Every kid that grows up playing hockey dreams of the day he’ll step up to the podium at the NHL entry draft the year he becomes eligible.
It’s an annual event that shines a light on top prospects that might make history in seasons to come. But for every draft pick, there are just as many talented players that enter the league under the radar as free agents—some of which wind up producing better stats than those who were drafted.
Getting drafted is not the only option.
Here are ten examples of Canadian NHL players that were not drafted into the league.
He’s small in stature for an NHL player. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award three times. In 2000, he was signed by the Calgary Flames as a free agent, but they released him after one less-than-stellar season.
St. Louis didn’t let any of that stop him.
Four years later, he led the league with 94 points and scored an additional 24 in 23 playoff games to help Tampa take home the Stanley Cup in 2004. In case you weren’t already impressed, he won four major trophies that same year (the Hart, Art Ross, Lester B. Pearson and the NHL Plus/Minus award) and was named the NHL’s top gentleman (Lady Byng Trophy).
If that’s not a story of perseverance and payoff, we’re not sure what is.
Dan Boyle (of Ottawa, ON), defenseman and alternate captain for the San Jose Sharks, is as consistent as they come.
During his five years playing for the Florida Panthers, the Tampa Bay Lightning and now the San Jose Sharks, Boyle has notched 50 or more points each season. He hit his career high in the 2006-2007 season when he earned 63 points. Boyle also helped Team Canada secure Olympic hockey gold in 2010.
Dan Girardi (of Welland, ON), defenseman for the New York Rangers, was a member of the OHL’s 2005 Memorial Cup championship team, the London Knights.
Today, he still plays for the New York Rangers—the NHL team that first signed him. He earned over 20 points in his first three years and now leads all Rangers defensemen in scoring. Girardi also holds a plus-seven rating and is fourth overall on the team.
This season, he was named an interim alternate captain—while Marc Staal was recovering from a concussion—and led all NHL skaters in average ice time at nearly 28 minutes per game. He recently scored his first playoff goal during Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators.
Alexandre Burrows (of Pincourt, QC), left-winger for the Vancouver Canucks, was named the 2005 International Ball Hockey Player of the Year and even made it into their Hall of Fame.That bit of trivia has nothing to do with the NHL but is quite interesting.
Burrows joined the Vancouver Canucks in 2005. The energetic winger has a reputation for riling up opponents with gritty play but has also earned himself a reputation for goal scoring and penalty killing—not to mention that he is often the man skating alongside the Sedins.
Mark Giordano (of Toronto, ON), defenseman for the Calgary Flames, may have been born in Toronto, but he’s a Calgary boy through and through.
Despite leading the OHL in scoring for defensemen for two consecutive seasons, he was overlooked in the draft. But in 2004 he caught a break with Calgary and played for their AHL affiliates in Massachusetts and Nebraska. He then earned a permanent spot on the Flames’ roster during the 2008-2009 season.
Giordano tends to keep a low profile but has built a reputation as one of the most underrated players in the league. Match that with the fact that Calgary just extended his contract by five years, and it’s evident that Giordano is a quiet but key asset to his team.
Chris Kunitz (of Regina, SK), left-winger for the Pittsburgh Penguins, has won Stanley Cups with two of the three teams he’s played on.
He first won the cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and did it again with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, playing alongside a dominant Sidney Crosby.
With the Ducks in 2005-2006, he broke a team record for points scored by a rookie in a single season. He topped that number by setting career highs of 25 goals and 60 points in 2006-2007. In 2011-12, Chris had his best year yet—tallying 26 goals and 61 points.
Rene Bourque (of Lac La Biche, AB), left-winger for the Montreal Canadiens, didn’t take playing professional hockey seriously until his college years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The Chicago Blackhawks first signed him in 2006, and he earned 75 points over the course of his first three seasons. He was traded to the Calgary Flames during the 2008-2009 season and set a career high in 2010. Bourque now plays for the Montreal Canadiens.
Andy McDonald, (of Strathroy, ON), center and winger for the St. Louis Blues, was never drafted to the NHL, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t garner attention from the start.
During his years at Colgate University, he earned ECAC All-Star Team honours and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
He began his NHL career with the Anaheim Ducks and was instrumental in helping them win the Stanley Cup in 2007. McDonald had five goals in the finals and 14 points overall in the playoffs. He improved again in the 2005-2006 season with 85 points, 34 goals and a plus-24 rating.
In 2007, he replaced an injured Henrik Zetterberg in the NHL All-Star Game and won the fastest skater competition. McDonald was traded to St. Louis that same year, where he has been a key player and offensive contributor ever since.
Jason Garrison (of White Rock, BC), defenseman for the Florida Panthers, played for three years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Despite a strong last year of college (14 points in 26 games) Garrison was overlooked in his potential NHL draft year. In 2008, he signed with the Florida Panthers.
After a transition period to the NHL game, he found his stride in 2011-12. Garrison is now known for a big shot from the point—a shot that’s only improving. His shooting percentage was 9.5 percent this season—second-best in the league. Garrison’s 16 goals this year put him third in scoring amongst defensemen, and he’s played a key role in the Panthers’ run to the playoffs this year.
Not bad for a guy who never stood out until he was in the league.
Tyler Bozak (of Regina, SK), center for the Toronto Maple Leafs, signed with the Leafs in 2009—just two years after playing at the University of Denver.
He made a great first impression during training camp but was sent down to the Leafs’ farm team, the Toronto Marlies, for salary cap reasons. Despite that setback, he was eventually called up for 73 games—in which he scored 18 goals, made 29 assists and is only improving his odds of earning more ice time in the near future.