In the six seasons since graduating from Ohio’s Miami University, Pat Cannone has been a fixture in the AHL. He started his career with the Binghamton Senators, then moved on to the Chicago Wolves and signed on to start this season with the Minnesota Wild.
That may have been the smartest move of his career.
On Tuesday night, for the first time ever, Cannone will find himself suiting up in the NHL. And he will do so as the fifth-oldest forward in the Wild’s lineup, making his NHL debut at the ripe, old age of 30 while skating alongside eight forwards in their twenties. It’s the culmination of years of hard work for Cannone, who likely didn’t expect to find his way into the NHL this season given the way the past six years of his career have gone.
“It’s going to be great,” Cannone told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo. “A lot of emotions running high. I just need to keep those in check and just try to play my game and go from there. You play for [this], you work hard for [this]. It was a long time coming and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
Amazingly, though, Cannone’s NHL debut at 30 won’t make him the oldest player to skate in his first NHL game with the Wild. That honor, according to NHL.com’s Mike Morreale, goes to Lubomir Sekeras. The defender saw his first NHL action with the Wild during the 2000-01 campaign as a 31-year-old.
Neither Cannone nor Sekeras come close to being the oldest players to make their NHL debuts, either. Here are the five players who were the oldest at the time of their NHL debuts:
5. Magnus Johansson, Chicago Blackhawks — Age: 34
Johansson’s stay in the NHL is interesting in that it lasted all of 45 games, but that was still somehow enough for an opposing GM to see enough in the rearguard that he was worth giving up a seventh-round pick for.
Johansson spent the bulk of his career in Sweden before making the jump over to Chicago on a one-year deal in 2007-08, but he was shipped off to the Florida Panthers by the midway point of the campaign and finished his year as a cat. By the next season, he was playing in the KHL, and he finished up his career with four more seasons in Sweden.
4. Bob Barlow, Minnesota North Stars — Age: 34
Fitting that one of the five players on the list made his debut in the ‘State of Hockey’ considering Cannone is the inspiration for the list. Barlow holds another distinction beyond being the fourth-oldest player to debut in the NHL, and that’s that he’s the only player on this list to stick around for at least a cup of coffee the following season.
After playing 70 games with the North Stars in 1969-70, over which time he chipped in 16 goals and 33 points, Barlow, a left winger, ended up getting another seven games with Minnesota the following year.
He played his way out of the NHL and into the old Western League by season’s end, but resurfaced in the WHA with the Phoenix Roadrunners in 1974-75. He was 39 at the time of his WHA debut.
3. Jim Anderson, Los Angeles Kings — Age: 37
A career AHLer, Anderson was given the gift of his shot at the NHL by virtue of the league expanding, although his stay in the big league didn’t last all that long. He found his way to the Kings immediately following expansion, but he managed to play just seven games in the NHL before heading back to the AHL’s Springfield Kings.
Anderson’s career in the AHL was the stuff of legends in Springfield and throughout the AHL, though. Almost his entire minor league career was spent in Springfield, and he racked up 426 goals and 821 points in 943 games in the AHL. He was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2009.
Anderson resurfaced in the NHL in 1974-75, too, as coach of the Washington Capitals. His tenure was short, though, as the team went 4-45-5 under Anderson.
2. Helmut Balderis, Minnesota North Stars — Age: 37
Balderis is unique on this list in that he is the only player who was ever drafted. The thing about that, though, is that Balderis was drafted in the 12th round, 238th overall, of the 1989 draft as a 36-year-old. He’s not the oldest player to make his debut in the league, but he is the oldest to ever have his name called in the draft.
And it wasn’t just about drafting him, either, as the North Stars clearly intended to use the already veteran winger the next season. He suited up for 26 games in 1989-90 and became the oldest player in league history to score his first career goal when he scored in his fourth career game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Balderis continued to play until he was 43, suiting up in the Latvian league and scoring 18 goals and 54 points in 16 games.
1. Connie Madigan, St. Louis Blues — Age: 38
Another player who earned his break thanks to expansion, Madigan is the only player to ever debut in the NHL at 38. After spending almost his entire career bouncing around the minor leagues — from the AHL to the IHL, with stops in the WHL, WIHL and CHL along the way — he finally found his way onto an NHL roster in the 1972-73 season as a defenseman with the Blues.
Madigan’s stay wasn’t all that long as he played just 20 games, racking up three assists in the process, but he is the only player on this list to see action in the post-season. He saw five games in the 1972-73 playoffs with St. Louis, who were ousted 4-1 at the hands of the rival Black Hawks.
By the next season, Madigan was back in the WHL, and by 1974-75 he had called it a career after one final, 10-game stint with the WIHL’s Portland Buckaroos.
Honorable Mention: Hockey historians with an eye for detail might note one name missing from this list, and that’s Lars-Erik Sjoberg. Sjoberg made his NHL debut at 35 as a member of the Jets, but that came after five years with Winnipeg during their years as a WHA club. He was an all-star and winner of the league’s top defenseman trophy, the Dennis A. Murphy Trophy. Sjoberg did make his debut late in his career, but it’s less of a true debut at the pro level given he was simply part of a roster that was absorbed by the NHL.