Will it be Nico Hischier, or Nolan Patrick donning New Jersey Devils duds once the first name is called on Friday night?
Whatever the case, GMs and scouts will need to have their homework done and triple-checked once the big names are off the board. There is plenty of talent, but this isn’t a “knock your socks off” draft like the one in 2003.
The first round of that deep, deep draft class produced Marc-Andre Fleury (now with Vegas), Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Jeff Carter, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, Ryan Kesler, Brian Boyle, Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves. The second round saw Patrice Bergeron go to Boston, Shea Weber to Nashville and David Backes to St. Louis.
We think that this particular draft could have those kind of latter round finds, that is, if NHL bird dogs have done their due diligence.
On that note, we have scoured the draft lists since 2002 and have come up with each draft’s biggest steal.
15. Duncan Keith – 2nd round, 54th overall to Chicago (2002)
Keith’s road to the NHL wasn’t paved with gold. After a couple of standout seasons in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League, he was recruited by Michigan State University, where he played about a season and a half. During his freshman year, he scored 15 points in 41 games, good enough to be a mid-round (54th overall) second round pick. He returned to B.C. after 15 games with the Spartans in 2002-03 and played very well with the Kelowna Rockets. The Blackhawks promoted him to their farm club in Norfolk, where he would toil for two years before making the big club in 2005-06. He apprenticed well for two seasons before breaking through in 2007-08, earning his first all-star nod. Since then, he’s won two James Norris Trophies, three Stanley Cups, two Olympic golds and a Conn Smythe. Not bad for a second rounder.
14. Joe Pavelski – 7th round, 205th overall to San Jose (2003)
Suffice to say that most players taken in the seventh round have about as much chance as a snowball in hell of making the big leagues. However, in 2003 the draft was considered one of the deepest in years, making players well down the list more attractive than usual. But, 204 players were chosen ahead of “Little Joe”, who was playing in the U.S. Junior Hockey League for the Waterloo Black Hawks. Pavelski took his talents to the University of Wisconsin and was a point-per-game man before finally going pro in 2006 with the Worcester Sharks. After 26 points in 16 games with Worcester, Pavelski got called up and never looked back. He’s gotten better with time and garnered his first two all-star nods in 2016 and 2017, as well as a superb Stanley Cup playoff run in 2016, when he scored 14 goals and nine assists in 24 games. To date, only seven players in that 2003 draft have more points than Pavelski’s career 631.
13. David Krejci – 2nd round, 63rd overall to Boston (2004)
The 2004 draft was huge for Europeans, as the top two picks were Russian (Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin) and another 10 of the top 30 from across the pond. The Bruins had to sit idly by in the first two rounds, waiting until they had back-to-back supplemental picks at no. 63 and no. 64 (for trades made earlier). With the 63rd pick they got lanky David Krejci from the Kladno Juniors. After a decent campaign there, he joined the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL for two seasons to acclimatize himself with North American hockey. It worked out. Krejci spent all of 94 games with Providence of the AHL before sticking it out permanently in 2008-09. One of the better defensive forwards in the game, he combines skill and hands with outstanding face-off ability. In 705 games, he has 526 points and is +96 with 51 percent draw efficiency. He also played a huge role in Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup run, scoring 12 goals and 11 assists in 25 games.
12. Patric Hornqvist – 7th round, 230th overall to Nashville (2005)
Mr. Irrelevant is the name given to a guy taken last overall in a professional draft. That designation in 2005 went to two-time Stanley Cup winner Patric Hornqvist, who scored the winning goal in Pittsburgh’s triumph over his old team this year. Predators GM David Poile has been hailed as an astute judge of talent, but even he probably believed at the time that Hornqvist might never elect to come to North America. For a few years after he was drafted, Poile looked right, as Hornqvist played three full seasons with Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Elite League before joining the Predators in 2008 (they’d signed him in 2007). After a brief 28-game audition and 49 games in Milwaukee in 2008-09, Hornqvist broke out in 2009-10, scoring 30 goals and adding 21 assists. Since then, he’s scored 50 or more points three more times and has 25 points in 48 playoff games with Pittsburgh.
