NHL Draft: The Best Value Selections of the Last 15 Years
Six full NHL seasons have completed since Mario Lemieux received the maximum return on his investment of a golden horseshoe-inlaid, four leaf clover he purchased from the estate of Leif Ericson.
You don't need to be a history buff, nor comprehend the complexities and superstitions associated with good fortune to know that the Pittsburgh Penguins could not have been any luckier to land a surefire franchise player in Sidney Crosby that day.
Yet, winning teams are built through consistently well-constructed drafts that reach far beyond the top handful of picks in the first round. Selections in the fifth round can be just as vital to a team's future as any other.
Examining the last 15 NHL Drafts only bolsters this truth.
1996: Toronto Maple Leafs, Tomas Kaberle (Round 8, 204th Overall)
The Leafs did not have a selection in the first round.
As it turned out, they didn't need one.
In Round 2 they selected defenseman Marek Posmyk.
Toronto ended up with 13 selections in 1996, but none of them were more important, nor had a greater impact than their last selection, Tomas Kaberle.
1997: Buffalo Sabres, Brian Campbell (Round 6, 156th Overall)
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It was not a banner year for big-time players, but Buffalo managed to add a player who would become one of the more dynamic puck-movers in the NHL.
The Sabres had a good draft, selecting long-time blue-liner Henrik Tallinder in Round 2 and Maxim Afinogenov a round later.
But Buffalo's best find wasn't until Round 6 when they used their choice on "Soupy."
1998: Detroit Red Wings, Pavel Dasyuk (Round 6, 171st Overall)
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Most hockey fans know this one.
Red Wings fans could probably rifle off the selection number off the top of their heads.
Detroit has become famous for their late-round gems, but even the Wings' brass are not so willing to pat themselves on the back too often.
If Detroit really knew what they were getting in Datsyuk, why would they have selected Jiri Fischer, Ryan Barnes, Tomek Valtonen, Jake McCracken, Brent Hobday, Carl Steen and Adam DeLeeuw ahead of the great Pavel Datsyuk?
Even the best may prefer luck over skill sometimes.
1999: Detroit Red Wings, Henrik Zetterberg (Round 7, 210th Overall)
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Didn't we just mention how the Red Wings were famous for pulling these late-rounders?
The 1999 NHL Draft was one of the all-time stinkers, but that didn't stop Detroit from finding yet another All-World talent.
Zetterberg is a latter day Stevie Y, who is deadly on both ends of the ice.
The Wings didn't have a selection until Round 4, where they made Jari Tolsa a priority, and then took Andrei Maximenko in Round 5, Kent McDonell next...then Zetterberg.
But who cares now?
2000: New York Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist (Round 7, 205th Overall)
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Goaltender Rick DiPietro was the first overall selection.
Brent Krahn, Ilya Bryzgalov, Dan Ellis,Mikael Tellqvist, Peter Hamerlik, Jean-Francois Racine, Stefan Liv, Ghyslain Rousseau, Levente Szuper, Davis Parley, Brandon Snee, Matus Kostur, Nathan Marsters, Nolan Schaefer, Zdenek Smid, Shane Bendera, Roman Cechmanek, Mike Ayers and Jure Penko were all selected ahead of King Henrik.
In total, 20 other goaltenders—including Snee, who was selected by the Rangers—were judged to be better risks than Lundqvist.
Shouldn't the best-dressed man in Sweden be given more leeway?
There were quite a few successes from the above list, but none can claim the level of success of the man taken 205th overall.
Is it me, or are goalies prone to have amazing names?
2001: San Jose Sharks, Ryane Clowe (Round 6, 175th Overall)
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There was no clear winner in the value category.
Selected near Clowe were Dennis Seidenberg (No. 172), Jussi Jokinen (No. 192), Brooks Laich (No. 193) and Johnny Oduya (No. 221), but none of them really saw much action with the team that drafted them.
Those considered may be looked at as equally capable (or even better than) Clowe as players, but Clowe was a late-round pick who had the greatest impact on their organization long term.
Clowe hasn't turned out to be a find on the level of some others on this list, but if you asked GMs around the league if they would take a Clowe-type in the sixth round, I'm not sure if the offer would be turned down by any of them.
2002: Chicago Blackhawks, Duncan Keith (Round 2, 54th Overall)
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Not known for its great depth, the NHL Draft has seen better days than the one held in 2002.
Although not a late pick, Chicago got a Norris Trophy winner out of their second round selection of Duncan Keith.
