The NHL Entry Draft is arguably the most difficult to get right in all of sports. The number of talented players and their distribution throughout a number of junior leagues across the globe, makes NHL scouting a true form of art.
And unlike the NFL draft, most of the players selected are not household names.
For every Mario Lemieux, there's a Gord Kluzak, and this reality is a scary one for most teams and fans. Making a bad investment in the draft can really set a club back, and the ability to find late-round contributors is essential.
If you ask anyone in the business, they'll tell you that there's nobody better at projecting talent than the Detroit Red Wings. Over the past two decades, the Wings have made a habit out of turning overlooked players into NHL All-Stars.
With the 2011 NHL Draft upcoming, let's take a look back at some of the greatest draft picks in the history of the franchise.
No. 10: Darren McCarty, 1992 Second Round, 49th overall
There will never be another Darren McCarty.
He truly was the type of player you wanted to have on your team, but hated playing against. During his time in Detroit, McCarty was a founding member of the "Grind Line" and one of the most popular players on the ice.
Although not known as a scorer, McCarty did rack up 140 goals as a Wing: none more famous than the one shown above.
In his career with Detroit, Darren hoisted the Stanley Cup four times while earning himself an astounding 1,302 penalty minutes. For perspective, that's the equivalent of spending almost 22 complete games in the penalty box.
Often imitated, but never duplicated, McCarty's rugged style and unmatched loyalty have cemented him as one of Detroit's smartest draft picks in recent memory.
Most memorable moment:
Toasting Claude Lemieux with a stiff right hand to spark the brawl.
(I have a personalized autographed photo of the exact moment that Darren signed: "To Jason, Sweet Revenge!!!")
No. 9: Johan Franzen, 2004 Third Round, 97th overall
Choosing a favorite Red Wing, past or present, is a daunting task. When asked, I liken it to picking a favorite child, song or movie. But if I had to narrow my list to five, Johan Franzen would be on it.
Franzen has only played six seasons with Detroit, but in that time he has established himself as one of the best forwards in the game.
While his regular season numbers are impressive, his playoff numbers are ridiculous. Nicknamed "The Mule" for his hard work and ability to carry the team, Franzen is the definition of clutch.
In just over 80 playoff games, Johan has racked up 37 goals and 35 assists, putting him at a pace of nearly one point per game.
In his short time with the Wings, Franzen has laid claim to the following records:
- NHL record for most goals in a four-game playoff series (nine).
- Detroit Red Wings record for most game winning goals in one month (six), March 2008.
- Detroit Red Wings record for most goals in a single playoff series (nine).
- Detroit Red Wings record for consecutive playoff games with a point (12, tied with Howe)
- Detroit Red Wings record for consecutive playoff games with a goal (five, tied with Howe and Lindsay).
- Detroit Red Wings record for most goals in a single playoff year (13, tied with Zetterberg).
- Detroit Red Wings record for most game winning goals in one playoff year (five, 2008)
- Detroit Red Wings record for most points in a playoff game (six), May 6, 2010, vs. San Jose Sharks
I expect Franzen to be a contributor for the next six to eight seasons, but his postseason heroics have already solidified him as one of the best draft choices in Wings history.
Most memorable moment:
Returning to the bench after having his face driven into the boards and declining to wear a visor (see photo).
No. 8: Reed Larson, 1976 Second Round, 22nd overall
Reed Larson is a player that a lot of folks may not know, but he was one of the most consistent defenseman of his time. Drafted in 1976, Larson played with the Wings for 10 seasons. Excluding his first, in which he only played 14 games, Larson scored at least 58 points in every season he spent in Detroit.
Had Detroit been more successful during this time, I believe Larson would be remembered as one of the greatest defenseman to play for the Wings.
Reed was a three-time All-Star, and following his retirement he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Most memorable moment:
Scoring 60 points as a rookie defenseman on his way to a runner-up finish in the Calder Trophy voting.
