No matter what sport you look at, the draft is the most important way to build sustained success for your team. A couple of bad drafts can deplete your favorite team of prospects and cripple the franchise for years. A good draft can set you up for buying multiple championship sweatshirts.
Here is a quick look over 15 of the last 16 NHL draft classes. The 2012 draft class was left out because they have not played any games and it is hard to look at how well a team has drafted if the prospects are locked out.
In 1997 Joe Thornton was the top overall pick followed by Patrick Marleau, Olli Jokinen and Roberto Luongo. That is not a bad way to kick off a draft at all. Other notables in the first round were Marian Hossa and Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow.
As in most drafts, the middle rounds produced a lot of solid and capable players such as Joe Corvo and Jason Chimera. The bottom three rounds only had nine players play in more than 300 career games. The biggest name in that group is probably Andrew Ference, who was selected with pick No. 208 by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Matt Cooke gets the honor of being the steal of the draft. Brian Campbell was selected 12 picks after Cooke and has more career points than Cooke. Despite a higher career offensive output, the Canucks got more out of Cooke in games played (566) and points (203) than Buffalo got from Campbell. Campbell was able to tally 176 points in 391 games with Buffalo.
Overall this was a solid draft, but outside of the first round, it was lacking in star power. The 1997 draft gets a B.
The 1998 draft was kicked off with the Tampa Bay Lightning selecting Vincent Lecavalier first overall.
That was just the start for the Lightning, who also grabbed Brad Richards in the third round as well. Those two picks would be the base for their Stanley Cup run. Martin St. Louis went undrafted this year and joined the top two Lightning draft picks in 2000.
Overall the draft was great with more than 50 percent of the players getting playing time. The second and third rounds also produced some good players. Mike Fisher and Mike Ribiero went back-to-back in the second round. The third round produced Brian Gionta as well as Brad Richards.
The final five rounds would produce nine players who played over 500 games in the NHL. The best of them all and steal of the draft is definitely Pavel Datsyuk at No. 171 in the sixth round. Datsyuk has put up 718 points in 732 games for the Detroit Red Wings.
Outside of averaging nearly a point a game, Datysuk also is a career plus-215. His impact on the Red Wings has to even put him in discussion for best pick in the draft.
In the end, this draft gets a very strong A. All around, it was a talent-rich pool in every position but the goaltenders. If it had produced even a journeyman starter, it would have gotten an A-plus.
On the heels of a great draft in 1998, this draft kind of fell short in comparison. Most of the noise was made at the top of the draft when the Vancouver Canucks managed to grab both Daniel and Henrik Sedin with Nos. 2 and 3. Martin Havlat and Nick Boynton were also taken in the first round this year.
The draft before, 51.2 percent of the players drafted made it on the ice. This year, only 40.8 percent of the picks made it on the ice for an NHL team. It should also be noted that Henrik Sedin was the lowest draft pick by Vancouver to wear a Canucks sweater this year, and he was their third pick.
While this draft didn’t produce a large quantity of firepower, it did produce some high-quality players. The two biggest names to make it would probably be Ryan Miller for the Buffalo Sabres in the fifth round and Henrik Zetterberg in the seventh.
Once again, the Red Wings found a gem in the bottom portion of the draft, but Miller for the Sabres has to be the draft’s biggest steal. Miller grabbed the Vezina Trophy after his 2009-10 campaign. He also added MVP of the 2010 Winter Olympics and a silver medal to his trophy case.
1999 gets a C-plus just due to the stars that were produced. The quantity wasn’t there, but if you can add an Olympian to your roster in the bottom half of the draft, then you can’t have a failing grade.
The first three picks went to Rick DiPietro, Dany Heatley and Marion Gaborik. Needless to say, the Islanders took a chance and missed with the top pick. Especially when compared to two players with over 600 points.
This draft class produced an even lower percentage of players to hit the ice. Only 40.3 percent of the players drafted saw any time in the NHL.
2000 produced more serviceable players than the 1999 class but significantly fewer stars. Players like Antoine Vermette and Jarret Stoll were the most notable coming out of the second round.
In the entire draft, one of the best picks had to be Lubomir Visnovsky in the fourth round. His 450 career points as a defenseman are higher 17 of the 21 forwards selected in the first round. Even though that stat makes a compelling case for Visnovsky being the draft’s biggest steal, the title cannot go to the blueliner.
