point offensive outburst in 12 playoff games. The following year the Kings were sure to give Donnelly a better opportunity to continue that scoring outburst. It worked as Donnelly achieved 29 goals and 45 points in 1991-92.
1992-93 is Donnelly's season to remember. He equaled the 29 goal performance from the previous year, but added 40 assists for a career high 69 points. He was a strong contributor in the Kings march to the Stanley Cup finals as well, scoring 6 goals and 13 points while serving as a strong penalty killer in 24 games.
Donnelly, like the Kings, came back to reality in 1993-94. Donnelly remained a valuable asset for the team, but his production level dipped to 21 goals and 42 points. Early the following season he was traded to Dallas, where he never found his game in parts of two seasons.
Injuries really slowed Donnelly in his final couple of seasons. He got into 3 games with the New York Islanders, which did make him the first player in history to skate for all three New York state teams.
Donnelly would continue on in the minors and Switzerland before retiring in the 1998 season. He had played in 465 NHL games, scoring 114 goals and 235 points.