Each team’s greatest draft steal

The draft is today and all 30 teams have their eyes set on building their future. But while a lot of attention is on the first round, all seven are important. There is at least one late round pick who blossoms into something special in every draft that makes others wonder how they could have possibly passed over him. Finding a top-end player late in the draft can do wonders for a team’s future, just imagine where Detroit would be without Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg who were taken in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively. With that in mind, let’s take a look at each team’s greatest draft steal ever. Impact on the team that drafted them was placed ahead of a player’s career totals when considering the best draft steals. For instance Calgary found Brett Hull 117th in 1984 and he finished third all-time in goals, but he only appeared in 57 regular season games for them before he was traded to St. Louis.

Anaheim Ducks: Matt Cullen — 35th overall, 1996

ANA: 427 GP, 65-135-200, minus-14, 168 PIM

career: 1,073 GP, 202-360-562, minus-50, 460 PIM

The Ducks have made some very good selections in the first round including Paul Kariya, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, but few selections in later rounds have done anything of significance for the team. He’s a dependable two-way forward who spent the first five-and-a-half years in Anaheim, recording at least 30 points three times and 40 points twice. Traded midway through the 2003-03 season to Florida for Sandis Ozolinsh and Lance Ward, Cullen missed out on their improbable run to the Stanley Cup final, though he ended up winning with Carolina in 2006. Of the six players Anaheim has drafted higher, only Niclas Havelid and Mike Leclerc spent any time with the team.

Boston Bruins: Don Sweeney — 166th overall, 1984

BOS: 1,052 GP, 52-210-262, plus-90, 663 PIM

career: 1,115 GP, 52-221-273, plus-112, 681 PIM

Sweeney was a rock on the Bruins’ blueline for 15 seasons before spending his last year in Dallas and only Johnny Bucyk and Ray Bourque have worn the black and gold for more games than Sweeney. Picked five spots ahead of Luc Robitaille, Sweeney’s actually one of three players drafted by Boston after the 150th pick who went on to play over 1,000 games, joining Hal Gill, 166th in 1993, and Craig MacTavish, 153rd in 1978. He now serves as assistant GM in Boston and has helped them reach two Stanley Cup finals after playing in one in 1990.

Buffalo Sabres: Ryan Miller — 138th overall, 1999
(Michael Miller/Wikimedia Commons)

(Michael Miller/Wikimedia Commons)

BUF: 500 GP, 269-164-1-53, .915 sv%, 2.59 GAA, 28 SO

career: 500 GP, 269-164-1-53, .915 sv%, 2.59 GAA, 28 SO

The Sabres’ selections of Alex Mogilny at 89th in 1988 and Donald Audette at 183rd a year later were both solid picks, but Miller has been the anchor of the team since the 2005 lockout, taking Buffalo to the playoffs four times and reaching the conference final twice while becoming their all-time wins leader with 269. Craig Anderson is the only other goalie from the 1999 class to prove himself as a starter and the three highest-selected goalies, Brian Finley, sixth to Nashville, Maxime Ouellet, 22nd to Philadelphia, and Ari Ahonen, 27th to New Jersey, combined for 16 games in the NHL. The Michigan State alum went on to become an Olympic hero in 2010, leading Team USA to an improbable appearance in the gold medal game and taking home tournament MVP honors. He has been subjected to trade rumors recently, but there’s no doubt he’s been their MVP since the lockout.

Calgary Flames: Theo Fleury — 166th overall, 1987

CGY: 791 GP, 364-466-830, plus-148, 1,339 PIM

career: 1,084 GP, 455-633-1,088, plus-145, 1,840 PIM

Yes, there’s Brett Hull who was selected 117th overall in 1984 and went on to place third all-time with 741 goals, but he only played parts of three seasons totaling 29 goals in the regular season and playoffs. Fleury had a much greater impact for Calgary and is ranked third all-time in assists and second in goals and points. Like Martin St. Louis, Fleury was deemed too small but was able to become a superstar, contributing right away with 11 points in 22 playoff games in 1989 and recorded 100 points twice.

Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers: Craig Adams — 223rd overall, 1996

CAR/HFD: 427 GP, 33-44-77, minus-37, 337 PIM

career: 799 GP, 49-93-142, minus-65, 593 PIM

Craig Adams is an unspectacular, but important role player currently on the Penguins, but he carved his niche in Carolina, helping them win the Stanley Cup in 2006 before doing the same with Pittsburgh in 2009. The second-last pick the Whalers ever had, he’s always playing against the opposing team’s stars because he’s so smart which is why Dan Bylsma had him on the ice for the final 6.5 seconds of Game 7 against Detroit. In 2006 he didn’t record a single point for the Hurricanes, but still played an important role for them.

Chicago Blackhawks: Steve Larmer — 120th overall, 1980

CHI: 891 GP, 406-517-923, plus-182, 475 PIM

career: 1,006 GP, 441-571-1,012, plus-204, 532 PIM

Larmer was part of an incredible line in the early 1990s with Jeremy Roenick and Michel Goulet that helped pull the Hawks to the Stanley Cup final in 1992. He’s ranked third all-time in scoring for Chicago while the rest of the top five was selected eighth or higher. The 1980 draft featured six 1,000-point scorers with three going in the first round and two in the fourth. Larmer hit the 1,000 point and game plateaus and won the Stanley Cup with the Rangers, but he’s remembered for his time in Chicago. He’s fourth in team history in career points and of all Chicago’s draft choices, only Denis Savard and Jeremy Roenick recorded more career points and they were picked third and eighth, respectively.

Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques: Milan Hejduk — 87th overall, 1994
Milan Hejduk (FrenchKheldar/Wikimedia Commons)

Milan Hejduk (FrenchKheldar/Wikimedia Commons)

COL/QUE: 1,020 GP, 375-430-805, plus-101, 316 PIM

career: 1,020 GP, 375-430-805, plus-101, 316 PIM

The Avalanche franchise has had some other favorable selections including Valeri Kamensky 129th, John-Michael Liles 159th, Radim Vrbata 212th and Anson Carter 220nd. However, while all had notable careers for players drafted in the 100s, none had an impact on Colorado nearly as long as Hejduk, who was part of the last draft class in Nordiques team history. Although Kamensky won a Cup in 1996 and Liles is their all-time leading scorer among defensemen, Hejduk was a consistent scorer for over a decade with 11-consecutive 20-goal seasons, leading the team in goals five times and the NHL with 50 in 2002-03. He reached the 1,000-game mark this season before retiring and is tied with Joe Sakic for the most 20-goal seasons in Avalanche team history.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Derek Dorsett — 189th overall, 2006

CBJ: 280 GP, 27-38-65, minus-32, 727 PIM

career: 280 GP, 27-38-65, minus-32, 727 PIM

The Blue Jackets have trouble finding success in the early rounds, it’s unlikely their going to find a gem much later on. Dorsett was a pretty nice pickup for them and he played the checking/enforcer role five years before a trade to the Rangers this season. He has played the 12th-most career games of any Columbus-drafted player and is 15th in team history. Jared Boll, taken 101st in 2005, could also fit into this spot as both have played similar roles. But while Boll is fourth in games played for the team and first in penalty minutes, Dorsett routinely played more minutes and killed penalties.

Dallas Stars/Minnesota North Stars: Marty Turco — 125th overall, 1994

DAL/MNS: 509 GP, 262-154-26-37, .911 sv%, 2.31 GAA, 40 SO

career: 543 GP, 275-167-26-40, .910 sv%, 2.36 GAA, 41 SO

Turco is the franchise’s all-time wins leader, but wasn’t the only steal in net in the 1994 draft. Five goalies were drafted 217th or higher who went on to play over 200 games in the NHL which sort of gets in the way of what was a very good pick for Dallas, though his numbers did drop off after the lockout. He posted a .922 save percentage and 1.91 goals-against average in four seasons prior, numbers which fell to a .905 save percentage and 2.53 goals-against average in the five seasons after. Only two higher picks in franchise history, Arturs Irbe, selected 196th in 1989, and Jussi Jokinen, drafted 192nd in 2001, played more career games, but they combined for just 250 games for Dallas.

