Before Bobby Carpenter, National Hockey League scouts never attended high school games in the United States. After Bobby Carpenter, they all did.
Dubbed the “Can’t Miss Kid” on the cover of the February 23, 1981 issue of Sports Illustrated, Robert E. Carpenter, Jr. was 17 when he became the first U.S.-born hockey player to be featured on the cover of SI. He was also the first American-born player to be selected in the first round of the NHL Draft, after the Washington Capitals picked him third overall—five spots before future Hall of Fame goaltender Grant Fuhr [Daily Dose, June 1]—in the 1981 entry draft. Carpenter was the first player to make the jump from high school straight to the NHL, where he played 19 seasons. In 1984-85, he scored 53 goals to surpass Joe Mullen’s record of 41 for most goals by an American player in a single season. It would prove to be the finest season of his career, as he never again scored 50 goals in one campaign.
Carpenter was born in Beverly, Massachusetts—a stone’s throw from the Boston Garden–on this date in 1963. The son of a policeman, he grew up in nearby Peabody. In 1977, he enrolled at St. John’s Preparatory School, a private, all-boys Catholic high school in Danvers and alma mater of football coaches Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien. Carpenter was the best player in America, scoring 103 points in 51 games while skating for the St. John’s Eagles. Sports Illustrated wrote on its’ 1981 cover, “Scouts say he’s the best U.S. prospect they’ve ever seen. Ever.” Following graduation from St. John’s in 1981, Carpenter represented the U.S. in the World Junior Championships, scoring nine points in five games. After being drafted higher than any American player in history, he skipped minor league hockey and went straight to the NHL. The 18-year-old Carpenter debuted against the Buffalo Sabres October 7, 1981. He wasted no time making a splash, recording an assist on a Ryan Walter goal just 12 seconds into the game. It remains the quickest assist by a rookie playing in his first game in NHL history. Carpenter’s fourth NHL season was his best, as he earned a spot in the NHL All-Star Game and teamed with Mike Gartner to form the “Gold Dust Twins,” who combined for almost 200 points in 1984-85. He was traded twice during the 1986-87 season, first to the New York Rangers and then to the Los Angeles Kings. After helping the Boston Bruins win the President’s Cup for the best regular-season record in the league in 1989-90, Mr. Carpenter was dealt to New Jersey in 1993. One year later, he helped the Devils claim their first-ever Stanley Cup. The 6’2”, 200 pound centerman played six years in New Jersey, retiring at the end of the 1998-99 season.
The Can’t Miss Kid scored 320 goals and 728 points in 1,178 NHL games. He represented the United States at one World Championship, a pair of Canada Cups and one World Junior tournament. After retiring in 1999, he served as an assistant coach for the New Jersey Devils, earning Stanley Cup rings in 2000 and 2003. Carpenter has three children. The oldest, Alexandra, was a member of the silver medal-winning 2014 U.S. Olympic hockey team. As a Boston College junior , she won the 2015 Patty Kazmaier Award as the best player in women’s college hockey. Bobo Carpenter is the youngest child of Bobby and Julia’s children and plays hockey for five-time national champion Boston University. In April 2016, 52-year old Bobby Carpenter ran in the Boston Marathon [Daily Dose, April 19] to raise money for the Last Call Foundation, a charity dedicated to enhancing safety of Boston firefighters. Mr. Carpenter was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2007.