This draft started with a New York team taking a goalie and will end with a different New York team stealing a goalie. The Rangers selected Henrik Lundqvist in the seventh round with pick No. 205.
Lundqvist is now a three-time All-Star and is a four-time nominee for the Vezina Trophy. Lindqvist managed to snag his first Vezina Trophy this year. He also managed to be in the running for the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award this year.
Despite producing one of the best goaltenders in the league, this draft didn’t produce much else. 2000 gets a borderline C. The talent pool wasn’t fantastic, but it was serviceable.
The top of the 2001 draft was fairly strong. Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Spezza came off the board with the top two picks. Stephen Weiss, Dan Hamhuis and R.J. Umberger also went in the first round of this class.
Four goalies were taken in the first round, but they combined for only 291 games played. Craig Anderson was picked up in the third round as the seventh goalie off the board, and he has played 294 career games. The draft can be a fickle mistress.
In the second round Buffalo drafted Derek Roy and Jason Pominville to build a young forward corps. Pominville is currently has the third most points of the entire draft class, and Roy is fifth on that list. Two points behind Roy is Mike Cammalleri. The second round produced some great talents.
Outside of Patrick Sharp and Thomas Plekanec in the third, the middle rounds were relatively quiet. Things did pick up in the sixth round where Dennis Seidenberg, Marek Zidlickey, Jussi Jokinen and Brooks Laich were drafted.
In the sixth round, five players have played over 400 games and Ryane Clowe is currently sitting at 395. Once Clowe plays five more games, 20 percent of the players selected in the sixth round will have seen significant playing time. That is a pretty great success rate for the bottom portion of the draft.
It is tough to find a true steal in this draft because most of the players drafted late didn’t spend much time on the clubs that drafted them. Jokinen spent three seasons in Dallas, Zidlickey never played for the Rangers, and Seidenberg kept bouncing between the AHL and NHL before his time in Philadelphia was up. That leaves Clowe as the best pick out of that great sixth round.
Overall the talent pool was pretty deep in 2001. If you redo this draft, I imagine players like Jeff Woywitka fall out of the first round while the likes of Jokinen, Pominville and Roy move up. This class gets a strong B.
This is by far one of the shallowest talent pools to be drafted from in recent memory. Only 35.7 percent of the players drafted played in the NHL. Two out of every three players being unable to find the ice makes for a pretty boring draft.
The top two rounds overall was a pretty solid group. Columbus drafted their future captain in Rick Nash with the top pick. After Nash was off the board, the Atlanta Thrashers took Kari Lehtonen. Jay Bouwmeester followed them to round out the top three. Other notable players in the first were Alexander Semin with No. 13 and Cam Ward at No. 25.
In the second round Jarret Stoll was the first player to hit at No. 36. Trevor Daly and Duncan Keith were the best defensemen to come out of the second round in 2002.
Valtteri Fippula was a late pick in the third round for the Red Wings, which is proving to be a very solid pick. The trade rumors that circle around him annually alone are worth the pick here.
Dennis Wideman was probably the best player taken after round five, but he can’t get the steal of the draft honors here. He never did play for the Sabres, and it is hard to claim someone is a steal for your team never puts him on the ice. With that being said, there really wasn’t a steal in this draft.
This draft was almost a total bust. Only a handful of players outside of the first round made it to the NHL. That means 2002 gets a D-minus. What separates this class from an F is the fact that the first-rounders turned out to be great players for the most part.
The year before was a dud, but this draft did not disappoint. Marc-Andre Fleury went with the top pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was followed by Eric Staal and Nathan Horton with the second and third picks overall.
A lot more big names followed that trio in the first round as well. Ryan Suter and Dion Phaneuf both went inside the top ten. Future teammates Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown went at Nos. 11 and 13. Ryan Suter’s new pal, Zach Parise, was taken with the 17th pick too. The Anaheim Ducks drafted Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in the first round too.
There was much of a falloff in the second round in terms of talent either. The Nashville Predators drafted Shea Weber to form a formidable defensive pairing with Ryan Suter. Patrice Bergeron was also picked up here by the Boston Bruins at No. 45.
