Most hockey fans forget that Jamie Lundmark was a first-round pick once upon a time, due in part to his lack of time spent in the National Hockey League over the course of his career. Truth be told, most cannot believe that he was a top-ten pick. But, worst of all, most people can be forgiven for these oversights, because, through little fault of his own, Lundmark seems destined to remain a career minor leaguer.
On Saturday night, trying to avoid a third-straight loss, the Calgary Flames beat the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in a shootout. Lundmark scored the game-tying goal and added the clincher in the shootout, which saw the Flames score on all three of their attempts, and the Canucks just two. Still, despite his heroics, it remains to be seen whether Lundmark will be able to capitalize on his time on one of the Flames' top two lines from here on out.
His goal on Saturday gave Lundmark four points (two goals and two assists) in eights games this season. A 0.5 point-per-game pace is relatively respectable for a second-line player these days, but based on Calgary's depth at forward it really is only a matter of time before Lundmark fails to record a point in two or more consecutive games. Then he'll almost certainly fall out of favour with head coach Brent Sutter, fall to one of the bottom two lines, and eventually fall back to the Abbotsford Heat in the American league from where he was last recalled on January 8.
Such is the nature of the business. Lundmark isn't so much an enigma, his status as a ninth-overall pick by the New York Rangers in 1999 never translating into big-league success, as his story is commonplace: That of a highly touted prospect who was perhaps expected to develop at an unrealistic pace, and, as a result, has found himself languishing in the minor leagues in the recent past to overcompensate for his arguably undeserved time in the bigs earlier in his career.
At 6'0" and 197 pounds, Lundmark has decent size, but what is most telling of his inability to enjoy a fruitful career, aside from his time in and out of the minors, is a look at his draft class (1999). The number-one overall pick that year was Patrik Stefan to the Atlanta Thrashers. With exception to the Sedin twins, who went to the Canucks at numbers two and three in that first round, the 1999 entry draft class stacks up as a who's who of NHL players who didn't have what it took to make an impact in the NHL. Pavel Brendl (Rangers), Brian Finley (Nashville Predators), Kris Beech (Washington Capitals), Branislav Mezei (New York Islanders), Oleg Saprykin (Flames), Denis Shvidki (Florida Panthers), and David Tanabe (Carolina Hurricanes) are just some of the other names taken in the first round that couldn't hack it. Even Barret Jackman, taken 17th overall, who won a Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 2002-2003, has faded into obscurity, despite still playing with the St. Louis Blues.
The only players who have legitimately earned an NHL living as stars that were taken in that draft? Aside from the Sedins, there's only Martin Havlat (26th overall to the Ottawa Senators) and Henrik Zetterberg (210th overall to the Detroit Red Wings). Granted, many more role players and less-spoken household names have emerged over the years, but, by and large, Lundmark is just one of an overwhelming majority of career minor leaguers drafted in 1999.
That isn't to say that Lundmark doesn't have talent. Having scored 77 points in 52 games in his last year in junior in 2000-2001, he surely is able to score, but, Saturday notwithstanding, the jury is still out on whether he can at the NHL level on a consistent enough basis to merit a long-enough look on an NHL roster to earn a permanent spot the remaining length of his career.
At 29 years old, he should be just into his prime. Instead, it looks as if his time is running out and that he hit his peak in his rookie season when he scored 19 points, a career high playing on a single team, in 55 games with the Rangers (he had 29 points in 53 games in 2005-2006, but for the Phoenix Coyotes, the Rangers, and the Flames). That rookie season was in 2002-2003, when the potential he had and the future he would have in this league had yet to intersect.
Right now, taking a look at Calgary's roster and the sheer amount of talent that can be found in the team's locker room, it looks as if the number of spots available to Lundmark are limited. In reality, the team represents a mix of both over and underachievers: Curtis Glencross, Mark Giordano, and Rene Bourque represent the former group, while Olli Jokinen, Dustin Boyd, Daymond Landkow, Jay Bouwmeester, and Dion Phaneuf arguably make up the latter.
In truth, the names on either list can be very much debated, but not really those on the list of the players who have performed up to expectations: Nigel Dawes, Eric Nystrom, Robyn Regehr, Miikka Kiprusoff, Jarome Iginla, and, now, Jamie Lundmark. Four points in eight NHL games is about what you would have come to expect out of him at this point, and therein lies the exact problem.
The Flames host the Colorado Avalanche later tonight. Puck drop is scheduled for 10 p.m. EST, 8 p.m. MT.