Over the long run of “What The Hell Happened To…?”, I’ll have to admit that a fair bit of these names come from collecting hockey cards. More specifically, mid-late 1990s cards.
During that time frame, sets were produced with the stars, sure, but also with stars of the future and players who were enjoying brief (unbeknownst to them) success at the NHL level.
It’s a lot of fun to look back at sets from that time, sit back, and laugh as you say things like “Ivan Novoseltsev! I remember that guy!” and recall a time when these guys were the most hyped things around.
Jeff O’Neill turned out to be one of those guys but not because he was some failed draft prospect. No, for a short time, it looked like O’Neill was going to be one of the stars that featured in those sets every year, impossible to leave out.
Making his name in the OHL starring for the Guelph Storm, O’Neill was a prolific scorer to say the least. His back-to-back 120+ point seasons in 1993/94 and 94/95 were enough to make him the fifth overall selection in the 1994 NHL Draft to the then-Hartford Whalers.
He would debut in 1995/96, hovering around 15 goals and 30 points until finally bursting onto the scene with a 25-goal, 63-point effort in 1999/00 for the now-Carolina Hurricanes.
Though his point totals would hover just above 60 the next three years, he would put himself into conversations around the hockey world in 2000/01 by lighting the lamp 41 times that season – a new career-high.
Another 30-goal effort the following year was no doubt great for O’Neill but the real success came when the Hurricanes made a deep run into the playoffs before being ousted in the Stanley Cup Final by the Detroit Red Wings.
Following that up with another 30-goal season, O’Neill had now established himself as a solid NHL scorer and an integral part of the Hurricanes. Unfortunately for him, 2003/04 would be a massive struggle. He struggled with inconsistency and eventually tore his labrum, finishing the year with just 14 goals and 34 points.
With many players electing to take their talents overseas during the lockout that claimed the 2004/05 season, O’Neill decided to stay at home with his family. From there, it was a tumultuous time for him.
He continued to struggle in Carolina and was traded away from the only franchise he’d ever known. Not only that but he’d lost his older brother Donny to an automobile accident.
His time in Toronto, where he was traded following the lockout, wasn’t much better. He failed to find the scoring touch that had made him such an important part of the Hurricanes and a consistent 30-goal scorer.
After one last try out with the Hurricanes before the 2008/09 season, O’Neill called it a career and hung up his skates.
Since his retirement, he’s been apart of TSN1050 Radio’s Leafs/NHL coverage. He’s on the short list for Hurricanes franchise scoring records – he sits fifth in both goals and points as well as sixth in assists.
From hot prospect to average NHLer to guaranteed 30-goal man, Jeff O’Neill has been all over the spectrum. And in the short history of the Carolina Hurricanes, few names are remembered as fondly as his.
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