September 15, 1955 |
Muenster, SK, CAN
|Height||5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)|
|Weight||175 lb (79 kg; 12 st 7 lb)|
|Played for||California Golden Seals
St. Louis Blues
|NHL Draft||3rd overall NHL, 1975
California Golden Seals
|WHA Draft||5th overall, 1975
Junior Hockey Career
Klassen forged his early hockey career in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada, where as a very talented young player with exceptional skating ability, he entered the major junior hockey ranks in the Western Canadian Hockey League at the young age of 15. The interesting footnote to this fact is that in major junior hockey in Canada, the majority of players are in the much older, bigger, 18-20 year old age group. Consequently, it is rare for a 15 year old player to play this level of hockey at this young age. Major junior hockey in Canada, unlike the United States or Europe, is an entry point for players to potentially play professionally, as 19 and 20 year old players become eligible to be drafted by professional teams, primarily in the National Hockey League. Many junior players make the jump to the NHL or its minor league affiliates, readily after their junior careers are over. Current Canadian Hockey Association rules prohibit players at age 15 from playing in the major junior hockey leagues, unless they are deemed "exceptional" and very few, if any, at 15 years of age, currently play in the CHL's major junior ranks. Even in the 1970's it was unusual for 15 year old players to play at such a high level, but Klassen's hard skating, size and stick-handling skills were the pivotal factors to break into, and play consistently in an established league such as the Western Canadian Hockey League (WCHL), with the much older, experienced players. Klassen played his entire major junior career with the Saskatoon Blades of the WCHL, where as a forward rotating between the center and left-wing positions, he skated for five seasons. He posted his highest scoring production as a junior with the Saskatoon Blades at 77 total points including 23 goals, in 1973-74. He captained the Saskatoon Blades in 1974-75, and played for the National Canadian team at the World Junior Hockey Championships where Canada won a silver medal in 1975. Klassen played 300 games for the Blades, second only to Fred Williams, who holds the distinction of playing the most games for the team in it's history, at 319 games.
A highly skilled player who possessed explosive skating ability, Klassen was touted by pro scouts as one of the top North American players in 1975, and was appropriately selected high in the two amateur drafts; 3rd overall in the first round by the now defunct National Hockey League's (NHL) California Golden Seals and 5th overall by the World Hockey Association's Cleveland Crusaders in the first round of the draft. Interestingly, the first seven players selected in round one of the 1975 NHL draft were all major junior players from the Western Canada Hockey League (now WHL) as Klassen was. It is noted however, that 1975 NHL Amateur Draft was reported by many scouts of the day as a relatively weak field of draft eligible amateur players, many who had questionable ability to perform to the high standard in the pro ranks. The only standout was Mel Bridgman who had played with the WHL's Victoria Cougars (drafted number one overall by the Philadelphia Flyers) performing reasonably well in his career related to his draft status, in comparison to other draftees. In all, the 1975 amateur draft did not produce many, if any, stellar professional players. When many drafted players of that year were signing unusually large contracts and opting to begin their careers in the fledgling World Hockey Association, Klassen chose a more traditional route, and to go to the established National Hockey League, where he signed his first pro contract with the California Golden Seals (at that time located in Oakland, California) for $70,000 per season. In his first professional year in 1975-'76, Ralph Klassen, after a solid NHL training camp, commenced his professional hockey career with the Central Hockey League's Salt Lake Golden Eagles in the minor pro ranks. However, he played only four games in the minors before he was rapidly called up to the National Hockey League, where he was to begin showcasing his big league talent, which was the foundation for his high amateur draft status.
