Many fans get excited about the prospects of free agency every year, but the real power of a team is built through the draft. Any pieces added through free agency are only final pieces to an ever-changing puzzle.
Picking near the top of the draft is not always easy and bad picks are to be had everywhere, but the real magic happens later in the draft. The best general managers are able to find great talent deep into the draft. As the draft has grown into a truly worldwide affair, the amount of talent has gotten much deeper. This makes it easier for players to fall through the cracks.
Some of these players were just late bloomers while others were driven by their draft day snub to prove the experts wrong. Either way, they made the GM that drafted them look like a genius.
Goalies tend to take a long time to develop and are often drafted later in rounds. While it is interesting to note that 16 goalies were taken before Nikolai Khabibulin or 21 before Henrik Lundqvist, goalies will have their own list and are not included here.
Here are the best late round picks in the draft’s history
Ottawa drafted Demitra in 1993 with the 227th pick. It took Demitra a few seasons to secure a full time roster spot but St Louis finally gave him that chance.
Once he made the rotation he proved to be a solid scorer. He finished in the top 10 in league scoring three times in his career. He was a little injury prone and in most seasons would miss several games. Despite that he was usually among the team leaders in scoring almost every year.
He would play in three All-Star games and ranks fifth on the St Louis Blues all-time scoring list. Sadly, Demitra lost his life on board the Russian Kontinental Hockey League plane that crashed earlier this year.
Games: 847 Goals: 304 Assist: 464 Points: 768 Plus/Minus: 124
Ottawa drafted their future team captain in 1994 with the 133rd pick. He has gone on to be one of the better two-way players in the league.
He has scored at least 20 goals in 12 seasons and at least 70 points in 10. This has helped him to become the franchises all-time leader in goals, assist and points.
He won the Calder Trophy for his rookie season and has been selected to the All-Star game five times.
Games: 1,064 Goals: 392 Assist: 636 Points: 1028 Plus/Minus: 131
The Detroit Red Wings drafted Zetterberg in 1999 with the 210th pick.
He had a good start when he was the runner-up to the Calder Trophy during his rookie year. After the lockout season of 2004-05 he returned to the league a changed man as his game greatly improved.
He has been the runner-up for the Selke award. In 2008 he helped the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe Trophy. In winning the Conn Smythe, he became the lowest drafted player ever to accomplish that feat. He is considered among the top two-way players in the game.
Games: 593 Goals: 231 Assist: 326 Points: 557 Plus/Minus: 129
Theo Fleury was considered too small to play in the NHL. That is why he fell all the way to the 166th pick in the 1987 draft before Calgary took a chance on him. He stood only 5’6” but played so much bigger than that. He feared no one on the ice.
He topped 40 goals three times and had a career year in 1990-91 when he scored 51. He would help Calgary win their only Stanley Cup and was selected to seven All-Star games. In 1990-91 he tied for the league lead in plus/minus. Although he has since been passed by Jerome Iginla, he retired as the Flames leader in goals and points.
Games: 1,084 Goals: 455 Assist: 633 Points: 1088 Penalty Minutes: 1,840
Datsyuk is widely considered to be one of the best players in the game today. That makes it even more shocking that the Red Wings were able to wait until the 171st pick in 1998 to get him. The league's central scouting service only had him ranked as 215th best player in that draft.
Datsyuk career started slowly as he was on a loaded Detroit team. Once he finally got going though he has been an unstoppable force. He is a four-time Selke award winner and regularly leads the league in takeaways. He has won the Lady Byng Trophy four times and the Stanley Cup twice.
Games: 669 Goals: 223 Assist: 433 Points: 656 Plus/Minus: 174
In 1992 the Dallas Stars were able to grab Lehtinen with the 88th pick in the draft. He would go onto to
help the Stars win their only Stanley Cup.
During his career he was one of the best two-way players in the game and won the Selke Trophy three times.
Games: 875 Assist: 271 Points: 514
Taylor may rank as the best late-round steal ever. He was drafted in the 15th round as the 210th pick
when the Los Angeles Kings selected him in 1975. He became the lowest pick ever to score 1000 points
He played in five All-Star games and was among the top 10 in scoring three times. He tallied over 100 points seven times in his career.
