In Major Junior hockey, careers are sometimes long and successful or long and unremarkable. On a rare occasion, you get a player who is present for only a brief time, but his talent and impact on an organization is unquestioned. The next player on my list was in Seattle for only a single season, but there is no all-time great Thunderbirds list that does not include him. Coming in at the #8 spot is possibly the greatest import to ever don the Seattle uniform. That’s right everyone — it’s Czech great, Petr Nedved.
The year is 1989 at the Mac’s tournament in Calgary. The 17-year-old Nedved was turning heads, posting 17 goals and 9 assists for the Czech team. It was after the conclusion of the tournament that Nedved made the decision to defect from Czechoslovakia to pursue a hockey career in North America. With the help of another former Czech and $20, Nedved officially defected at a Calgary police station, and his pro hockey career finally took flight.
Nedved was recruited and signed with the Seattle Thunderbirds ahead of the 1989-90 season. He was joined by two other Seattle greats — Glen Goodall and Victor Gervais. The three helped lead the Thunderbirds to what still stands as their best regular season record in franchise history. That year’s T-birds went 52-17-3-0, including a stretch run over the final 55 games where they sported a record of 44-8-3. The team’s popularity became so overwhelming that they had to start scheduling games at the Seattle Center Coliseum, which seated 12,000 fans. The T-birds regularly sold out the venue.
Seattle’s “big three” of Goodall, Gervais and Nedved combined for an astonishing 468 total points that year. Nedved, as a 17-year-old, contributed 65 goals and 85 assists for a staggering 145 points as a rookie import. He went on to win the rookie of the year award. Nedved continued his point-per-game pace into the post season, scoring 4 goals and 9 assists for 13 points in just 11 games. Seattle dispatched Tri-Cities in the first round before falling to the eventual league champions, the Kamloops Blazers.
Nedved’s efforts did not go unnoticed by NHL scouting departments as he was selected second overall by the Vancouver Canucks at the 1990 NHL draft. Unfortunately, Nedved was rushed into the NHL with the expectation of being an immediate star in the professional ranks. With only one season of North American hockey under this belt, he struggled in his first two seasons with Vancouver, and was involved in a lengthy contract dispute during the 1993-94 season. It was sorted out when he signed with the New York Rangers just ahead of that year’s trade deadline.
Nedved’s NHL career would be one of controversy and unmet expectations. His best years were in Pittsburgh, but he continued to be the bargaining chip in other trades, which saw him become quite the journeyman. In all, Nedved played 15 seasons in the NHL before finishing his career in his home country of the Czech Republic. While his time in Seattle was brief, he was an important part of the best team the franchise has ever iced, and his inclusion on this list was automatic.