NHL teams are always finding mid-to-late round talents; All-Star players who were looked over by many teams through many rounds. Often times, these players go on to have far better careers than many first and second-round picks in their draft year. Here's a small sampling of fantastic late-round picks:
- Datsyuk (171)
- Zetterberg (210)
- Lundqvist (205)
- Brian Campbell (156)
- Kaberle (204)
- Vokoun (226)
- Tim Thomas (217)
- Daniel Alfredsson (133)
- Demitra (227)
- Timonen (250)
- Anson Carter (220)
- Khabilbulin (204)
- Byfuglien (245)
- Enstrom (239)
- Mark Streit (262)
The pattern, if there is one, is that for the most part they are European defensemen and goaltenders, or undersized skilled forwards, or players who had all the parts (size, speed, skill, etc.) who just needed to fill out, compete better and learn to be consistent.
Also to be noted is the prototypical "late bloomer." Sometimes the 17-year-old going into his draft year gets sick, injured or gets stuck on a bad team and just doesn't improve enough to make it onto the scouts' radar in any significant capacity. As we all know, these regression seasons can happen to NHL players (Stastny this year, for example) but unfortunately for a 17-year-old going into their draft year, it's just a terrible time to get into a funk.
Here are 10 players in this year's draft, in no particular order, who I think could be great players and can be had for a mid-to-late round pick.
The Leafs would be wise to have a good look at these players from the fourth round on.
Projections are from a fantastic NHL drafting website: Draftsite.com.
Projected to go 131st.
Marchenko plays for Moscow CSKA.
At 6'2", 190 he has good size. He's an excellent passer, a good skater, has great mobility, soft hands, sees the ice well, good team guy. All the tools are there.
Two things put him off the radar: He's Russian, and more importantly, a blood disorder slowed him down this season and because he missed the U18s, he was under-scouted. I'm unsure what the disorder was, but he is no longer affected by it.
Like all big 17-year-old defensemen, if he beefs up and develops his physical game more, he could be great and the team drafting him could have themselves a fantastic player.
Projected to go 176th.
This overager was unselected in his 2010 draft year and plays for Sibir Novosibirsk for the KHL and is under contract until 2012. He's already playing with men.
At 6'1", 176lbs, he has the right frame if a bit light. More importantly though, he's already quite strong.
A late invite to 2010 draft combine, he tested very high coming in third in the 4 Jump (Mat) Mode, sixth in the ground time and power test and second in body weight push strength with 1.76.
He projects as a solid two-way player with excellent skating and passing skills and tough on the boards. He needs to work on his positioning and his shot from the point.
He speaks English well, translating for the other Russians and has expressed a strong desire to play in the NHL.
A dark-horse project for sure, but his ceiling is mid-to-high if the team drafting him can develop him patiently.
Projected to go 95th overall.
Magnus Hellberg plays for Almtuna IS in Sweden.
At 6'4", 187, he's a big goalie with good flexibility, quick feet, sound positioning and a calm demeanor. Could be a great long-term goalie prospect for the team that picks him with high rewards.
Projected to go 130.
Makarov plays for the Lewiston Maineiacs.
Decent size at 6'1". Fast, super confident, highly athletic goalie who relies much more on his superior speed over any kind of positional goaltending technique.
A team drafting him late and supplying him with a good goalie coach could be rewarded with a very high-level prospect.
Projected to go 155th.
Zachary Yuen plays for the Tri-City Americans.
At 5'11" he could be a bit taller for a defenseman but at 200 lbs is a great size and a low center of gravity.
Two-way player who can take care of his own end well, but does have good up-ice vision and instinct and definitely has an offensive upside to his game despite not getting many points. Had a slow start, but emerged as a great player logging a ton of minutes. And boy, can the kid throw down the fist-a-cuffs!
With the right development program and patience, the team drafting Yuen could have themselves an above-average, solid prospect.
Plays for Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk.