Detroit Red Wings: Pavel Datsyuk — 171st overall, 1998
Pavel Datsyuk (Dan4th Nicholas/Wikimedia Commons)

Pavel Datsyuk (Dan4th Nicholas/Wikimedia Commons)

DET: 779 GP, 255-512-767, plus-229, 200 PIM

career: 779 GP, 255-512-767, plus-229, 200 PIM

Honorable mentions have to go to the selections of Henrik Zetterberg, taken 210th in 1999, and Tomas Holmstrom, taken 257th in 1994, but neither of them have ever been considered the top player in the game, though Zetterberg did win the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2008. Still somehow underrated, Datsyuk is often said to be the most skilled and best all-around player and his top 10 goals is an astonishing video to watch. He was won the Selke Trophy three times, tied with Guy Carbonneau and Jere Lehtinen for second most all-time behind Bob Gainey’s four, and only Jaromir Jagr has a higher plus-minus rating among active players.

Edmonton Oilers: Kelly Buchberger — 188th overall, 1985

EDM: 795 GP, 82-158-240, minus-99, 1,747 PIM

career: 1,182 GP, 105-204-309, minus-177, 2,297 PIM

It’s a special pick when someone taken as late as Buchberger ends up playing the sixth-most games for the franchise, giving them 12 years of physical hockey starting just as their dynasty ended. Buchberger played three playoff games when they won their 1987 Stanley Cup was with them full time for their last Cup in 1990. He only recorded one 20-goal season, remained an important checker as their Hall of Fame roster was breaking up. Overall, only Joe Nieuwendyk played more games than Buchberger from the 1985 class and he was taken 27th by Calgary.

Florida Panthers: Jaroslav Spacek — 117th overall, 1998

FLA: 157 GP, 15-39-54, plus-18, 89 PIM

career: 880 GP, 82-273-355, plus-49, 618 PIM

Spacek and Filip Kuba, taken 192nd in 1995, had similar careers, but Spacek played more games for Florida so he wins out here. The Panthers have only drafted three players who played more career games than Spacek and they were all drafted 10th or higher. Peter Worrell, taken 166th in 1995, is the only player drafted later by Florida who played more than 100 games with the team. Spacek has never had the fortune of playing on a strong team, but helped two underdog teams, the 2006 Oilers and 2010 Canadiens, go on lengthy playoff runs.

Los Angeles Kings: Luc Robitaille — 171st overall, 1984

LA: 1,077 GP, 557-597-1,154, plus-31, 924 PIM

career: 1,431 GP, 668-726-1,394, plus-72, 1,177 PIM

The selection of Dave Taylor with the 210th pick in 1975 deserves acknowledgment as his 1,111 games are the most in team history, but he’s only 34 ahead of Robitaille who is their all-time leader in goals and still holds the record for most points in a season by a left wing when he posted 63-62-125 in 1992-93. The Kings have had more success in late rounds than early on in the draft; of the eight players drafted by Los Angeles with the most career points, only Larry Murphy, taken 4th in 1980, was selected higher than 51st. To put this pick into a little more perspective, Tom Glavine, the 305-game winner for the Braves and Mets, was selected 69th overall in that same draft.

Minnesota Wild: Nick Schultz — 33rd overall, 2000

MIN: 743 GP, 26-102-128, plus-8, 322 PIM

career: 811 GP, 27-114-141, minus-7, 356 PIM

Selected 33rd overall, Schultz wasn’t exactly a steal, but the Wild haven’t exactly enjoyed much success in the draft. He’s their all-time leader in games played, almost 200 more than Pierre-Marc Bouchard and only Scott Hartnell, selected sixth by Nashville, has played more games from the 2000 draft class. Schultz was consistently in the lineup, playing nine straight seasons of at least 74 games before being traded to Edmonton last season for Tom Gilbert.

