September 15, 1955 |
Humboldt, SK, CAN
|Height||5 ft 11 in (180 cm)|
|Weight||175 lb (79 kg; 12 st 7 lb)|
|Played for||California Golden Seals
St. Louis Blues
|NHL Draft||3rd overall, 1975
California Golden Seals
|WHA Draft||5th overall, 1975
Junior Hockey Career
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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 age of 15. 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 at that level of hockey. 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"; very few, if any, at 15 years of age, currently play in the CHL's major junior ranks. A current NHL player, John Tavares, the captain of the New York Islanders is just such a player, being drafted as a 14 year old by the Ontario Hockey League's Oshawa Generals. Even in the 1970s, 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 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 Blades at 77 total points including 23 goals, in 1973–74. He captained the 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 its 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. 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. The 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 longstanding professional players as referenced by the 1975 NHL First Round Draft Log. Only eight players out of a field of eighteen drafted in the first round played more than 400 NHL games. 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, going 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 US$70,000 per season.
In his first professional season in 1975–76, 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 called up to the National Hockey League, where he began showcasing his big league talent, which was the foundation for his high amateur draft status. He remained in the NHL for another two years. As a result of poor play and conditioning problems resulting to off-ice behaviour, he was demoted to the Colorado Rockie's affiliate the AHL's Philadelphia Firebirds in 1978-'79 season for 18 games and then recalled, and once again for 21 games to the Salt Lake Golden Eagles of the Central Hockey League in 1982-'83 season. He was recalled to the NHL's St. Louis Blues in the same season.
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 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 19 points for a team which won 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. Colorado only lasted another three seasons in the NHL, landing out of the playoffs each year, before New Jersey multimillionaire shipping tycoon John McMullen purchased the team and relocated them to New Jersey, as the NHL's Devils.
A series of trades (see "Klassens Unique Record" 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 Blues, skating with the likes of Blues' 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 did was to advance to, and lose 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 season in 1979–80, when he chalked up 9 goals and 16 assists for 25 total points. In total, he had 25 goals and 37 assists in over four seasons with the Blues. After playing in five games and not registering a point with St. Louis in the 1983–84 season.
After his NHL tenure, which produced 52 goals in total, he retired in November 1983 at the age of 28, an age when many players are still in their prime.
Klassen's Unique Record
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 belong to four different teams (Colorado, Hartford, N.Y. Islanders, St. Louis) in one day, a record which has never been matched.
After his NHL career, Ralph Klassen resided in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, working as a mail carrier for Canada Post. Now retired from Canada Post (July 2013), he now resides in the village of Kinley, Saskatchewan and is the coach of the "Perdue Pirates" Sr. Hockey club in the Saskatchewan Prairie Hockey League. An outgoing and likeable individual with many friends, Klassen still enjoys meeting his fans for imbibements and revelry, recounting many of his glory days and stories as a bonafide player in the NHL.
|California Golden Seals first round draft pick