Major League Years
Ralph Klassen made his National Hockey League debut as one of two youngest players on the squad at the age of 19 (with Dennis Maruk, also 19, who notched 30 goals in his rookie year) with the California Golden Seals on October 8, 1975, in Atlanta against the now defunct Flames. Klassen did not disappoint his draft team, quickly notching a goal in his first game. That year, Klassen remained in the NHL and played the remaining 71 scheduled games for the Seals, racking up 6 goals and 15 assists, in his rookie year. In 1976, due to lack of success at the gate and low attendance records for a number of years, the California Golden Seals franchise was moved to Cleveland, where they were renamed, and became the "Barons". Most players who had contracts with the Seals moved along with them, including Klassen. In 1976-'77, Klassen played for the struggling Cleveland Barons (who had displaced the WHA's Cleveland Crusaders who moved to Minnesota) and increased his scoring to a respectable 14 goals in 80 games. A solid two way player, he was a consistent contributor to the team, however it did not help the dismal play of the hapless Barons who won only 47 games in the two seasons in which they survived in the National Hockey League. In the 1977-'78 season, after playing 13 games for the Barons, he was traded to the Colorado Rockies (who had folded and moved from Kansas City ) on January 9, 1978 as part of a deal with Fred Ahern being traded for Chuck Arnason and Rick Jodzio. In Colorado, Klassen played 44 games. Still in Colorado in the '1978-'79 season, Klassen played the majority of the team's schedule, 64 games, tallying up a disappointing total of only 19 points for a team which only won a disastrous 15 games. He had not shown the grit and grind that had got him to the NHL, and as a result, Klassen was sent down to the minors where he split the year playing 18 games for the Philadelphia Firebirds, Colorado's affiliate in the American Hockey League. A footnote is that Colorado only lasted another 3 seasons in the NHL, landing out of the playoffs each year, before New Jersey multi-millionaire, shipping tycoon John McMullen purchased the team and relocated them to New Jersey, as the NHL's Devils. A series of trades (see "NHL Record Still Stands" below) resulted in Klassen landing with the NHL's Blues of St. Louis after the disappointing season with Colorado and Philadelphia. From 1979 to 1983, Klassen played for the St. Louis Blues, skating with the likes of Blue's top point-getters and future all stars, Bernie Federko, (another Saskatchewan born player who would play 1000 NHL games and tally 1130 total points) and speedsters Brian Sutter and Wayne Babych. The Blues made the playoffs each year Klassen played for them, however the best they would do was advancing to, and losing in round 2 in 1981, '82 and '84 playoff series. In all, almost half of Klassen's NHL playing career was in St. Louis where he played 225 games. His highest point total in St. Louis was in his first year in 1979-80, where he chalked up 9 goals and 16 assists for 25 total points. In total, he managed 25 goals and 37 assists in 4 plus seasons with the Blues. After playing in only 5 games and not registering a point with St. Louis in the 1983-84 season, Klassen retired just short of playing 500 NHL games. Despite his high draft status and rapid ascension to the NHL, Klassen performed less like an expected star and more as a utility player, where he provided solid contributions to his teams with consistent and regular play over his tenure in the NHL. His promise as an NHL star may not have been fully realized, however, Klassen chalked up a solid pro career, respectably playing in more NHL games than many players of today. In Klassen's ten year career, he played for 4 teams; the California Golden Seals, Cleveland Barons, Colorado Rockies, and St. Louis Blues. After his NHL tenure which produced only 52 goals in total, he retired in November 1983 at the age of only 28, an age when many players are still in their prime.
NHL Record Still Stands
An interesting anecdote in the career of Ralph Klassen is noteworthy; Klassen was claimed by Hartford after being left unprotected by Colorado in the NHL Expansion Draft on June 13, 1979. Hartford immediately traded him to the N.Y. Islanders for Terry Richardson. The Islanders then immediately traded him to St. Louis to complete a three-team deal in which St. Louis had sent Richardson and Barry Gibbs to the N.Y. Islanders in exchange for future considerations. The multiple trades made Klassen the only player in NHL history to be property of four different teams (Colorado, Hartford, N.Y. Islanders, St. Louis) in one day, a record which has never been matched.
Ralph Klassen currently resides in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada and works as a mail carrier for Canada Post. He enjoys a robust social life with a large family, friends and former NHLers, frequenting local establishments for imbibements, revelry, and the sharing of many stories of his NHL career with many of his loyal fans.
|California Golden Seals first round draft pick