Montreal Canadiens: Andrei Markov — 162nd overall, 1998

MTL: 684 GP, 91-308-399, plus-18, 379 PIM

career: 684 GP, 91-308-399, plus-18, 379 PIM

For such a storied franchise, Montreal doesn’t exactly have a ton of late-round steals, but they nailed the selection of Markov who was one of the top puck-moving defensemen in the NHL before he missed 181 games over three seasons with knee injuries. One of the best power play quarterbacks in the NHL, Markov is the highest scoring defenseman from the 1998 draft class with 44 more points than Spacek in 196 fewer games. Only Larry Robinson and Chris Chelios have recorded more assists in a season for a Canadiens defenseman than Markov’s 52 in 2008-09.

Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne — 258th overall, 2004
Pekka Rinne (Dan4th Nicholas/Wikimedia Commons)

Pekka Rinne (Dan4th Nicholas/Wikimedia Commons)

NSH: 293 GP, 153-88-34, .920 sv%, 2.36 GAA, 30 SO

career: 293 GP, 153-88-34, .920 sv%, 2.36 GAA, 30 SO

Martin Erat’s selection with the 191st pick in 1999 deserves a nod, but Rinne is their best player and signed the biggest deal in team history until they had to match Philadelphia’s offer to Shea Weber last summer. The runner-up in last year’s EA Sports NHL Cover Vote, he’s only eight wins behind Tomas Vokoun for the most in team history in 90 fewer games and already has the most shutouts with 30. Rinne has 24 more wins than the next three winningest goalies in the 2004 draft class, Cory Schneider, Devan Dubnyk and Al Montoya, all of who were drafted in the first round. Rinne was named a second-team All-Star in the 2010-11 season and will likely take home the Vezina Trophy before his career is over.

New Jersey Devils: Bruce Driver — 108th overall, 1981

NJ: 702 GP, 83-316-399, plus-6, 534 PIM

career: 922 GP, 96-390-486, plus-13, 670 PIM

The pick of Steve Sullivan, 233rd in 1994, might squeak by considering their entire careers into consideration, but Driver did far more with the Devils including leading them to the playoffs for the first time and winning the Stanley Cup in 1995. He ranks third all-time for the Devils in blueliner scoring and the lowest team-drafted player with more games as a Devils is Patrik Elias who was taken 51st in 1994. Aaron Broten, selected 106th in 1980, was instrumental in getting them out of their dark times in the early 1980s and his 57 assists in 1987-88 is the second most by a Devil. However, it was Driver who won a Cup, so he gets the nod.

New York Islanders: Stefan Persson — 214th overall, 1974

NYI: 622 GP, 52-317-369, plus-176, 574 PIM

career: 622 GP, 52-317-369, plus-176, 574 PIM

Persson won four Stanley Cups in a nine-year career patrolling the Islanders’ blueline and only Denis Potvin recorded more points among defensemen. He came over from Brynas of the Swedish Elite League just in time to land a spot on one of the most powerful dynasties in history. When the Islanders won their first Cup in 1980 Persson recorded five goals in the playoffs compared to just four in the regular season and scored a huge goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, tying the game with 3:42 remaining allowing Denis Potvin to win it in overtime. Persson recorded 3-4-7 total in the series and 5-10-15 in the playoffs. In the 1982 playoffs he only played in 13 of 19 games, but still finished fifth with 14 assists.

New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist — 205th overall, 2000

NYR: 511 GP, 276-171-57, .920 sv%, 2.25 GAA, 45 SO

career: 511 GP, 276-171-57, .920 sv%, 2.25 GAA, 45 SO

The Kings is as good a backbone for a team as there is today. The most positionally sound goalie in the NHL, Lundqvist gives the Rangers a chance to win every game and has recorded at least 30 wins every year, save for this past one thanks to the shortened schedule, though he was on pace for a career-high 41 wins. He’s appeared in three All-Star Games and won the Vezina Trophy last season.