From the third round on, there weren’t many stars taken. A lot of guys were the type of player that be put onto a third line, fourth line or bottom a defensive pairing and would consistently contribute to a team.
The biggest steal of the draft would have to be Joe Pavelski. The Sharks grabbed Pavelski with the 205th pick in the seventh round. Pavelski made the jump from the AHL in the 2006-07 season and didn’t look back. San Jose has got a ton of production from Pavelski, including a 30-goal season in 2011-12.
2003 was the opposite of 2002 in terms of players produced. This draft created All-Stars, team captains, monster defensive pairings and franchise building blocks. This draft gets an A-plus because it had everything but Mel Kiper and Todd McShay bickering about something in front of Chris Berman.
Alexander Ovechkin goes No. 1 and Evgeni Malkin goes No. 1. That pretty much sums up the entire draft. This draft didn’t have the quantity of the year before but it nailed it on quality. Two of the NHL’s best players come right off the top, so the rest of the players produced are just icing on the cake.
The second round saw Dave Bolland get picked up by the Chicago Blackhawks. David Booth, Alex Goligoski and David Krejci also came out of this round. The third round had Alexander Edler and Johan Franzen get picked up as well.
From the fourth round on, there were guys just sprinkled in each round that would become at worst solid players. Kris Versteeg and Mikhail Grabovski from the fifth round both have 201 points in about 320 games.
There wasn’t a ton of talent at the very bottom of the draft. Mark Streit is probably the most notable player from the draft basement. He was picked in the ninth round by Montreal. He has been a good player. but he had been playing in Sweden for almost a decade when he was drafted. That is a lot of extra mileage on him.
Luckily it was a low-risk, high-reward pick in the ninth round. The Canadiens got an established defenseman who has been playing at a high level in Europe. Can’t go wrong taking that chance with what is normally a throwaway pick in that situation.
The fact that two of the best players in the game came in this draft brings the grade up. Ovechkin and Malkin bring what would be a C-plus class to a B.
As if getting Malkin with the second pick the year before wasn’t a great deal for the Penguins, they took Sidney Crosby with the top pick this year. The Ducks were able to snag Bobby Ryan next in line, and Carolina took Jack Johnson. Carolina then traded Johnson to the Los Angeles Kings before he left Michigan.
Carey Price went fifth overall to Montreal this year. Anze Kopitar and Marc Staal went back-to-back at Nos. 11 and 12. The Toronto Maple Leafs picked up Tuukka Rask as the second goalie taken, but like Johnson, he was traded before ever suiting up.
The second round was headlined by Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Ondrej Pavelec, James Neal and Paul Stastny. Vlasic and Stastny have both done well in the NHL. Neal is coming off of a career season in Pittsburgh, and Pavelec is showing he can be a serviceable goaltender in Winnipeg.
In the third round, the Kings made one of their best draft picks in franchise history, selecting Jonathan Quick with the 72nd pick. Now his name is engraved on the Stanley Cup, and he looks like one of the best goalies in the league.
From the fourth round and down, there haven’t been many contributors to emerge. Keith Yandle and Darren Helm would be two of the biggest names outside of the top 100 picks.
The steal of the draft this year will go to Patric Hornqvist. He was selected with the 230th pick overall. That was the very last pick in the draft, which would make him the NHL’s Mr. Irrelevant. That stat alone makes him the steal because it is always good to see Mr. Irrelevant succeed.
2005’s draft class will get an A. Crosby has just recently gotten over nagging injuries and concussion-like symptoms to get back to playing like an elite player. In his absence teammate and fellow draft class member James Neal has stepped his game up. All of the solid players and a Vezina contender in Quick give this class a great grade.
The St. Louis Blues started on the clock and took Erik Johnson from the U.S. National Under-18 Team. Johnson is only 24 now and still has plenty of time to blossom into a great player. The problem for St. Louis is that they took Johnson over a few guys that have already developed.
Pittsburgh went back to the center position with a top-two pick for the third year in a row. This time they took Jordan Staal. After that Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phill Kessel got selected to fill out the top five. Not a bad way to kick off a draft. The other big name in the draft is Claude Giroux at pick 22.
The second round had some solid players emerge. Milan Lucic and Artem Anisimov got picked up and both have gone to the Eastern Conference Finals. The third round saw Brad Marchand and Cal Clutterbuck go back to back as well.
