Monday, June 07, 2010

Scott Arniel

The Winnipeg Jets thought they won the draft day jackpot twice back in 1981.

The most certainly did with their 1st choice. Picking 1st overall they landed Dale Hawerchuk. He would become the greatest player in Winnipeg's NHL history.

Then with their second draft pick, 22nd overall, they landed Hawerchuk's junior linemate Scott Arniel. Together the two led the Cornwall Royals to back-to-back Memorial Cup championships in 1980 and 1981.

But it quickly became evident that dynamic duo would not replicate that magic in the NHL. Hawerchuk immediately stepped in and starred. Arniel, too, made the immediate jump to the NHL, only to falter miserably. He would be returned to junior after 17 horrendous games. This allowed Arniel to be part of the very first gold medal championship for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships.

Arniel would return to the NHL the next season  (he even scored a hat trick in the first game of the year), and never did apprentice in the minor leagues. Playing on a line with Laurie Boschman and Lucien DeBlois, he emerged as a 20 goal threat in the high scoring 1980s. He reinvented his game from a great junior scorer to a serviceable NHL depth player.

I remember Scott Arniel as being a very average player, which is probably a pretty harsh thing to say about a veteran of 730 NHL games. Perhaps I under-estimated him and certainly under-appreciated him. Then again, maybe he was just average. The Hockey News thought so when they named him the NHL's most average forward in a study of statistics in 1989.

He was an okay skater, but never impressed with any speed or agility. He possessed no great shot or a playmaking prowess. He was too inconsistent in the physical game a little too much for my liking, especially since he had decent size.

Arniel was versatile in that he could play all three forward positions, and in a variety of roles. This gave his team some nice versatility. And while he was not going to wow anyone with his game, he was no liability defensively, either.

After five seasons the Jets moved Arniel to Buffalo for Gilles Hamel. He continued to play his rather anonymous game for the Sabres for four seasons before Arniel was traded back to Winnipeg, this time as a throw-in in exchange for his old junior running mate: Dale Hawerchuk.

Arniel played one season in Winnipeg and part of another with Boston before his NHL days were done. He would continue to play in the minor leagues for many years, developing a love for helping younger players achieve their NHL dreams. This undoubtedly led him to turn to a career of coaching after his lengthy pro career was over.

Arniel, a born-again Christian, would go on to become a very successful minor league coach, most notably in Winnipeg with the Manitoba Moose where he compiled a 181-105-10-19 in four seasons. He had previously coached in Houston and as an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres.

On June 7th, 2010 he returned to the NHL when he was hired as the head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Hopefully I appreciate him more as a NHL coach than I did as a NHL player.

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