9 Late-Round NHL Draft Picks Who Became Goaltending Stars

PJ SapienzaContributor IIINovember 2, 2011

9 Late-Round NHL Draft Picks Who Became Goaltending Stars

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    Playing goalie in the NHL is one of the most difficult jobs in all of sports. For that reason, drafting a goalie is such a tricky and important proposition. Often, it takes years for a goalie to fully develop, which makes it difficult to judge when to select a goalie.

    The fortunes of a team often rest on the goalie. A goalie, unfairly or not, often gets the lion’s share of the blame in most losses. For that reason, a goalie needs to be much more than just physical skills. They have to prove that they have the mental toughness needed to handle the ups and downs of the job as well as the intense pressure. Pitchers, kickers and quarterbacks are the only other positions in sports where a player can go from hero to bum as quickly as a goalie can.

    Last week, we went over the best draft steals of all time for position players.

    Now, we will dive into the list of goalies who turned into draft steals

Pekka Rinne

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    Rinne barely makes the list. There is no doubt that he was a steal, but he has only been a starter for less than three seasons. His incredible stats and low draft position, though, make up for lack of playing time.

    He was drafted by Nashville with the 258th pick. He was able to take the starting job over from Dan Ellis during the 2008-09 season and has not looked back. In only 188 starts, he already has 100 wins with 22 shutouts. His 2.34 GAA and .920 save percentage rank among the best goalies over the past three seasons.

    He was nominated for the Vezina Trophy following the 2010-11 season, where he posted a 2.12 GAA and a .930 save percentage. He also helped in guiding the Predators to their first ever playoff series win last season.

Dominik Hasek

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    It could be argued that Hasek was not so much a steal as he was a gamble. In 1983, Hasek’s home country of Czechoslovakia was under communist rule. It was believed that he would never be allowed to play in the North America, so most teams passed on him despite being rated near the top of just about everyone’s draft board.

    Chicago decided to take a flier on him with the 207th pick.  

    With the fall of communism throughout Europe, he was able to make the jump to the NHL. After 25 games in Chicago, he was traded to Buffalo, which is where he really took off. That trade also makes him the best trade steal of all time as well, but that is for another list.

    By the end of his career, he would win six Vezinas, two Harts and two Stanley Cups. He is also on the short list in the discussion of greatest goalies of all time. Once he became a full-time starter, his worst season was only a 2.83 goals against average.

    Despite not being allowed to even start his NHL career until seven years after being drafted and not becoming a starter until 10 years later, he was still able to make his mark in the record books.

    - 11th in all time wins

    - First in career save percentage

    - Sixth in shutouts

    - Eighth in goals against average

    - 10th in playoff wins

    - Third in playoff shutouts

    - Most saves in a game: 70

Evgeni Nabokov

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    Nabokov is a perfect example of how long it can take for a goalie to develop. San Jose drafted him with the 219th pick in 1994, but it took him seven years to become a regular starter in the NHL. Since then, he has been one of the best goalies in the league.

    The Sharks knew they had something special when, in his first three games, he only allowed one goal, and that was by a teammate when he was heading to the bench on a delayed penalty call. He would go on to win the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year for the 2000-01 season. It is hard to believe that he was the 22nd goalie taken in that draft.

    He has two All-Star appearances and was a Vezina Trophy finalist. While he is currently stuck in a three-goalie rotation with the Islanders, look for a trade sometime soon that will yet again see him leading a team.

Tim Thomas

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    Thomas took a long time to make it to the NHL. After being drafted by Quebec with the 217th pick in 1994, it was not until a four-game stint during the 2002-03 season that he saw any NHL action. Even then, it would take three more years before he became a regular at the NHL level.

    He kept having to battle from the backup spot, but each time the starter struggled or was injured, Thomas would seize the opportunity and make it difficult for coaches to not play him.

    Thomas has won two Vezina Trophies, the Conn Smythe and a Stanley Cup. At 37 years old, he became the oldest Conn Smythe winner. He is also the second player to win the Vezina, Smythe and Stanley Cup in the same season.

Henrik Lundqvist

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    Like Nabokov, Lundqvist was the 22nd goalie taken in his draft. The New York Rangers were able to steal him with the 205th pick in the 2000 draft. 

    Since then, he has been a three-time Vezina finalist. He is the first goalie to win at least 30 games in his first six seasons in the league. He holds an impressive 2.32 goals against average so far in his career.  

    He has 213 wins through his first six seasons and, at only 29 years old, has a real chance to climb very high in the all-time wins category.

Nikolai Khabibulin

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    Khabibulin was taken with the 204th pick in 1992 by Winnipeg. He has gone on to surpass the 300-win mark in his career. He is in the top 20 all-time in wins.

    He is a four-time All-Star. In 2004, he became the lowest drafted goalie to ever lead a team to a Stanley Cup championship.

    He has been able to play at a high level for a long time. He won an Olympic gold medal in 1992. Then, 10 years later, he came back to lead Russia to a bronze medal finish while also being named the best goaltender of the games.

Ryan Miller

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    Miller was the 17th goalie taken in the 1999 draft when he fell to Buffalo with the 138th pick.

    He won the Vezina Trophy for the 2009-10 season. He came to national prominence when he led the United States to the gold medal game in the 2010 Olympics. During those Olympics, he was also named the best goalie at the games. 

    He is known as one of the better shootout goalies in the league.

Marty Turco

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    Dallas selected Turco 1994 with the 124th pick. Eight goalies were selected before Turco, and only four of those have seen any NHL time.

    He set what was then the modern day record for goals against in a season during the 2002-03 season, with an amazing 1.72 GAA.  He ranks 33rd on the all-time NHL win list and holds most of the records for a goalie in the Dallas Stars' franchise history.

Mikka Kiprusoff

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    In 1995, San Jose was able to grab Kiprusoff with the 116th pick. 11 goalies were drafted ahead of him.   He has been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy three times, winning it once.

    He took away Turco’s modern day goals against record when he posted 1.69 in 2003-04. He has added a Vezina and Jennings Trophy to his resume and has been a Hart Trophy finalist. He is ranked 32nd and climbing on the all-time win list.

    He should join the 300-win club later this season.