Games: 1111 Goals: 431 Assist: 638 Points: 1,069
In 1984 Calgary selected Suter in the ninth round with the 180th pick.
Suter would become one of the top defenders in the league. He won the Calder Trophy as the best rookie during the 1985-86 season. He would also help the Flames win their only Stanley Cup in 1989.
He finished his career as the 14th ranked defensemen in league history with 844 points.
Games: 1,145 Goals: 203 Assist: 642 Points: 845
Gilmore was drafted in the seventh round by St Louis with the 134th pick in 1982.
He would become one of the best two-way players during his playing career. He would win a Selke Trophy as well as a Stanley Cup during his Hall of Fame career.
Games: 1,474 Goals: 450 Assist: 964 Points: 1,414
Bondra fell to pick 156 in the 1990 draft before the Washington Capitals selected him. He would end up leading the franchise is just about every statistical area.
He would top 50 goals twice in his career.
Games: 1,081 Goals: 503 Assist: 389 Points: 892
The Los Angeles Kings selected Robitaille in the ninth round with the 171st pick in the 1984 draft.
Robitaille would go onto to be the highest scoring left winger in league history. Robitaille hit the ice flying when he scored 45 goals in his rookie season. He won the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie that year as well.
He became one of the league’s most consistent goals scorers as he scored at least 40 goals in his first eight seasons. In fact the only thing the stopped the streak was the strike-shortened season of 1994-95 when teams only played 48 games.
He would play in eight All-Star games and win a Stanley Cup in Detroit in 2002. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009. He is also the all-time leader in scoring for left wingers.
Games: 1,431 Goals: 668 Assist: 726 Points: 1,394
Hull fell to the sixth round in 1984 when Calgary drafted him with 117th pick. He only played 63 games with the Flames over two seasons before being traded to St Louis.
While in St Louis he became a dominating scoring force. During the 1990-91 season he scored 86 goals, which still stands as the third most ever scored in a season.
His accomplishments include:
-Third all time in goals
-Hart Trophy winner
-Lester B Pearson
-Fourth in Hat tricks (33)
-Two Stanley Cup Wins
-Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009
Games: 1,269 Goals: 741 Assist: 650 Points: 1,391
The league’s central ranking system had Lidstrom listed as only the 102nd best player in the draft. It was a surprise then when Detroit “reached” to take him with the 53rd pick. He is now considered one of the
best defenders to ever play the game.
So far in his 19 year career, he has been selected to the All-Star game 11 times, won the Stanley Cup four times and the Norris Trophy seven times. He has been nominated for the Norris trophy in 12 of the past 14 seasons and has three runner ups to go along with his seven wins.
Games: 1,501 Goals: 255 Assist: 857 Points: 1,112 Plus/Minus: 429
While most of the list is comprised of players drafted much later, it is hard to not include Messier. He fell to the third round and was the 48th pick in 1979 draft. Now this was the year of the WHL draft where many of the players of that league were drafted into the NHL.
Also, the minimum age dropped to 18 years old. While this did make for a large number of players being eligible that year it is hard to excuse Messier’s drop. Each team had at least two chances to grab Messier but failed.
In fact Montreal had four picks and failed to grab Messier. They even had two picks to start the third round. The Detroit Red Wings had two picks right before Edmonton. They took Jody Gage and Boris Fistric leaving the Oilers to make the wise move in taking Messier.
He would go on to become one of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of skates.
-Six Stanley Cups
-Two Hart trophies
-Two Lester B. Pearson Award
-Second in league scoring history
-Second in games played
-2007 Hall of Fame
Games: 1,756 Goals: 694 Assist: 1193 Points: 1,887
Pavel Bure: There was controversy over if he had played enough games at a high enough level to be eligible for the draft. Many teams were led to believe that he was ineligible and passed on him. That allowed him to fall to the 113th pick. Once he was picked it took almost a year for the issue to be cleared up as teams fought the pick.
Dominik Hasek, Sergei Fedorov and Sergei Zubov: While it is true that these players were drafted late it was not due to people not recognizing their talents. Due to the political climate at the time in communist countries, most felt that they would never be allowed to play in North America. Teams that did end up drafting them were taking a stab in the dark and hoped that the countries conditions would change or that they would defect.