Ottawa Senators: Daniel Alfredsson — 133rd overall, 1994
Daniel Alfredsson (RingoCalamity, Flickr)

Daniel Alfredsson (RingoCalamity, Flickr)

OTT: 1,178 GP, 426-682-1,108, plus-153, 500 PIM

career: 1,178 GP, 426-682-1,108, plus-153, 500 PIM

There’s no surprise here as Alfredsson is the best player in team history. Drafted from Vastra Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League, he has just announced he’ll return for his 18th season in Canada’s capital. He won the Calder Trophy in 1996, King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2012 and would have won the Conn Smythe in 2007 had they defeated the Ducks in the Cup final. He was part of the best line in team history with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley and no one from the 1994 draft class has more career points.

Philadelphia Flyers: Ron Hextall — 119th overall, 1982

PHI: 489 GP, 240-172-58, .895 sv%, 2.91 GAA, 18 SO

career: 608 GP, 296-214-69, .895 sv%, 2.98 GAA, 23 SO

Hextall was drafted before the crease became a curse in Philadelphia and ended up as their all-time wins leader. Peter Peeters at 135th in 1977 was also a phenomenal selection, but was only in Philly for parts of four seasons. Hextall won the Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophies his rookie year, setting a career high with 37 wins. Ken Wregget is the only other goalie of note in the 1982 draft and he was taken 45th overall by Toronto.

Phoenix Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets: Thomas Steen — 103rd overall, 1979

PHO/WIN: 950 GP, 264-553-817, minus-70, 753 PIM

career: 950 GP, 264-553-817, minus-70, 753 PIM

Nikolai Khabibulin was a great choice at 204th overall in 1992, but Steen is third on the team in games with 950, second in points with 817 and first in assists with 553. The 1979 draft is easily one of the greatest ever and 26 players from it played 800 games or more; only two others, Doug Crossman 112th to Chicago and Mike Krushelnyski 120th to Boston, were taken after the 70th pick.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Mark Recchi — 67th overall, 1988

PIT: 389 GP, 154-231-385, minus-41, 300 PIM

career: 1,652 GP, 577-956-1,533, even, 1,033 PIM

A lot of players from the 1988 draft went on the great careers and Recchi tops them all in games, assists and points. He was huge in their first Stanley Cup championship in 1991, leading the team with 40-73-113 in the regular season and finishing second to Mario Lemieux with 10-24-34 in the playoffs. He was traded the next year to Philadelphia with Brian Benning and a 1992 first-round draft pick for Rick Tocchet, Kjell Samuelsson and Ken Wregget and a 1993 third-round draft pick. He’d later join the team for two more stints following the 2005 lockout.

San Jose Sharks: Evgeni Nabokov — 219th overall, 1994
Evgeni Nabokov (Ivan Makarov/Wikimedia Commons)

Evgeni Nabokov (Ivan Makarov/Wikimedia Commons)

SJ: 563 GP, 293-178-29-37, .912 sv%, 2.39 GAA, 50 SO

career: 646 GP, 335-207-29-47, .912 sv%, 2.41 GAA, 55 SO

Nabokov has more wins than any other goalie in his draft class, 35 more than Tomas Vokoun in 54 fewer games, and was considered the best goalie of the 2000s behind only Martin Brodeur. No other goalie is near him in wins for San Jose; Antti Niemi is the closest and is still 200 behind Nabokov. The 2001 Calder Trophy winner finished in the top four in wins five times and is third on the active list, just 13 behind Luongo who was taken fourth by the Islanders in 1997. In a few years, the selection of Joe Pavelski with the 205th pick in the 2003 draft will likely be considered better than Nabokov’s, but right now Nabby has had a bigger impact with the Sharks.

St. Louis Blues: Doug Gilmour — 134th overall, 1982

STL: 384 GP, 149-205-354, minus-9, 264 PIM

career: 1,474 GP, 450-964-1,414, plus-132, 1,301 PIM

Gilmour played five seasons in St. Louis before winning a Stanley Cup with Calgary and becoming one of the top players in Toronto. He started off with three straight seasons of between 53 and 57 points before recording his first 100-point season in 1986-87, becoming just the second Blue to accomplish the feat at the time. Rod Brind’Amour, taken ninth in 1988, and Bernie Federko, selected seventh in 1976, are the only two other players drafted by St. Louis to reach 1,000 points. Gilmour is 11th on the Blues’ all-time scoring list and only Federko and Brian Sutter, taken 20th in 1976, are ranked higher among team-drafted players.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Pavel Kubina — 179th overall, 1996

