April 21, 2016
In their inaugural NHL draft the San Jose Sharks took undersized scorer Pat Falloon.
A year later, in 1992, they went the opposite route by taking oversized defenseman Mike Rathje.
The Albertan born Rathje played three seasons with Medicine Hat of the WHL. The six-foot-five 210 pound rearguard was drafted 3rd overall by the Sharks,
Rathje was not your typical blue line big man. He had no mean streak and he was never going put a guy into the first row with thunderous bodychecks.
He was very strong, able to handle top power forwards like Keith Tkachuk. But the strength of his game was his surprising skating ability, blessed with mobility and a burst of speed. Combined with excellent positioning Rathje could keep up with the likes of speedster Paul Kariya.
"Rathje has subtleties that many players don't possess," says Sharks general manager Dean Lombardi. "He can freeze players just by his hand skills. Like a quarterback who delivers pucks, he can deliver a puck that the forward can handle. The other quality is his impact strength. When he hits you, he can end the play in a second."
The Sharks coaches and teammates certainly grew to appreciate Rathje very quickly. He played an intelligent, controlled game. On and off the ice no one had a more respected work ethic. In that sense he was a natural leader.
Rathje would go on to be a long time Shark and one of the best defensive defensemen in the game. He witnessed the growth of a fledgling franchise when he arrived at 19 to a regular NHL contender. He was especially strong during the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs, helping the Sharks reach the Western Conference finals.
After eleven seasons in San Jose, Rathje signed a five year dead with the Philadelphia Flyers coming out of the 2005 NHL lockout. But chronic hip and back problems would only allow him to play in 91 games.
Rathje was forced to retire in 2007. In 768 NHL games Rathje scored 30 goals and 150 assists for 180 career points.
He remained near San Jose and invested in several restaurants. He also invested in a trucking company servicing Alberta's oil fields.