Derek Plante

Derek Plante grew up in Cloquet, Minnesota, and grew up idolizing Minnesota's greatest hockey player Neal Broten. Like Broten, Plante played a similar type of game. Derek was a small pivot who relied on quickness and passing ability. He had above average offensive instincts and intelligence. However he would always have trouble at the NHL level due to his lack of size and upper body strength.

Plante was drafted as an unknown commodity back in 1989 when the Buffalo Sabres selected him 161st overall. He had just completed his senior year at high school and had accepted a scholarship to play hockey for the University of Minnesota-Duluth. While at the university he emerged as a top prospect. An all star who led the entire WCHA in goals, assists and points by his final season, Derek represented Team USA at three consecutive World Junior Championships as well. Suddenly this late round pick was looking like a steal for the Sabres.

Derek impressed everyone even more in his rookie professional season. Rather than spending time in the minor leagues (or playing with the American national team as he dreamed of playing at the Olympics) apprenticing like so many prospects do, Derek made the jump directly to the NHL and established himself quickly. With Pat Lafontaine injured for all but 16 games that season, Plante stepped up to nicely fill in on the second line behind Dale Hawerchuk. Plante provided some very reasonable statistics in his rookie year, scoring 21 goals and 56 points in 77 games. He would add another goal in the Sabres 7 game first round playoff series. With the Sabres knocked out in the first round, Plante finished the year with the American national team at the World Championships.

Just when it appeared Plante was ready to fully establish himself in the NHL, his career suffered a major set back in the lock out shortened season of 1994-95. The NHL held a 48 game schedule that season. Plante played in 47 of those contests, and much of that time it was hoped he could be the offensive catalyst at center ice for the Sabres as both Lafontaine and Hawerchuk missed approximately half the season with injuries. Plante however suffered a severe case of the dreaded "sophomore jinx." He scored just 3 goals while adding 19 helpers in that time. Suddenly the slender Plante's abilities were being questioned.

Plante was able to recover in the 1995-96 season. Lafontaine had returned to full health and put in a strong season, but with the departure of Hawerchuk the Sabres desperately needed a second line center and seemed set to give Brian Holzinger every opportunity to handle those responsibilities. Plante was able to earn the second line spot however by rebounding with a solid 23 goal and 56 point campaign.

In 1996-97 the Sabres fell on hard times offensively as Lafontaine again suffered injuries which would see him miss most of the season. Plante was able to lead the Sabres offensively, scoring a career high 27 goals while amassing 53 points to lead all Sabres scorers. He also had a strong playoff, scoring 10 points in 12 games, including 4 goals. Perhaps his brightest moment as a Sabre occurred in game 7 of the Sabres first round playoff match with the Ottawa Senators. Plante scored a third period goal to tie the game and force over time. Derek then proceeded to score the winning goal in over time to advance the Sabres into round two!

Goals were scarce throughout the NHL and especially in Buffalo in 1997-98. Again as it appeared Plante was ready to fully establish himself as a solid NHL center Plante struggled offensively. He scored just 13 goals and 34 point, and added just 3 assists in 11 playoff games.

Plante fell out of favor in Buffalo. After 41 games (in which he scored just 4 goals and 15 points), he was traded to Dallas late in the season. Plante would play in 10 regular season games and was spotted throughout the playoffs. Ironically Plante's Stars made it to the finals against his old team - the Buffalo Sabres! Sabres fans need not be reminded of the controversial finish which saw the Stars lift Lord Stanley's Cup, but Plante, who was a healthy scratch in every game against Buffalo, will forever fondly remember bringing the Cup home to Cloquet as the highlight of his career.

"It's like a dream," said Plante. "I still can't believe it's here. We're pretty proud to be able to come back and give the kids a chance to see it and touch it."

Little did Plante know at the time that his NHL career was all but over. He got into 16 games with the Stars the following season, but with just 1 goal and 1 assist he found himself in the minor leagues before being traded to Chicago. In Chicago he struggled as well, and found himself finishing the season in the minor leagues. Once his professional season came to an end, Plante headed to Europe to once again represent Team USA at the World Hockey Championships.

Plante always enjoyed the international game, so he decided to stay in Germany and later Japan

Plante left the NHL with 95 career goals and 245 career points in 438 games. The former college standout had a nice career when he learned to compensate for his lack of size and strength, but ultimately his physical shortcomings cost him an NHL job.


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