The story of Setoguchi’s career is one of perseverance in the face of unimaginable challenges. A 31-goal-scorer as a 21-year-old, he was out of the NHL just seven years later, battling alcoholism and drug use.
A Yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese-Canadian), Setoguchi was born on New Years Day in 1987 in Taber, Alberta and grew up on a farm in the prairies. He played minor hockey in Lethbridge on right wing, and was selected by the Saskatoon Blades fifth overall in the 2002 WHL Draft. Setoguchi spent three seasons with Saskatoon, reaching career-highs of 36 goals and 83 points in 65 games during the 2005-06 season. In his overage season, he was traded to Prince George where he finished his WHL career with 118 goals and 243 points in 255 games across four seasons.
Setoguchi was drafted 8th overall in the 2005 NHL Draft by the San Jose Sharks, who had moved up to select him. He split time between the Sharks and their AHL affiliate in Worcester during his first professional season in 2007-08, becoming a full time NHLer the next year. On San Jose’s first line with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, Setoguchi set career highs with 31 goals and 65 points in 81 games during the 2008-09 season. He was a consistent 20-goal-scorer for the next few seasons, helping the Sharks reach the 2011 Western Conference Finals with two overtime winners in the playoffs. At the 2011 NHL Draft shortly after signing a three-year-extension, Setoguchi was blindsided by a trade to the Minnesota Wild for future Norris Trophy winner (2016-17) Brent Burns.
Setoguchi scored 19 goals during his first season with the Wild and was on pace for 22 goals during the lockout-shortened season after, including the game-winning goal that propelled Minnesota into the playoffs on the final day of the season.
In 2013, he was traded to the Winnipeg Jets for a second round pick. Issues earlier in his career with drinking were compounded by depression and drug use. As a result of his poor conditioning, Setoguchi struggled to produce on the ice, finishing the season with just 11 goals and 27 points in 75 games.
An unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, Setoguchi signed with the Calgary Flames in 2014. He played just 12 scoreless games before being waived and spent most of the season with the Adirondack Flames in the AHL. After being demoted, Setoguchi’s drinking problems worsened and were compounded by a hernia injury mid-season.
“Do I consider myself an alcoholic? Yes, because I was at the time. Do I feel that depression led to more of my alcoholism? Absolutely. You know, you come to the rink and you’re on the third line or not playing that night. Well, then it’s ‘Screw this guy, I’m going to go out and get wasted tonight.’ ”Devin Setoguchi, 2016 interview with The Hockey News
Setoguchi hit rock-bottom in April 2015, when he entered the NHL’s rehab program after his severe drinking problems resulted in stomach ulcers and liver problems while recovering from his hernia injury. He finished rehab in the summer of that year, emerging clean and sober.
“I’ve helped myself, and every day I try to help myself be a better person. I feel like I’m a pretty good gauge for young kids as to how quick it can hit and how fast it can stop. It hits you so fast that you don’t know when it’s done…I think the biggest thing with people battling depression or alcoholism is that you tend to feel like you’re always alone and you’re kind of shut off, like no one understands it, and you’re embarrassed too.”Devin Setoguchi, 2016 interview with NHL.com
In 2015, Setoguchi attended training camp on a PTO with the Toronto Maple Leafs before spending the season with HC Davos in the Swiss League, posting 11 goals and 24 points in 30 games. He returned to the NHL in 2016 after signing with the Los Angeles Kings.
Setoguchi scored 4 goals and 12 points in 45 games for the Kings during the 2016-17 season, and spent the next season with Adler Mannheim in the German league. Although yet to officially retire, the now-32-year-old has not played this season.