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Ranking the NHL's 10 Best Undrafted Players

Allan MitchellFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2017

Ranking the NHL's 10 Best Undrafted Players

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    Scott Audette/Getty Images

    NHL teams spend millions of dollars every season scouting the best available talent for the entry draft, yet every year, there are quality players who slip through without hearing their names called on draft day. 

    The best of these undrafted players have reached elite levels of the game; there's a former MVP, several players who have appeared in All-Star games and many are performing at high levels for their teams. 

    Here are the 10 best undrafted free agents in the NHL this season. 

10. Rich Peverley, C, Dallas Stars

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Where He Came From

    Peverley went to school at St. Lawrence University in New York State. Among the hockey graduates of that fine university are former NHL player Gary Croteau and coaches Mike Keenan and Jacques Martin, along with famous general managers Ray Shero and Bill Torrey. Peverley was the first St. Lawrence alumni to win the Stanley Cup (2011 with the Boston Bruins). 

     

    What He's Done

    Peverley enjoyed a productive college career with St. Lawrence and was invited to the Nashville Predators' training camp in the fall of 2006. Peverley's big break came on a waiver claim as the Atlanta Thrashers inserted him directly into the lineup after claiming him on Jan. 10, 2009. He's been a regular ever since, carving out a career as a playmaking forward who can play center or wing. 

     

    Career Outlook

    Peverley was traded during the offseason to Dallas and once again has established himself as a useful part of a good hockey club. Peverley is among the team leaders offensively and, at 31 years old, should be able to maintain his position as an NHL regular for several years to come. 

9. Brenden Dillon, D, Dallas Stars

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    Where He Came From

    Dillon played his junior hockey with Seattle (WHL), and despite playing well, he was not selected in the NHL draft. His skill may have been obscured from the talent scouts because the Thunderbirds didn't win a lot of games.  

     

    What He's Done

    He has improved in every season of pro hockey and made quick work of climbing the Dallas depth chart because of size (6'3", 225 lbs) and good speed. He's come from being an undrafted free-agent signing to a consistent top-four defenseman in a very short time frame. Dillon has accomplished a great deal already, and this is just his second NHL season.

     

    Career Outlook

    Dillon is establishing himself as an NHL defenseman with size and skill and is playing more than 20 minutes a night, ranking second overall on the Stars in 2013-14. He's a quality young talent. But he has played only 75 NHL games, so we're still finding out about him.

8. David Clarkson, LW, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Graig Abel/Getty Images

    Where He Came From

    Clarkson came up through the OHL with the Belleville Bulls and Kitchener Rangers, earning a reputation as a very tough forward with some skill.

     

    What He's Done

    Signed as a free agent by New Jersey, he made the NHL after only 123 games in the minor leagues. Clarkson's progress from fringe enforcer to power forward took place over several years, and he didn't reach top-six forward status until 2011-12.

     

    Career Outlook

    Clarkson signed a massive contract with Toronto in the summer of 2013. Although he is unlikely to deliver seasons like the one that earned him the big deal, he should remain an effective power forward for most of the contract.

7. Curtis Glencross, LW, Calgary Flames

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    Derek Leung/Getty Images

    Where He Came From

    Glencross arrived in the NHL all the way from his hometown of Kindersley, Saskatchewan, via the NCAA's Alaska-Anchorage, where he played for two seasons.

     

    What's He Done

    He has an attractive set of skills, including size, speed and good goal-scoring ability. Glencross has carved out a career as a two-way winger who can deliver physical punishment while scoring enough to play above his skill level when the need arises from time to time.

     

    Career Outlook

    He is just into his 30s, and aside from injuries, there are no signs of skill erosion. Glencross is attractive to teams because of the sheer number of roles he can play on a roster, and the Flames are likely to retain his services well into the future.

6. Dan Girardi, D, New York Rangers

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    Where He Came From

    Girardi is a graduate of the OHL, having played in Barrie, Guelph and London. He quickly moved from the AHL to the NHL after turning pro, spending seven games in the ECHL and 111 games in the AHL before moving up to the NHL. 