No. 7: Chris Osgood, 1991 Third Round, 54th overall
Chris Osgood is one of the most under-appreciated goaltenders in NHL history. When discussing the NHL's greatest goalies, Osgood's name never comes up, but let's look at some numbers that may suggest that he belongs in the debate.
Osgood: Career goals-against average, 2.49.
That's better than Patrick Roy (2.54), Ed Belfour (2.50), Curtis Joseph (2.79), Terry Sawchuk (2.51), Grant Fuhr (3.38), Mike Vernon (2.98) and Tom Barrasso (3.24).
Osgood: Career save-percentage, .905.
Brodeur: Career save-percentage, .913.
That means that in 1,000 shots, Chris would let in just eight fewer than the man most consider to be the greatest goalie of all time. It's tough to compare save-percentage historically because shots and saves are fairly new statistics.
Osgood is 10th All-time in wins; he only needs eight more to jump to eighth. He was the starting goaltender for two Stanley Cup Championship teams; it's incredible to think that those championships were 10 years apart.
Chris is a two-time winner of the William M. Jennings Trophy and a three-time All-Star. He is one of the few goalies in history to have scored a goal, and he never complained when splitting time with Vernon, Hasek or Howard.
Osgood is the ultimate team guy; the "Wizard of Oz" will always have a home in Hockeytown. Not bad for a third-round pick, if you ask me.
Most memorable moment:
It’s a tie between the fight with Patrick Roy in 1998 and scoring a goal against Hartford in 1996.
No. 6: Tomas Holmstrom, 1994 10th Round, 257th overall
Tomas Holmstrom is not a flashy player. He doesn't pose for pictures, and he doesn't do commercials. His goal celebrations aren't pre-planned, and he hardly ever shows up on Sportscenter.
Many outside of Detroit only know him as the guy in the crease, but to us he is the "Demolition Man," the "Mad Viking" or just plain "Homer."
In 14 seasons in the NHL (all with Detroit), Holmstrom has scored 274 goals and 320 assists. He has made a career out of going to the dirty parts of the ice and getting mauled.
Since picking up ice hockey as a fun hobby, I've learned to appreciate the beating that Homer takes in front of the net. And yet, you never see him rattled and you hardly ever see him retaliate. Holmstrom knows his role and he does it better than anyone ever could.
Holmstrom is a gold medal winner at the World Championships and the Winter Olympics, and is a four-time Stanley Cup Champion.
It's hard to truly measure the return on a draft choice, but after 14 seasons, nearly 600 points and a boat-load of hard fought shifts, this 10th-rounder has turned out to be a gem.
Most memorable moment:
During these playoffs, he took a hit while charging the net and did a complete front flip.
No. 5: Henrik Zetterberg, 1999 Seventh Round, 210th overall
If we're going to talk about late-round steals, we have to talk about Henrik Zetterberg. After being selected by the Wings in the seventh round in 1999, the young Swede made the team as a rookie and was paired with Pavel Datsyuk and Brett Hull.
Hull nicknamed the line the "Two Kids and an Old Goat" line.
That year, he finished second in the Calder voting, but was awarded the Sporting News Rookie of the Year award (voted on by NHL players).
Zetterberg already has 230 goals and 325 assists in 586 regular-season games. He is just as productive in the playoffs, scoring 49 goals and 50 assists in only 104 games.
In 2008, when the Wings won their 11th Stanley Cup, Zetterberg was chosen as the playoff MVP and awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. In doing so, Hank became the lowest draft choice to ever win the award.
In addition to his NHL accolades, Zetterberg has also found international success. He won a gold medal with Sweden in the 2006 Winter Olympics and the 2006 World Championships. He also won the Viking Award in 2007 and 2008 as the top Swedish player in the NHL.
He currently holds a Red Wings record for having at least one point in 17 consecutive games to start a season. He also holds the Red Wings franchise record for goals (13—tied with Franzen) and points (27) in a single playoff season.
Most memorable moment:
Hank's buzzer-beater goal against Vancouver with 0.3 seconds left.