11. Claude Giroux – 1st round, 22nd overall to Philadelphia (2006)
Montreal, from time to time, has sought the next great Francophone hope. Whether it was dithering over trying to bring in Vincent Lecavalier in his prime or trading for Jonathan Drouin this year, the Habs try to appease fans with homegrowns who speak the language. In 2006, they could have had Claude Giroux, but chose instead to select Minnesota defenceman David Fischer at no. 20. He never played a game in the NHL, while Giroux went 22nd overall to Philadelphia and has thrived. And it wasn’t like Giroux was unknown, having starred with Gatineau of the QMJHL. In fact, only three players chosen ahead of Giroux have had more impact, they being Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel. Giroux has 575 points in 656 games and another 62 points in 63 playoff games.
10. Jamie Benn – 5th round, 129th overall to Dallas (2007)
Only one player taken in the 2007 draft has more points than Jamie Benn. He would be Patrick Kane, taken 128 spots ahead of Benn at no. 1 by Chicago. It’s astounding to think that all 30 teams, including Dallas, passed on Benn for four rounds (plus). The Stars had no first round pick that year, then selected never-will-be’s Nico Sacchetti (50th), Sergei Korostin (64th) and Austin Smith (128th) before calling Benn’s name. Only three Stars’ picks that year have played in the NHL, including Colton Sceviour (112th) and Luke Gazdic (172nd). Benn was playing in the BCJHL with Victoria after being drafted, then moved on to the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, where became a sniper. The transition to the NHL went smoothly, as he scored 22 goals his first full season (2009-10) and was the league’s scoring leader by 2014-15, when he had 87 points in 82 games.
9. Braden Holtby – 4th round, 93rd overall to Washington (2008)
Goaltenders are seldom taken high in any draft, with Marc-Andre Fleury being the exception in 2003 (1st overall). However, nine goalies were chosen before Washington took a gamble on Saskatoon Blades netminder Braden Holtby with the 93rd pick in the fourth round. As of this year Holtby has played nearly more games than all nine netminders combined (307 games to 371) and five of who, including top pick Chet Pickard (18th overall) have never played a game in the NHL. In just five full seasons after apprenticing for two early in his career, Holtby has placed himself among the elite, winning a Vezina Trophy in 2016 and narrowly missing out in 2015 and this year (he did win the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals against, though). He was also named to the Second All-Star team, after making the first team last year.
8. Mike Hoffman – 5th round, 130th overall to Ottawa (2009)
For most of his hockey life, Mike Hoffman has had to prove his detractors wrong. Very wrong. After failing to stick with his hometown Kitchener Rangers after a two-game call-up in 2007, he went unclaimed by every other OHL club and instead took his game to the QMJHL, where in his draft season of 2008-09, he scored 52 goals and 42 assists in 62 games with Drummondville. However, even those lofty totals couldn’t get him any higher than 130th overall (fifth round) to the Senators. After yet another good season in the Q with Saint John, Hoffman had to work hard to crack the line-up, playing four games in the ECHL and 242 games in the AHL with Binghamton before finally making the big club in 2014. Just 11 players from the ’09 draft have more career goals than Hoffman’s 85 (82 in the last three years) and almost all of them have played twice as many games as Hoffman’s 260 so far.
7. Brendan Gallagher – 5th round, 147th overall to Montreal (2010)
Size has always been an issue with Brendan Gallagher, all 5’9″ 184 lbs. of him. But not heart. When he was a bantam hockey player in Delta, B.C., he wasn’t drafted until the ninth round of the 2007 WHL entry draft. With plenty of grit, he quickly established himself as one of the league’s better scorers, accumulating a franchise high 136 goals and 144 assists in 234 games. In his draft year, where he scored 41 goals and 40 assists, Gallagher again saw no takers until the Canadiens grabbed him 147th overall in the fifth round. He spent just 36 games in the AHL with Hamilton before the Habs promoted him for good during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. He had 28 points in 44 games that season, making the all-Rookie Team in the process. All together, the feisty forward has 185 points (11th among all 2010 draftees) in 324 games and another 21 points in 40 playoff contests.