TB: 662 GP, 72-171-243, minus-96, 784 PIM

career: 970 GP, 110-276-386, minus-102, 1,123 PIM

Aside from Kubina, the lowest drafted Lightning player to have a significant impact on the team was Brad Richards who was taken 64th in 1998. Kubina was a big, physical presence in Tampa Bay who made life miserable for opposing forwards and possessed a cannon of a shot. In 2004 he led all defensemen with 17 goals in the regular season and won the Stanley Cup. After signing with Toronto and a trade to Atlanta, he made it back to Tampa in time for their run to the 2011 conference final. Kubina has appeared in more games than any other defenseman in team history, 172 more than Cory Sarich. Of Tampa’s five other picks that year, three didn’t make the NHL and the other two combined for just 21 games.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Tomas Kaberle — 204th overall, 1996

TOR: 878 GP, 83-437-520, plus-25, 246 PIM

career: 984 GP, 87-476-563, plus-17, 260 PIM

Only Borje Salming has more assists and points among Maple Leafs blueliners and only Danny Briere has more points among the 1996 draft class. Kaberle may not have been a remotely physical player and he’s been passed around a few times in recent years, but he was Toronto’s best puck-moving defenseman for a decade and helped them reach the conference final twice. Of all the defensemen taken in the 1996 draft, only Chris Phillips (first), Zdeno Chara (56th) and Derek Morris (13th) have played more games than Kaberle. The lockout helped his numbers, but even during the dead puck era he was averaging 41 points every 82 games.

Vancouver Canucks: Pavel Bure — 113th overall, 1989
Pavel Bure (Hakan Dahlstrom, Flickr)

Pavel Bure (Hakan Dahlstrom, Flickr)

VAN: 428 GP, 254-224-478, plus-17, 328 PIM

career: 702 GP, 437-342-779, plus-42, 484 PIM

Bure’s .623 goals-per-game average is fifth all-time and he recorded 50 goals in every season in which he appeared in at least 70 games. His speed was legendary and on full display during the 1994 playoffs when he recorded 16 goals and 31 points, both team records, including the double-overtime winner in Game 7 against Calgary in the first round. Bure’s 1992-93 season is arguably the greatest in team history as he recorded the most goals, second most points and third best plus-minus rating in a single season. He was a player that could sell a ticket all by himself and although he didn’t leave Vancouver on good terms, interest in this dynamic Russian kid spread like mad when he first arrived in Western Canada. He threatened 60 goals in his only two full seasons in Florida at a time when other players struggled to score 40.

Washington Capitals: Peter Bondra — 156th overall, 1990

WSH: 961 GP, 472-353-825, plus-74, 679 PIM

career: 1,081 GP, 503-389-892, plus-74, 761 PIM

The speedy Ukrainian sniper finished in the top 10 in goals six times, leading the league twice and finishing with the third-most goals of the 1990 draft class. Washington also had a great pick with Ken Klee 177th overall, unfortunately only one of their first eight picks made it to the NHL. Of all players drafted by Washington, only Mike Gartner has more career goals and he was selected fourth in that great 1979 class. Bondra played in five All-Star Games including four straight from 1996 to 1999 when he averaged 52 goals every 82 games.

Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers: Tobias Enstrom — 239th overall, 2003

WPG/ATL: 402 GP, 36-183-219, minus-8, 224 PIM

career: 402 GP, 36-183-219, minus-8, 224 PIM

In ten years, the 2003 draft will be considered one of the top five in history. The first round hailed many star players and only two players failed to have more than a cup of coffee in the NHL.  There were top-end players taken throughout the draft as Enstrom wasn’t picked until the eighth round. He came over from Modo Hockey in the Swedish Elite League five years later and has used his slick skating and passing skills to handle bigger forwards for over 23 minutes a game. He is the Jets’ leader in points among defensemen and is third overall in assists


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