After the third round, there haven’t been any players that have made any sort of impact on an NHL roster. This draft class has had a poor showing since only 38 percent of players taken have made it to the NHL. There is still time for that to change, though, since many of these players are still young and in a minor league system trying to catch a break.
The top of the draft earns this class a B. The star power is growing, and the grade is subject to change. As of right now, though, it will keep a respectable B on the report card.
At the top of the draft, the Chicago grabbed Patrick Kane to go with Jonathan Toews. Kane is averaging almost a point a game. He has been known to have problems off of the ice, but on the ice he is a great player for the Blackhawks.
Other notables in the first round are James Van Riemsdyk, who went right after Kane, and Logan Couture. The best players that have emerged from the second round so far are P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds was the last pick of the second round.
After the second round, a majority of the players have fewer than 100 career games in the NHL. It is hard to tell, but there is one star that has jumped to the front. That star is Dallas Star Jamie Benn. The Dallas Stars' picks from 2007 have played a combined 223 games. Benn is responsible for 222 of those games.
To date, this draft class only gets a C. Very few star players and very few quality players have come up yet. The key word there is yet. Like 2006, the grade is subject to change with time.
Steven Stamkos was the top pick for the Lightning this year. Stamkos is one of the league's young stars and one of the best goalscorers in the game today. He averages over one point per game and consistently makes fantastic plays.
After Stamkos, the Kings picked up Drew Doughty. That pick paid off exponentially because of his performance in their championship run. Doughty had 16 points in 20 games and has 27 points in 32 games for his postseason career.
The first round also produced Erik Karlsson, Michael Del Zotto, Jordan Eberle and Tyler Ennis. The first round was littered with players who were able to make an immediate impact at the NHL level.
Like the previous two drafts, it has been hard for many players who were drafted late to get their break. One player got his last year and looks to have a promising career in front of him. That player would be Braden Holtby.
Holtby was taken in Round 4 with the 93rd overall pick. He started the season in the AHL, and after the two starting goalies went down for the Washington Capitals, he took the opportunity to secure himself a roster spot at the top level. His impact at the end of the season is a limited body of work but enough to secure the steal of the draft honors.
The sample size for this class is small, but with the players already produced, there is enough to warrant a B-plus. A player of Stamkos’ ability does boost the grade, and when you add that to Doughty’s postseason success, it has the makings for a great group.
John Tavares was taken at No. 1 by the New York Islanders. Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane and Brayden Schenn were the next to come off the board. This has proven to be a solid top five. Schenn has only 63 games to his credit, but his first year with the Philadelphia Flyers looked to be a promising one.
Most players from this draft have less than a full season under their belts, but there are signs that some players are about to break out.
Craig Smith, the fourth-round pick for the Nashville Predators, is one that looks promising. In his first year with the Predators, he managed to post a 36-point season. Right now Smith is on the third line in the depth chart, but if he builds off of his early success, he will move up the ranks quickly.
As it stands right now, the grade is a C. The potential of the players gives this a chance to be another great draft. If they can fulfill their potential, it's a whole different story.
The Edmonton Oilers took Taylor Hall out of the gate, and he has not disappointed. The 21-year-old has posted back-to-back 20-goal seasons. The other two headliners from the first round are Tyler Seguin and Jeff Skinner. Seguin already has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, and Skinner has a Calder Trophy.
The jury is still out on this class because only 7.6 percent of the class has made it to the NHL and the average is somewhere in the 40-percent area. Many players had their rights drafted while they finished up playing in college or developmental leagues. In the next year or two, many of the players will start flooding into NHL rosters.
Until they start filling in the rosters on the NHL level, there isn’t enough to grade. Hall, Seguin and Skinner have started things off right for this group, but for now the grade is an incomplete.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a great showing as the top pick in his rookie season. He managed to post 52 points in 62 games. Gabriel Landeskog, the second overall pick, also had a solid season of 52 points in 82 games for the Colorado Avalanche.
Much like the 2010 class, there isn’t a ton to report on this group yet. Many are just now starting to log big minutes in the AHL. This class also will receive the incomplete grade just because 4.3 percent of the players have made it to the NHL level.