     

    What He's Done

    He is a defenseman who can be used in all situations. Girardi is durable, despite playing a physical style, and plays a lot of tough minutes for the Rangers. He is also described as being a team leader and mentor to the younger players.

     

    Career Outlook

    A good NHL shutdown defenseman can write his ticket anywhere, and Girardi is a free agent next summer. As the cap rises, the free-agent crop in 2014 should receive significant pay raises, and Girardi would appear to be in a very good position to cash in.

5. Antti Niemi, G, San Jose Sharks

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    Where He Came From

    He arrived from Finland as a 25-year-old free agent, and he was an NHL regular within 24 months. Two years after signing with Chicago, the Sharks grabbed him as a free agent when the Blackhawks hit a cap crunch.

     

    What He's Done

    Niemi is a consistent NHL goalie and has posted save percentages between .915 and .920 in each of the last four seasons. He owns a 136-63 win-loss record for Chicago and San Jose combined, which is outstanding.

     

    Career Outlook

    He's an established NHL goaltender in his prime playing for a winner. San Jose is the last of the California teams to be without a Stanley Cup, and that could change in the next few months. Niemi will be a big part of any success the Sharks enjoy during the playoffs in 2014.

4. Chris Kunitz, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Where He Came From

    The Regina, Saskatchewan, native played four years at Ferris State (another alum: Al Jardine of the Beach Boys) and signed with Anaheim after college. He was claimed on waivers twice (by Anaheim and then Atlanta) and found his range in Pittsburgh.

     

    What He's Done

    Kunitz is a player who lacks one outstanding skill but has a range of abilities that makes him a plug-and-play on several lines. He's on the Sidney Crosby line at this point in his career and is posting impressive offense with the Penguins.

     

    Career Outlook

    Kunitz is in one of the best spots available in the entire NHL and is likely to stay there as long as the Crosby line is clicking for Pittsburgh. That chemistry with Crosby is so good that Kunitz is in the conversation to represent Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

3. Dustin Penner, LW, Anaheim Ducks

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    Where He Came From

    Penner's journey to the NHL began at tiny Minot State University at Bottineau and, then, continued at the University of Maine before he finally signed a pro contract with the Anaheim Ducks. 

     

    What He's Done

    Penner is viewed as perhaps the most enigmatic player of his generation. His size and soft hands make him eligible for any team's skill lines, and lack of consistency means he's a candidate to be cut loose almost every summer. Penner's strengths are real and abundant, so he has no lack of job opportunities when he is released by teams. 

     

    Career Outlook

    He'll probably have several stops during his NHL career as teams acquire him for what he does and, then, let him loose for what he can't do for them. He remains a highly effective offensive winger with size, and his reputation is well below his actual value to NHL teams. 

2. Dan Boyle, D, San Jose Sharks

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    Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

    Where He Came From

    Dan Boyle came from Ottawa but made his initial impact in hockey at Miami (NCAA) spending all four seasons providing fine offensive numbers from his position on defense. 

      

    What He's Done

    Since the fall of 2000, Dan Boyle has been a top flight defenseman who plays major minutes. Boyle was an impact player by the time he helped Tampa Bay win the Stanley Cup in 2004 and has sustained a high level of performance in his six San Jose seasons. 

     

    Career Outlook

    Boyle is 37-years-old now and should be slowing down but still plays over 20 minutes a night on a Stanley Cup contender. He just passed 400 career assists and is now entering the point where his career numbers lead active players

1. Martin St. Louis, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Where He Came From

    Martin St. Louis of Laval, Quebec, got noticed by scouts playing for Vermont (NCAA) but passed through the draft because he lacked size. The Calgary Flames signed him, but they let him go too early. 

     

    What's He Done

    He has become the all-time reference point for those who say small players can't impact the game. A powerful stride and offensive acumen have proven to be a deadly combination over many years in Tampa Bay. He won the 2004 Hart Trophy with the Lightning.

     

    Career Outlook

    The all-time best players enjoy a long period in their prime and, then, very slowly fade into the downside of their careers. However, even at 38, St. Louis is proving to be an exception to the rule as he still plays over 21 minutes a night and delivers fabulous offense. He is one for the ages, passed over on draft day and punishing teams as payment. 

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