This is the last of the players from this postcard set, though there are still the two coaches left to do. Shows a bit how times have changed that 33 was the highest number on the team that season.
1984 was the first year I really remember paying any kind of attention to the draft. It was the Mario Lemieux season and everyone was watching to see which one of New Jersey of Pittsburgh could tank worse. Pittsburgh got the early jump by trading anyone with a pulse and finishing with Pat Boutette on the top line. Pat had some good moments as a player, but when he's on your top line, that's a serious tank.
The day after the draft, the Star had this picture of a sort of forlorn-looking kid in a Leaf sweater. He looked a bit scared and lost and I wondered how he was going to make it. The kid was Al Iafrate, picked fourth overall. He turned out to be an excellent pick and is one of the biggest "what if" stories of that decade. The "what if," of course, surrounds that bloody knee injury.
Al did make it that '84-85 season and survived a year on the Leaf blue line at age 18. It took a few seasons and some bumps and bruises to his confidence, but he started to show some skills that made him a real force to deal with. He could skate like the wind, was 220+ pounds once he filled out and could shoot the puck 100+ mph in the days before the composite sticks. When he wanted to take the puck and go, he was all but unstoppable.
As with most of the Leaf blue line, Al could be a bit interesting in his own end and some of his decision-making was a little bit "out there" - really, though, most of that was inexperience. Even by '89-90, his best season as a Leaf, he was only 24. He never really got to develop the defensive side of his game.
When the offense came around, though, it was something. Al tied Ian Turnbull's mark with 22 goals in 1987-88, when he was just 22. In 1989-90, he was the best weapon on a pretty potent Leaf blue line, scoring another 22 goals and 63 points. The Leafs had their best season in a decade and everything was looking bright.
With five games left to go in the season, in the dying minutes of a largely meaningless game against bottom-feeder Quebec, Al got tangled up with Mike Hough and blew his knee to smithereens. It cost him the rest of the season and the playoffs. The Leafs missed him enormously. Without him lugging the puck out of their own end, they struggled to score and St. Louis, whom they'd owned all season, rode some kid named Curtis Joseph past them.
Al was back the next year, but like a horse who'd injured a leg and is now afraid of everything, he wouldn't extend himself. You rarely saw him past centre ice. He hung back and played big and mean, but without him moving that puck, the Leafs couldn't ever get anything going. They lost early and often. When questioned about his game, he snapped at a reporter "This is how I have to play now."
There were also troubles in his marriage and in the dressing room. Not even 25, it was a lot to deal with and he struggled with it. It was as much a mercy trade as anything when he was shipped to Washington in January, 1991. Even there, he had to take a leave from the team to get himself together.
He did, though. When he came back, he was the Iafrate of old. He scored 17 goals in 1991-92 and 25 the next year, when he was a second-team all-star. The knees wouldn't hold up, though. He took all of 1995-96 off and then tried to get the career going in San Jose, but he was done by 32.
Al was a real force out there and should have been a lot more than he was. He's just another one of those cases where injuries derailed a career that could have been really special.
There was a wonderful clip of Iafrate destroying Guy Carbonneau in 1990. If I can find it, I'll post it. I think it's gone for good, though.
You'd think one of those great rushes would make youtube. Alas. Really early Don Cherry videos have them.
|1984-85||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||68||5||16||21||51||-19|
|1985-86||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||65||8||25||33||40||-10||10||0||3||3||4|
|1986-87||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||80||9||21||30||55||-18||13||1||3||4||11|
|1987-88||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||77||22||30||52||80||-21||6||3||4||7||6|
|1988-89||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||65||13||20||33||72||+3|
|1989-90||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||75||21||42||63||135||-4|
|1990-91||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||42||3||15||18||113||-15|
|1996-97||San Jose Sharks||NHL||38||6||9||15||91||-10|
|1997-98||San Jose Sharks||NHL||21||2||7||9||28||-1||6||1||0||1||10|
NHL Second All-Star Team (1993)
Played in NHL All-Star Game (1988, 1990, 1993, 1994)
- Traded to Washington by Toronto for Peter Zezel and Bob Rouse, January 16, 1991.
- Traded to Boston by Washington for Joe Juneau, March 21, 1994.
- Missed entire 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons recovering from knee surgery.
- Traded to San Jose by Boston for Jeff Odgers and Pittsburgh's 5th round choice (previously acquired, Boston selected Elias Abrahamsson) in 1996 Entry Draft, June 21, 1996.
- Claimed by Nashville from San Jose in Expansion Draft, June 26, 1998.
- Signed as a free agent by Carolina, July 14, 1998.
- Officially announced retirement, September 1, 1998.
The HHOF take on Al:
A gigantic defenceman who could skate like the wind, Al Iafrate was nearly swallowed up by the expectations thrust upon him as a teenager. He possessed raw skill few could match but his physical development exceeded his maturity by leaps and bounds. It took him four years to settle into the NHL, but he once he matured, Iafrate made a solid impact as a big leaguer.
Growing up in the Detroit suburb of Livonia, Michigan, Iafrate first picked up the game in the local minor hockey system before joining the Detroit Compuware midgets. In 1982, the Motown squad, which also featured Pat Lafontaine and Alfie Turcotte, were upset by Team Illinois led by Ed Olczyk in a highly publicized national championship. Iafrate spent the 1983-84 campaign with the U.S. national team program, a time which culminated at the Sarajevo Olympics. The talented blueliner played the last ten games of the OHL regular season with the Belleville Bulls, who selected him sixth overall in the 1983 OHL draft, before settling down to wait for the NHL Draft.
Many scouts considered Iafrate to be the most talented player available next to obvious number one choice, Mario Lemieux. There were doubts about Iafrate's commitment and maturity, but he was too gifted not to be taken in the top five. Mired in their worst organizational slump ever, the Toronto Maple Leafs chose Iafrate fourth overall. During the 1980s, the Maple Leafs constantly rushed young prospects into the NHL rather than give the required time to develop with their amateur squads or in the minor leagues. Iafrate was no exception, and, although he displayed flashes of brilliance in 1983-84, he lost confidence suiting up for a poor defensive team.
Iafrate scored 61 points in his first three seasons but was often overmatched by more experienced and physical forwards. The enigmatic blueliner didn't help his cause in his second year by showing up a training camp 20 pounds overweight. Toronto coaches Dan Maloney and John Brophy worked on him so mercilessly that he left camp temporarily.
After a solid playoff in 1987, Iafrate turned down a chance to play for Team USA at the Canada Cup so he could work on his defensive play in Toronto. He broke through with two 20-goal performances in three seasons and was chosen to play in the 1988 and 1990 NHL All-Star Games. Iafrate's career seemed to have finally taken off, but then a devastating knee injury in March 1990 set him back considerably.
After a lethargic first half in 1990-91, Iafrate was traded to the Washington Capitals where he began to reclaim his confidence. He set career bests with 25 goals and 66 points in 1992-93 and was named to the NHL Second all-star team. Iafrate's goal total was second highest among NHL blueliners that year. He also played in the NHL All-Star Game and won the hardest shot event at the Skills Competition by unleashing as 105.2 mph blast.
Iafrate was traded to Boston for Joe Juneau late in the following season but soon after arriving his knee woes became chronic and he was forced to sit out the 1994-95 and the 1995-96 seasons. He was acquired by San Jose and resumed his career in 1996-97 but continued to miss a host of games due to injury. Iafrate retired in 1998 ending a decent career that promised so much more.