Many teams would like another chance at Keith.
With 53 players taken ahead of him, it would be pretty safe to say San Jose would now prefer Keith over defenseman Dan Spang selected just two spots before.
2003: Chicago Blackhawks, Dustin Byfuglien (Round 8, 254th Overall)
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Defenseman or Winger? Bruiser or scorer?
It doesn't matter—Big Buf can do whatever is asked of him.
2003 produced some fantastic talent with late-round winners like Tobias Enstrom and Matt Moulson, along with Byfuglien.
Yet, Chicago won the Cup in 2010 due in large part to dominant contributions from Byfuglien on a nightly basis.
2004: Nashville Predators, Pekke Rinne (Round 8, 258th Overall)
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Like Lundqvist before him, Rinne was passed over many times before the Predators pulled the trigger on him in Round 8.
Yutaka Fukufuji and 26 other goaltenders were taken ahead of Rinne.
The 2004 Draft was rife with value selections: Johan Franzen, Ryan Callahan, Kris Versteeg and Mark Streit were particularly impressive.
Yet Rinne, a 2011 Vezina Trophy finalist, stands tallest.
2005: Phoenix Coyotes, Keith Yandle (Round 4, 105th Overall)
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Only one team had a crack at Sid the Kid, but every team had their chance to grab Yandle.
A dynamic skater and offensive force, Keith Yandle has blossomed into the puck-moving defenseman every team craves. Coyotes fans may have walked away unimpressed after Yandle became the 38th defenseman selected in 2005, but the same cannot be said of those same fans now.
Yandle will receive Norris Trophy consideration nearly every season he plays, just as he did this year.
2006: Boston Bruins, Milan Lucic (Round 2, 50th Overall)
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Here is where things start to get tricky.
Just five years removed, it's possible that a few of the best steals from this draft have yet to be given significant roles with their teams.
James Reimer, selected in the fourth round by Toronto, has just scratched the surface of his playing career with the Leafs. Thus far, it looks pretty promising for the 99th overall pick.
To date though, Milan Lucic is the bargain selection.
The poor man's Cam Neely just accomplished what the Bruins VP was never able to during his playing career—raise the Cup.
Lucic used his scoring touch, hitting, puck pressure and pure intimidation to help bring Lord Stanley back to Boston after an extended hiatus.
2007: Dallas Stars, Jamie Benn (Round 5, 129th Overall)
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P.K. Subban has impressed many and distressed others.
Wayne Simmonds has surprised.
Linus Omark has dazzled in shoot-outs.
Many others still appear to be great prospects.
Yet fifth-rounder Jaime Benn has shown consistent goal-scoring ability, even while trolling the ice outside of the top-six forwards. His emergence allowed for the cash-conscious Stars to deal James Neal at last season's deadline.
2008: Washington Capitals, John Carlson (Round 1, 27th Overall)
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While the coming seasons will tell us more about Jacob Markstrom, Travis Hamonic, Evgeny Grachev, Braden Holtby, etc., the current samples we have to choose from this draft are nearly all first-round talents.
John Carlson had his first full season with the Washington Capitals in 2010-2011, and it was an impressive beginning.
Not only did Carlson lead all Washington defensemen in scoring, but also in plus/minus with a plus-21, while taking on significant minutes as a rookie.
It could be argued that Carlson was far and away the best defenseman on the team in his first season.
2009: Washington Capitals, Marcus Johansson (Round 1, 24th Overall)
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George McPhee should receive praise for his recent drafting prowess.
Like Carlson, Johansson played his first season with Washington last year. While his 13 goals and 27 points were not worthy of much note, it was the way he seemed to find the big goals just waiting on his stick.
As the season progressed, Johansson seemed to earn more of the trust of the coaching staff. In the postseason, he increased his ice time and was among the forwards entrusted to kill penalties.
In time, others may emerge as greater values than Johansson, but for now, he's the one.
2010: Anahiem Ducks, Cam Fowler (Round 1, 12th Overall)
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I'd still place the long-term bet on the enigmatic Kirill Kabanov, but look what Cam Fowler did for Anaheim this season.
Yes, Jeff Skinner was impressive and won the Calder.
But Fowler was unexpectedly passed over on draft day last year, but a perfect fit for the Ducks—and not just because of his surname.
Fowler played top pairing minutes in the regular and postseason as an 18/19-year-old. He was the second-leading scorer on the Ducks among defensemen, had the most power play goals from the blue line and even earned some penalty kill time.