No. 4: Sergei Federov, 1989 Fourth Round, 74th overall
In 1989, the Red Wings selected Russian forward Sergei Fedorov in the fourth round of the NHL Entry Draft.
The next year, while at a tournament in Seattle, he slipped out of his hotel room and onto a plane headed for Motown. That night, Fedorov defected from his team, and from his country, to live his dream of playing in the NHL.
Fedorov was an incredible skater and one of the greatest all-around players to ever wear the wheel. That talent was on full display during the 1993-94 campaign, as Fedorov scored 56 goals and 64 assists, finishing second in scoring behind only Wayne Gretzky.
In that same season, Fedorov won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the MVP, the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward and the Lester B. Pearson Award for the most outstanding player; the only player to claim all three in one season.
Looking back, that may be the greatest single-season effort by a Detroit player in the history of the franchise.
Fedorov won the Selke again in 1996 while scoring 107 points in just 78 games. That season, he had a game against the Capitals in which he scored all five of the Wings' goals en route to a 5-4 victory.
Fedorov simply dominated in a time when the NHL’s best players were in their prime. He finished the 1990s with 134 playoff points, trailing only Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux.
His numbers show his scoring prowess, but his true greatness is reflected in his Selke trophies. Sergei was so talented that he even spent time on the blue-line with Larry Murphy.
No matter where he played, most nights, Fedorov was the best player on the ice.
During his time in Detroit, Fedorov played in 908 regular season games, scoring 400 goals and tacking on 554 assists. Fedorov never missed the playoffs while in Detroit, and in 162 games, he netted 50 goals and 113 assists. For his career with the Wings, Sergei was better than one point per game.
Fedorov was one hell of a player, and he has the hardware to prove it. He was a six-time All-Star and won the “Fastest Skater” and the “Hardest Shot” competitions.
Sergei has won the Hart Memorial Trophy (1994), the Lester B. Pearson Award (1994), the Frank J. Selke Trophy (1994, 1996), the Jackie Robinson Humanitarian Award (2000) and the Kharlamov Trophy (2003).
He was selected as the NHL Player of the Year in 1994 and won the “Best Skater” award from The Hockey News in 2003. He was also a finalist for the Calder Trophy, the Lady Byng Trophy, the Frank J. Selke Trophy (three times) and the Hart Memorial Trophy (twice).
He had seasons where he led all skaters in playoff points, assists (twice) and goals. He scored 36 shorthanded goals and 93 game winners in his career.
He is a three-time Stanley Cup champion, a Goodwill Games gold medalist and a two-time Olympian. Competing for Russia in the World Championships, he’s won gold four times and silver twice. He has the most goals by a Russian in league history.
In my mind, he is the greatest Russian player in NHL history (and no, Ovechkin isn't even in the same class). The Red Wings took him in the fourth round, and next to Pavel Datsyuk, Fedorov is the greatest late-round pick in franchise history.
Most memorable moment:
Recording 101.5 mph on the gun during the Super Skills Competition.
No. 3: Pavel Datsyuk, 1998 Sixth Round, 171st overall
Pavel Datsyuk is so incredibly talented that the English language doesn’t even have a word to describe him. So, Red Wings analyst Ken Daniels came up with one of his own: Datsyukian.
The word is even listed in the Urban Dictionary with the following definition:
“When your moves are so amazing beyond reason, the only way to describe them is datsyukian.”
That also pretty much sums up Pavel’s rise to the NHL. After going undrafted in 1996 and 1997, Datsyuk was finally selected in the sixth round of the 1998 NHL Draft. Detroit was the only team to scout him before the 1998 draft, and he entered the league with little fanfare.
Since that time, he has become the best two-way player in the game.
In most expert opinions, he now stands next to Crosby and Ovechkin (both first-overall picks) as one of the league’s three best players.
Datsyuk had the opportunity to learn from fellow Russians Igor Larionov and Sergei Federov, and it appears he may have gotten the best from both. Watching Pavel in these playoffs, you realize just how special he is. When the puck is on his stick, All-Star defensemen just freeze. His arsenal is so varied that no matter how you defend, he will still beat you.
