On December 29, 2016 the Brampton Beast announced that they had signed forward David Ling to a contract. Two weeks later he celebrated the remarkable 20th anniversary of his first NHL game with the Montreal Canadiens.
Ling was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in the seventh round of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft and followed that by leading the Ontario Hockey League in scoring in 1994-95, scoring a remarkable 61 goals for the Kingston Frontenacs.
Despite the junior numbers he was putting up, he was a sweetener in a trade between the franchise that drafted him — now the Colorado Avalanche — and the Calgary Flames so that the Avalanche could move up in the ninth round of the 1995 draft.
He played one season for Calgary’s AHL farm team, the Saint John Flames, before being traded on October 24, 1996 to the Montreal Canadiens with a pick for Scott Fraser. Ling was assigned to the Fredericton Canadiens, farm team of the Montreal Canadiens. (The pick included in the trade, by the way, was used to select Gordie Dwyer.)
David Ling made his NHL debut with the Canadiens on January 11, 1997, coached by Mario Tremblay at the time.
Sebastien Bordeleau, his teammate in Fredericton described Ling as a “dirty player” to La Presse. “He will mix it up, give a few slashes. But he’s also talented and scores a lot of goals.”
Ling himself was blunt with the assessment of his style. “I’ve always had to convince people that my size [5’9”] wasn’t a handicap. I am intense. I am aggressive. I make sure my presence is felt on the ice. I hit everything that moves. Sometimes that results in penalties.”
That’s an accurate assessment given his 229 penalty minutes with Fredericton in 1996-97 to go along with 22 goals and 36 assists. It was virtually guaranteed that something was going to happen when he jumped on the ice.
He played two games with Montreal before being sent back to the AHL to complete the season. He would appear one more time for the Canadiens the following season before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for Martin Gendron. Ling was Fredericton’s top scorer at the time of the trade, where he was coached by Michel Therrien.
He wouldn’t make it back to the NHL until three years later. He signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets as a free agent in 2001, and played 90 games for the team.
In 2004 he pointed his career across the Atlantic. He played all over Europe, including Russia, Switzerland, Finland, Italy, and England. He returned on occasion to play in the AHL, notably a couple seasons spent with the Toronto Maple Leafs farm team in 2004-05 and 2007-08.
“I’ve always been on a one-year contract. So every summer is stressful. You’re always battling to find a job. The last five or six years you wonder if this is it.” Ling told the Chronicle Herald in 2013.
Financially it was beneficial to play in Europe, but it was difficult on the mind, especially Russia where he played for four seasons. “It makes you depressed, that country. You take what opportunities you are given and financially it was a no-brainer. But it’s tough being away from your family and your children.”
"My first year I was paid in cash in a brown paper bag," he said. "I had to hire a gunman to take me to a bank." he told The Whig.
He went to play in England for the Nottingham Panthers in 2012-13, where he had a remarkable season, scoring 34 goals and adding 55 assists. While there he started planning life after hockey as he attended the University of Derby to obtain an MBA degree, which he completed in 2014.
After returning from Europe, degree in hand, Ling got a government job with the Liquor Commission in P.E.I. and thought that his hockey career was over, but then the Brampton Beast reached out, and injected new life into his pro hockey career.
He signed with them for their inaugural 2014-15 season in the ECHL. He scored nine goals and added 32 assists in 46 games, his assist total leading the league. As did his age, celebrating his 40th birthday during the season; a rarity for hockey players. Most remarkably he played five games in five nights that season between the Beast and emergency call-up duty with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL.
He struck another deal with Nottingham the following season to return to England and play for the team for one more season. But the separation from his sons was too much for Ling.
“There are more important things than hockey sometimes. When you have children and they’re missing their dad, you know,” he told the Nottingham Post after he announced he was leaving the Panthers to return to North America in January of 2016, having played just 32 games.
A few weeks later he re-signed with the Brampton Beast, where the finished the season, scoring five goals and adding 17 assists in 26 games.
A spot opened up for Ling once again with the Beast in 2016-17 when defenceman Mike Vernace requested a release from his contract to go play in Europe. Every ECHL team is allowed up to four veteran players who have played more than 260 professional games, and Ling fit the bill, joining David Pacan, Brandon Marino, and defenceman Jordan Henry.
Ling became only the third player to suit up for the Beast for a third year, the others being Cal Wild and Canadiens draft selection Dalton Thrower. In 16 games this season he has scored four goals and added two assists, showing that, at 42 years old, he still has gas left in the tank.
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