April 04, 2016

Jesse Wallin

Jesse Wallin was, seemingly, forever a prospect on the Detroit Red Wings blue line.

A star with Brent Sutter's Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, the Red Wings drafted Wallin 26th overall in the 1996 NHL Draft. Compared to a young Kevin Lowe, he was projected to be a really solid top four defenseman. He would never be the flashiest player on the ice, but he would be a steady rearguard for a long, long time.

Before his impressive junior career was done he had played four seasons with the Rebels and was a two time member of Canada's World Junior team. In 1997 he helped Canada win gold, and in 1998 he was Canada's captain.

Wallin was also a two time winner of the Doug Wickenheiser award as the WHL's Humanitarian of the Year, and in 1997 he was recognized as the CHL's Humanitarian of the Year. Even at such a young age he was always active in the community. Advocating for mental health issues was a personal favorite mission of his, as he his father committed suicide when Jesse was just 16 years old.

“With knowledge comes the confidence to get it out in the open, to discuss it, to realize that it’s not just something that you bring upon yourself,” he said years later. “It’s a biological illness and really we should be able to talk about it like we do about cancer and anything else. When it gets to that point I think people will be able to deal with it a little bit better.”

Though it seemed like a certainty that Jesse Wallin would be a long time NHL player, it was not to be. Wallin would face multiple battles with adversity.

Wallin missed the vast majority of his final season in junior due injury. In September 1997 he was in an automobile accident and broke his arm. He made it back on the ice in time to play at the World Juniors, only to hurt his foot in a game against Germany. Wallin would only play in a total of 23 junior games that season.

Wallin would spend the next three seasons apprenticing in the minor leagues. That was not unexpected, as the Red Wings were a very deep team at the time and they liked to let their prospected over-ripen in the minor leagues.

When Wallin seemed to finally make the step to a regular NHL defenseman, he was decimated by injuries. He missed almost the entire 2001-02 with a severe groin injury suffered in training camp. He got into only 15 games.

He followed that up with elbow, wrist and knee injuries that limited him to just 32 games with the wings.

Hoping to get a fresh start, Wallin returned to Alberta when he signed with the Calgary Flames in the summer of 2003. After missing the start of the season with a training camp injury, he reported to the minor leagues on a conditioning stint. In his only game there he suffered a severe concussion. He did not know it that night, but he would never play another hockey game again.

By 2005 Wallin had returned to Red Deer to coach the Rebels, first as an assistant and then as a head coach and general manager.

Wallin would be relieved of his duties in 2013 and became a NHL scout.

"All those experiences shape you as a person, and I hope I have become a better person. I want to be able to pass some of those life lessons on to our young men in the dressing room so that they can overcome some of their big struggles in hockey, and in life," said Wallin.

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