The Florida Panthers are taking on the New Jersey Devils this coming Saturday afternoon and that game made if fairly easy for me to select todays subject, Devils right winger Steve Bernier. You know the drill by now, special powers from this article ultimately seem to affect the lives and destinations of the players that appear in this segment. Anthony Stewart is the latest casualty as he was placed on waivers earlier this week by the Carolina Hurricanes. But now, back to Steve.
Bernier was drafted 16th overall in 2003 by the San Jose Sharks. A big young forward who was projected to be a top six player into the NHL, the Sharks thought they had drafted a gifted goal scorer. Bernier had scored 49, 36, and 35 goals playing for Moncton in the Quebec Major Junior League from 2002 to 2005. He seemed to have nice hands, a nose for the net, and willing to play rough when needed. In 2005-2006 he played in 49 games for Cleveland, the AHL affiliate for the Sharks and scored 20 goals and had 23 assists for 43 points. That kind of production earned him a callup to the NHL where he played in 39 games for the Sharks.
Bernier put up some impressive numbers in those 39 games with 14 goals and 13 assists for 27 points. He added 6 more points in 11 playoff games that year, and San Jose was pretty confident that they had found themselves a young player that would contribute for a long time. His success was short lived however as the following season (2006-2007) was not quite as productive. Bernier played in 62 games, and had 16 goals and 16 assists for 31 points, in what seemed to be a struggle. Might have been the sophomore slump which many NHL players go through. Some recover, and some like Bernier, never do and become average or below average players.
In 2007-2008 Bernier would play 59 games for the Sharks compiling 23 points before he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres at the trade deadline for Brian Campbell. The Sharks also sent a first round draft pick in the deal and gave up a seventh rounder. Wonder why Sharks fans boo Soupy every time he touches the puck? He only played 20 games for the Sharks and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks as a free agent that summer. The Sharks had ultimately nothing to show for trading Bernier. In 2008-2009, Bernier was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for a third round pick in 2009, and a second round pick in 2010. Bernier played two seasons in Vancouver totaling 26 goals and 28 assists in 140 games covering almost two seasons. Not great, but not awful either. Bernier was given every opportunity for top line minutes but wasn’t consistent enough, and settled in mostly on the third line.
In the summer of 2010 the Canucks and the Florida Panthers made one of their common blockbuster deals and Bernier, Michael Grabner and a first round pick (turned out to be Quinton Howden) were traded to the Panthers for Keith Ballard and young forward Victor Oreskovich. Bernier would play in 68 games for the Panthers and had missed eight games with an eye injury, but regardless of that, his production was abysmal. Five goals and 10 assists to go along with a -14. He had a few moments of pleasure so to speak and head coach Peter DeBoer gave Bernier many opportunities to win himself a job among the top six, but it just wasn’t in the cards. By the time the season had ended, Bernier was relegated to fourth line duty. A place where he probably never predicted he would belong.
Bernier then became a casualty of the Dale Tallon era and was not offered a contract, making him eligible for free agency. While his training camp may have impressed the Panthers enough to keep him, his play made Grabner expendable as the young forward was placed on waivers and was picked up by the New York Islanders where he won rookie of the year honors by scoring 31 goals. Earning him a shiny new five year contract. Bernier was rewarded with unrestricted free agency.
Steve would sign with the New Jersey Devils on January 30th of 2012 and has been reunited with coach Peter DeBoer. If Deboer ends up bouncing around the NHL enough, could Bernier be the Mike Keenan version of Brian Noonan or Stephan Matteau, following DeBoer everywhere he goes? Although Matteau scored this glorious goal for Keenan’s New York Rangers, I’m not sure the same thing is in the cards for Bernier. He’s played in five games so far and has two assists. When Bernier uses his size and his speed he can be a very solid player. As a former first round pick, this is one player that really makes me scratch my head. Having opportunities to play with some real talent in both San Jose and Vancouver, he know finds himself on the fourth line in New Jersey.
Like many players who appear in this segment, he’s got the talent to be a very good hockey player. Size, physical when he wants to be, and a good pair of hands to go with an above average shot you wonder why can’t a guy like this out it all together?
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