In 1990-91, Jim Paek became the first player from South Korea to play in the National Hockey League. Though he was born in Seoul, Paek grew up in Canada where he fell in love with the game of hockey.
Jim played his junior hockey with the Oshawa Generals from 1984 through 1987, and was drafted as an 18 year old by the Pittsburgh Penguins 170th overall in 1985. He was a steady defensive force and team captain but didn't put up great offensive numbers in his OHL career. His final season was his best season as he earned Ontario Hockey League All-Star honors.
Jim played the next three seasons with the Muskegon Lumberjacks and exploded into an puck-moving offensive defenseman. His first year he had 7 goals and 52 assists. The following year he had 3 goals and 54 assists and in the third year he had 9 goals and 41 assists. He also averaged 117 PIM and was one of the most intelligent defensemen in the league.
Despite his fine play he still wasn't being given a shot at NHL employment. Yet he continued to work hard and improved on his defensive game, never losing his focus on his dream of playing in the NHL. In order to improve his chances of playing in the NHL, Jim joined the Canadian National Team for the 1990-91 season and learned some valuable defensive positioning techniques.
When the National Team's season came to a close all of Paek's hard work was rewarded. He joined the Penguins to become the first Korean born NHLer.
Jim played in 3 games before the playoffs and was expected to sit in the pressbox for most of the playoffs as they wanted the rookie around as an insurance policy in case they ran into injury problems. And that's exactly what happened. Paek got into 8 playoff games and even scored his first NHL goal. His steady play under such high pressure helped the Penguins win their first Stanley Cup championship.
Paek played full time with the Pens the next season, though only appeared in 49 games, scoring just 1 goal and 7 assists. But he was a regular on the blueline come playoff time. Paek played a big role in the Pen's successful defence of the Stanley Cup. He even assisted on what proved to be the Cup winning goal in game 4 against Chicago.
Paek's best NHL season in terms of production came in 1992-93. He played in a career high 77 games and registered career highs in all major offensive categories - 3 goals, 15 assists, 18 points and +13.
Paek started his 3rd full season in Pittsburgh in 1993-94 but he was never a favorite of coach Scotty Bowman. He was traded to Los Angeles on February 16, 1994. He went with former King Marty McSorley in exchange for Tomas Sandstrom and Shawn McEachern. Jim played in 18 games for the Kings but the team missed the playoffs.
Jim was then traded to the Ottawa Senators in the summer of 1994 in exchange for a late round draft pick. Jim and the terrible Sens team had a forgetable season in 1994-95. First the season was cut down to just 48 games due to the NHL lockout, and the Sens had just 9 wins in those 48 games. Paek himself appeared in 29 games but picked up only 2 assists.
Jim opted to sign with the IHL's Houston Aeros the following season as no NHL team gave him a good contract offer. Paek would remain in the IHL for many seasons, which is where his career began back in 1987. By the turn of the millenium Paek extended his career with stops in Britain and Alaska.