It's not often that a recent first overall draft pick becomes available via trade. Back in 1996, that's exactly what happened when the NY Islanders acquired Bryan Berard from the Ottawa Senators. As part of a three-team deal with the Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs, The Islanders acquired Berard along with Martin Straka and Ken Belanger in exchange for Wade Redden to Ottawa and Kirk Muller to Toronto.
Berard was drafted by the Senators first overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft. Following training camp before the start of the 1995-96 season, Berard was sent down to the Detroit Jr. Whalers of the OHL. Berard felt he deserved a spot on the opening night roster and voiced his displeasure with the franchise by requesting a trade.
On January 23, 1996, his request was granted, as Mike Milbury and the Islanders acquired the services of the Woonsocket, Rhode Island native. Berard stepped right into the Islanders lineup at the start of the 1996-97 season and would not disappoint.
After an eight-goal and 40-assist season, Berard won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. He followed up his 48-point rookie campaign with an outstanding second season posting 46 points - good enough for 13th best in the league among defensemen.
Along with Berard came Czech winger Straka. Straka was a former 30-goal scorer and first-round selection by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He suited up for the Isles for 22 games amassing 12 points, but his contract was deemed too expensive. He was placed on waivers and scooped up by the Florida Panthers. Straka went on to have a fantastic career, even posting a career-high 95 points in 2000-01.
As the Islander's struggles continued in goal during the 1998-99 season, Milbury moved Berard, his star defenseman, to the Maple Leafs in exchange for goaltender Felix Potvin. The move proved costly as Potvin posted a sub .900 SV% and failed to reach double digits in parts of two seasons he spent on Long Island.
While playing in his first full season with Toronto, Berard suffered a life-altering eye injury after Marian Hossa caught him with the blade of his stick while fanning on a shot. Berard nearly lost his eye and only regained partial vision.
After sitting out a season, Berard shocked the hockey world and made his return to the NHL. He signed a one-year deal with the NY Rangers. Following a short stint in Manhattan, Berard made his way to Columbus. As the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin approached, Berard was being considered to represent the United States at the games. In January of 2006, Berard tested positive for anabolic steroids in a test administered by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. He was the first NHL player to receive a positive test for anabolic steroids, although he was not suspended by the NHL as the league had yet to begin its own drug testing program.
"No question I'm embarrassed about it. There's nothing I can do about it now other than accepting what I have done. We'll learn from it, it was a mistake and it won't happen again."- Bryan Berard
In 2007 Berard made his return to the Islanders, finishing his career where it began. He put together a respectable final season posting five goals and 17 assists in 54 games on a team that finished dead last in the NHL.
When the Islanders originally acquired Berard in '96, it came at a high cost. In the '95 Entry Draft, where the Senators selected Berard first overall, the Islanders owned the number two pick selecting Redden. Redden was the main piece headed to Ottawa as the two franchises essentially swapped picks. Redden had a lengthy career playing over 1,000 games and spending 11 seasons in the Canadian capital.
Aside from parting with Redden, the Isles also parted with Muller, a six-time all-star, dealt to the Maple Leafs. When Muller made his debut with the Islanders, his best years were already behind him. He appeared in only 27 games over two seasons with the Isles scoring seven goals and adding eight assists. It wouldn't be the only big trade that Muller was involved in with the Islanders, as he was a piece sent to the Islanders by the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Pierre Turgeon.
Though his time with the Islanders was short, Berard managed to accomplish things done by a very select few Islanders. By winning the Calder Trophy, he was the first Islander to do so since Mike Bossy in 1977-78, and no Islander would do so after Berard until Mathew Barzal in 2017-18.
Though a freak injury affected Berard for the duration of his career, he was welcomed with open arms by the Islanders faithful for his final NHL season. While looking at his numbers throughout his time in the NHL, Berard had a very average career. But it is often murmured as a player in the "what could have been" if injury didn't divert his career. It's possible that if Milbury never shipped him off to Toronto he never gets injured and has a hall-of-fame career. Who knows? Regardless, Berard will be remembered as a light during a dark age of Islanders hockey.