6. Nikita Kucherov – 2nd round, 58th overall to Tampa Bay (2011)
The Lightning dialed long distance in 2011 and came up with two steals who we had to choose between. It was either Ondrej Palat, very nearly Mr. Irrelevant at 208th overall (fourth last) or game-changing forward Nikita Kucherov, picked way down at 58th in the second round. We like Palat, but Kucherov is an impact player who has only been outscored by two other players from the 2011 draft. Gabriel Landeskog, taken second overall, has 279 points in 428 career games, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, selected first overall, has 265 points in 395 contests. Kucherov is third with 233 points in a mere 285 games. Even in the absence of Steven Stamkos, Kucherov has been getting better and better. He reached career highs in goals (40), assists (45) and points (85) this past season, earning Second All-Star Team honors for the first time in his career.
5. Colton Parayko – 3rd round, 86th overall to St. Louis (2012)
He had to percolate a while at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks after being drafted by St. Louis in 2012, but Colton Parayko has quickly become an indispensable force on the Blues’ blue line the past two seasons. Having committed to the far-flung NCAA hockey outpost, Parayko didn’t hear his name called until 86th at the 2012 draft. He had just put in a pretty good season with Fort McMurray of the Alberta junior league and then spent the next three years with the UAF Nanooks, scoring 17 goals and 49 assists in 104 games. Parayko apprenticed with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL for just 17 games at the end of the 2014-15 campaign and later that year made the Blues out of training camp. He has played 160 games over the past two years and has 68 points, along with a +35 rating. He’s also skated in 31 playoff games, chipping in four goals and eight assists.
4. Jake Guentzel – 3rd round, 77th overall to Pittsburgh (2013)
As hockey factories go, the University of Nebraska Omaha is well down the NCAA list. However, count Jake Guentzel, as perhaps its most famous alumnus. As it was, Guentzel played three seasons with his hometown college team, after getting drafted off the roster of the Sioux City Musketeers in 2013. The “Omaha Kid” as we like to call him was better than a point-per-game man in his collegiate career and spent just 44 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton go the AHL before getting called up this past season. In 40 games, Guentzel scored 16 goals and 17 assists and was +7. He had a superb playoffs for the Penguins, notching another 13 goals (including an impressive five game-winners) and eight assists in 25 games. He’s a keeper, for sure.
3. Viktor Arvidsson – 4th round, 112th overall to Nashville (2014)
The Nashville Predators bird dogs, under the guidance of GM David Poile, have unearthed a few late round gems since joining the league in 1998. One of their best finds was smallish right winger Arvidsson, who has quickly become a top player on the Stanley Cup finalist Predators. He had a really good year as a 20-year-old with Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League in 2013-14, scoring 40 points in 50 games and then another 16 in 14 playoff games. His small size no doubt a factor, the Preds would take him late in the fourth round. To date, he’s played just 87 games in the minors and this past year he scored 31 goals and 30 assists in 80 games, with a +16 rating. In the playoffs, he chipped in three goals and 10 assists in 22 games.
2. Sebastian Aho – 2nd round, 35th overall to Carolina (2015)
All the hubbub surrounding the 2015 draft centered on Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Someone not many saw coming was Finnish sensation Sebastian Aho. Yes, he was playing on a men’s team in Finland (Karpat), but he didn’t dominate at the 2015 world juniors and he was kind of small (5’10”, 176 lbs.). So the Hurricanes took a flyer on him and the rest is now history. He spent another season with the Oulun in 2015-16, scoring 45 points in 45 games and absolutely lit up the world juniors, scoring 14 points in seven game for the champion Finns (who also featured Patrik Laine). Aho made the ‘Canes out of training camp and had a superb season, playing all 82 games and scoring 24 goals and 25 assists.
1. Jakob Chychrun – 1st round, 16th overall to Arizona (2016)
It’s a little early to call it, but we decided the 2016 draft has one steal, he being Coyotes’ rookie defenceman Jakob Chychrun. The son of former NHLer Jeff, Jakob was a sizeable junior star with the Sarnia Sting and one who many expected to be a top five pick in the draft. For whatever reason, he fell to 16th, with four defencemen being selected before him, including fellow OHLers Olli Juolevi (London) and Mikhail Sergachev (Windsor). Chychrun, unlike those four other rearguards, made the Coyotes and even though he was playing on a bad, bad team, managed to pile up 20 points in 68 games and a -14 rating (hardly the worst on the team).