The Winnipeg Jets made Aaron Ward the 5th overall draft pick in 1991. Ward never did play in Manitoba as he was traded to Detroit for Paul Ysebaert in 1993.
It was the best and worst thing that ever happened to the promising young defenseman.
By 1996 Ward was a regular with the Red Wings. He was a big boy but some felt he was reluctant to use his size to his considerable advantage. His skating was also a serious concern. Some questioned, fairly or unfairly, his intensity and his toughness.
One of those who was not a big fan of Ward was legendary coach Scotty Bowman. Scotty was famous for having his whipping boys, and young Ward quickly became just that. For years Ward had to relentlessly live this less-than-enviable situation.
"Scotty was very effective because he would strike fear in the hearts of his players by using some guys as examples. Most of the time, I was that example," Ward says.
Many of the whipping boy stories are not repeatable, Here's a couple Ward told to James Duthie in an Ottawa Citizen article in 2009:
"One night in Chicago, I blocked a shot with my mouth and from the lip to the nose, I was gushing blood everywhere. As I headed to the room, Scotty yelled 'If you're not back in five, you don't play another shift.' Our doctor was about 80, so I knew there wasn't a chance that the stitches were going in that fast!"
Another night in Colorado, Forsberg and Sakic stepped on the ice, and Detroit assistant Dave Lewis sent Ward and his partner out. "Scotty came running down the bench, yelling 'Jesus Dave are you trying to make us lose the game!?!' I was halfway across the ice, but I could hear it so clearly, I decided to save my career so I did a 180 and went back to the bench."
"It was a nightmare, and he never relented the whole time I was there, but in retrospect it was the best thing for me. When I left, I knew no matter what any coach ever did or said to me, it would be child's play in comparison. It made me much tougher."
And better. He became an above average NHL defenseman and shook early labels concerning his physical play. He won two Stanley Cups in Detroit, then moved to Carolina where he was a top pairing dman during the Hurricanes Stanley Cup title run in 2005-06.
The Cup did not follow Ward to New York when he signed with the Rangers in 2006. But controversy certainly did. He almost came to blows with superstar Jaromir Jagr in a dispute over Jagr's alleged dedication to the team. Needless to say, Ward was soon moved out of Manhattan, joining the Boston Bruins.
After a couple of seasons in Boston, Ward returned to Carolina and then finished his career with a brief stop in Anaheim. In 839 NHL games Aaron Ward scored 44 goals and 151 points.
Aaron Ward may not have enjoyed a lot of his time in the NHL, but it is telling that when it is all said and done that he thanked Scotty Bowman.