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Storm’s original first overall pick historic 25 years later

As the Guelph Storm’s original first overall draft selection, Jeff O’Neill made history standing atop the franchise in all-time points, however, chooses to remember so much more of his major junior career. 

Steph Coratti, GuelphStorm.com — 

Be there for a special moment in Guelph Storm history and get your tickets to Jeff O’Neill Banner Night on Nov. 21 vs. the Kitchener Rangers here. 

Own your very own piece of the Guelph Storm Legend’s Collection! Get your Jeff O’Neill Legends Tee here! 

Jeff O’Neill. 

That was the first name called at the 1992 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection; a name that would go on to top the Guelph Storm in all-time points – for 25 years, and counting.

It didn’t take long for the King City, Ontario native to make noise on his way to making history, racking up an impressive 79 points (32 goals, 47 assists) in 65 games as a freshman. Not only did the point total earn O’Neill the OHL’s Rookie of the Year honours, it also put him in the record books with the second highest total compiled by a 16-year-old since Kirk Muller posted 112 points with the Guelph Platers in 1982-83.

“There’s a lot of nerves going into being the first overall pick,” O’Neill started on his major junior transition. “I mean, the chance of a guy failing seems almost as likely as having success, but the team, they gave me every opportunity to succeed.”

“They put a lot of confidence in me, playing me in all situations as a rookie, and I just thrived on that,” he continued. “The whole team and the organization made it easy for me.”

The following season in 1993-94, the Storm centre continued to turn heads, registering a career-high 126 points (45 goals, 81 assists) in 66 games for third overall in league scoring.

“I gotta give a little bit of credit to myself – it’s not easy to put up that amount of points,” O’Neill said of his career year, offering that the organization deserves all that credit and more. “But, it was every five-on-three, every power play, every situation, I got my number called. It was the opportunity I had to perform.”

Adding 124 points (43 goals, 81 assists) in 57 games in his final campaign with the Storm, O’Neill totaled for a remarkable 329 points in 188 games. 

“When you’re removed from the game, you get the chance to look back and you look at all the guys who have gone through there and I thought to myself, ‘Someone’s gonna get past that sooner or later,’ but it’s sticking,” O’Neill said of his franchise leading total. “When a team takes a chance and drafts you first overall… it’s just the ability to think that I came through and performed for them and helped the organization get back on track.”

“And I think hockey players, we’re humble guys and we don’t like to pat each other on the back too many times, but when you see your name at the top or near the top of the list in something like that,” O’Neill continued on the accomplishment. “It just makes you feel good about what you did.”

Even with a major junior career loaded with individual accomplishments, with most evidently still recognized today, the former Storm forward looks back on what the team put together as his proudest.

“We got to the finals one year against Detroit and unfortunately came up short,” O’Neill said, referencing the Storm’s OHL Finals 4-2 series loss to the Detroit Junior Red Wings in 1994-95. “But just the transition from a team that wasn’t very good to being in the finals, that’s the most important thing – I’m just happy we got that winning attitude back in the city.” 

And the credit for that? 

“It all went to Mike Kelly,” O’Neill explained without hesitation. “He really made a point to bring in character guys and the crop of rookies that made the team with me, we were all good guys and we wanted to make the Storm better and make it a reputable organization – that goes back to Mike Kelly’s doing in finding the right kind of people.”

Personally, O’Neill remembered certain coaches in addition to what and who was key in laying the foundation for his professional career.

“Craig Hartsburg – he was kind of hard on me, but that’s what I needed to get to the next level,” the fifth overall selection in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft explained, adding that Hartsburg pushed for consistency. “The coaches, and Mike, and in general the whole organization was just so supportive of everything I did and I can’t thank them enough.”

Now a full NHL career separated, looking back, there’s only one regret.

“The one thing is not winning that championship,” O’Neill said of the 1994-95 team. “That would have been so important to me – it would have been the last championship that I won because I didn’t win it in the NHL.”

Even without a championship title, O’Neill had one significant word to sum up what being a member of the Storm means to him still today.

“Just pride,” he said, recalling one of his seasons that the team held an impressive home record, adding that it speaks volumes about the fan base. “We took pride. I mean, playing in the NHL is a great fraternity to be in, but being a Guelph Storm is if not tops that because everybody is a great guy and just very proud to be in that organization.” 

With that, the Storm will return some pride of their own, honouring O’Neill’s infamous No. 92 on Nov. 21 prior to a Highway Seven rivalry match-up with the Kitchener Rangers in town. 

“I can already tell you that I’m nervous about it,” O’Neill said of the upcoming achievement, adding that his parents will be in town for what he expects to be an emotional ceremony. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me before, and knowing all the players they could have picked to go up first and they chose me…”

“For that to happen, I’m very honoured and just humbled by the whole fact.”

Jeff O’Neill

  • Guelph Storm, 1992-1995
  • OHL Totals: 188 games played, 120 goals, 209 assists, 329 points
  • Playoffs: 28 games played, 12 goals, 31 assists, 43 points
  • Leads Guelph Storm franchise in all-time points (329)
  • 1993 OHL Rookie of the Year
  • Named first all-time player in Guelph Storm history
  • Selected in the first round (fifth overall) by the Hartford Whalers in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft
  • 11 NHL Seasons
  • NHL Totals: 821 games played, 237 goals, 259 assists, 496 points
  • NHL Teams: Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Represented Canada at the 1995 World Junior Championship (seven games played, two goals, six points) 

Jeff O’Neill Banner Night, Nov. 21 vs. Kitchener Rangers 

The Guelph Storm will honour Jeff O’Neill on Nov. 21 at the Sleeman Centre by raising #92 to the rafters in an on-ice ceremony prior to the game against the Kitchener Rangers. The game will be the hockey club’s first homecoming game for Storm alumni and their families. Get your tickets to a special moment in Storm history here!

For more information on the event, click here.

Own your very own piece of the Guelph Storm Legend’s Collection! Get your Jeff O’Neill Legends Tee here! 

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