His vision (thank you, Dr. Rahmani), quickness, creativity and stick-handling have already cemented him as one of the most talented Wings of all time. If he finishes his career with Detroit, and wins two more Stanley Cups along the way, his jersey may hang from the rafters in the company of legends.
Datsyuk has won the Frank J. Selke Trophy (2008, 2009, 2010), the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009), the Kharlamov Trophy (2011) and was a nominee for the league MVP in 2009. He is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Detroit. He has scored 651 points in 662 regular-season games.
Pavel Datsyuk is the reason I love being a Detroit Red Wings fan.
No. 2: Nicklas Lidstrom, 1989 Third Round, 53rd overall
In 1989, the Detroit Red Wings set themselves up for the next two decades by selecting both Sergei Federov and Nicklas Lidstrom in consecutive rounds.
While Federov went on to become one of the greatest forwards of his era, Lidstrom would ultimately become, in my mind, the greatest defenseman of all-time.
Through 19 Hall of Fame seasons with Detroit, Lidstrom has played in all but 28 games. His durability is a testament to his knowledge of the game and his ability to read the ice. Nick has great feet and his decision making keeps him out of harm's way.
For his career, he has amassed just 486 penalty minutes (about one penalty every six games) while racking up 1,108 points. His career plus/minus is a sparkling plus-429.
Since 1996, there have been 14 Norris Trophies given out to the league’s top defenseman. Incredibly, Nick Lidstrom has taken home seven of those and finished runner-up three times. Only Bobby Orr has won more (with eight) .
Lidstrom is an 11-time All-Star, four-time Stanley Cup champion and the first European captain of the Red Wings. In 2002, he became the first European-born playoff MVP. Then in 2008, he also became the first European-born captain to win the Stanley Cup.
There is no doubt that when he finally does decide to hang 'em up, he will join the pantheon of Red Wing greats.
No. 1: Steve Yzerman, 1983 First Round, 4th overall
In 1983, the Detroit Red Wings selected a young man in the first round that stood at just 5’11” and weighed a mere 160 pounds.
Even back then, that was considered undersized.
The kid was only 19 and many believed he would need more time in Peterborough before joining the Wings organization. Instead, he went out and scored 30 goals and 59 assists on his way to a runner-up finish in the Calder voting. He also became the youngest player to play in the NHL All-Star Game.
The Red Wings had themselves a star and his name was Steve Yzerman.
In the four seasons prior to drafting Yzerman, the Wings were a dismal 87-177-56. The once proud franchise was playing in a largely empty building and had only made the playoffs twice in the past 17 seasons.
After two stellar seasons with the club, Yzerman was named captain on October 7th, 1986—a title he will undoubtedly hold for the rest of his life. When his jersey was retired by the Wings in 2007, it fittingly went to the rafters with the familiar “C” on it.
During his 22 seasons with the Wings, Detroit made the playoffs 20 times, including a stretch of 15 in a row (that streak is still active and currently at 20).
He was a 10-time All-Star and a three-time Stanley Cup champion. He’s won the Lester B. Pearson Award (1989), the Conn Smythe Trophy (1998), the Selke Trophy (2000), the Bill Masterton Trophy (2003) and the Lester Patrick Trophy (2006).
In one of the most prolific single-season performances in history, Yzerman netted 65 goals and added 90 assists to end the 1988-89 season with 155 points.
Yzerman is undoubtedly one of the top 10 greatest players of all time, and led one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports history.
He ranks sixth all time in points (1,755), eighth in goals (692) and seventh in assists (1,063). He holds the record for most assists in Wings history, and trails only Howe in the other two categories. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
And as impressive as that all is, I still don’t feel I’ve adequately expressed what Yzerman meant to the city of Detroit.
He didn’t just win games, he gave us a reason to believe.
He inspired a down-trodden fan base and resurrected a fallen franchise.
He carried the weight of Detroit on his shoulders and stood tall for 23 years.
He saved the Detroit Red Wings and, for that, will always be my captain.