Decent-sized at 6'1", 183, Nesterov plays with a nasty edge. Plays a solid two-way game, with a good shot from the point. His skating is average, however it doesn't seem to affect his ability to contain the faster forwards due to his good positioning and on-ice reads.
Nestorov is un-ranked by scouting services, but was drafted by the Tri-City Americans. Opted to stay with his Russian team as Tri-City already had their two import slots filled.
Because of his solid upside and un-ranked scouting report, he could be a dark-horse prospect with decent potential as a solid two-way prospect.
Projected to go 167th.
Plays for Moscow CSKA.
Undersized at 5'10", 163 lbs, Nikita Kucherov is all skill, speed and desire. He has been steadily impressing scouts all year, culminating in an absolutely outstanding performance at the U18s this year which saw him dominate with 21 points in just seven games.
Certainly this U18 performance will see his stock rise. This prospect could give a team an All-Star talented player who is learning to play the full game at a very high tempo.
Could be the steal of the 2011 draft to the team who selects him. May not make it to the projected sixth round. May not make it past the third round.
He is my favorite dark-horse prospect and I hope my team is smart enough to draft him.
Projected to go 208th.
Played for Norway at the 2011 U18.
Slight and light at 5'11", 165lbs, Steffen is super fast, agile, with quick feet, fantastic reflexes and a lightning glove hand.
Was a highlight reel for saves this past U18. Sporting an average of .931 and considering the number of shots he faced, his speed, poise and calm demeanor were not missed by scouts.
Teams could have him already as their No. 1-ranked goaltending prospect and it wouldn't be surprising as his draft stock is rising.
Projected to go at 198th.
Plays for the Westside Warriors in the BCHL.
At 6'4", 200 lbs, he has great NHL size, and a decent offensive skill set to go along with his steady, calm presence on the back end. He skates well, has a good stick, makes good decisions—he would be an absolutely safe late-round pick for a team to nicely stock their defensive cupboards.
Every team needs these type of "stable" defensemen and Michael King so far has shown he fits that mold perfectly.
Projected to go 209th.
Plays for University of Dubuque.
At 5'11", 180lbs, Joakim isn't the ideal size for an NHL defenseman but is a very skilled two-way defender who can run the power play and play solid in his own end.
He is head and shoulders above his peers in university play with his hockey vision, smarts, speed, play and poise.
He has dual US/Swedish citizenship and played for Sweden in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge at Christmas, which, considering the defensemen in the Swedish league, is quite something.
It doesn't hurt that his mother is former tennis star Catarina Lundqvist so elite sports-level playing is in his blood.
Projected to go at 177th.
Plays for the University of Notre Dame.
At 5'9", 172 lbs, scouts are leery of his small statue and was eligible for the 2010 draft. T.J. is a very talented player who makes up for his size with a boatload of skill.
Tynan has speed, skill, offensive awareness and tenacious forechecking and it's an absolute wonder why all 30 teams passed on him in 2010.
The team that misses on Rocco Grimaldi this year could have version RG 2.0 with T.J. costing them a mere fifth to seventh-round pick. Same skill set, same size, just not the same brand-name awareness as Rocco.
Projected to go at 140th.
Plays for the Cedar Rapids Roughriders.
At 5'8", 163 lbs, he will be passed over by many teams for many rounds. That would be a mistake.
He's a fast, energized skater with creative flare, excellent puck control, fantastic hockey vision, a soft touch, a good shot, great transitional passing skills and a fearless heart that will go anywhere to get the puck.
Again, teams will waste their fifth-round pick on larger players with not even a quarter of Cason's skill set. They will be wasting their pick.
Projected to go at 199th.
Plays for the Green Bay Gamblers and the USN-U18 Program.
At 5'8", 155 lbs he obviously needs to gain some weight and strength. However, he already plays with older, bigger players and he still dominates.
This mighty-mite has fast hands, a scorer's touch, excellent stick skills, plays the puck and body in traffic, has that third separation gear and innate hockey smarts you can't teach. Sure he's small at 155, but so was St. Louis at his age.
Feed him more pasta and let him mature.