Every NHL Team's Biggest Draft Steal and Bust
The 2016 NHL draft is just around the corner. The first round will take place amid much fanfare on Friday, June 24, while Rounds 2-7 will progress much more quickly on June 25. The two-day event will take place at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York.
During this run-up, it's easy to get fixated on lists, rankings and projections, but players who are drafted next week have a long way to go before they make or break their NHL careers.
Travis Yost did some good statistical analysis of the value of draft picks for TSN back in 2015. Roughly speaking, there's about an 80 percent chance a first-round pick will develop into at least a low-level NHL player, a 44 percent chance for a second-rounder, a 30 percent chance for a third-rounder and so on.
In this piece, we're looking at the outliers—the first-rounders who didn't do enough to make a name for themselves at the NHL level and the lower-round picks who dramatically exceeded the normal expectations that accompany their draft position.
To keep the playing field level, the cutoff for this piece is the year 2000, when the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild joined the league, so all teams are working with the same number of draft years.
As you click through, you'll see the criteria for both the draft steals and the draft busts varies depending on each team's draft activity and overall drafting success. Players have also been judged through the lens of the team that drafted them—even if a player didn't work out for that team, he may have brought back value to the drafting team when he was traded.
Let us know if you have unsung heroes or frustrating disappointments that you think have left their fingerprints on your favourite franchises.
Biggest Steal: Sami Vatanen
Selected 106th overall in 2009—defense—5'10", 183 pounds
194 GP, 29-69-98
The Anaheim Ducks don't have a particularly strong history of unearthing impressive late-round picks, but they struck gold when they chose undersized Finnish defenseman Sami Vatanen in the fourth round in 2009.
Vatanen had been a member of Finland's bronze medal-winning team at the 2009 World U18 Championship. He stayed in Finland for three seasons before coming to North America, initially joining the AHL's Norfolk Admirals while NHL players were locked out in 2012-13.
In 2014-15, Vatanen became a full-time member of the Anaheim blue line, showing his ability to contribute offensively with 12 goals and 37 points. He followed up with another 38 points in 2015-16—tops among Ducks defensemen in both years.
Biggest Bust: Logan MacMillan
Selected 19th overall in 2007—left wing—6'2", 194 pounds
Did not play in NHL, 5-7-12 in 71 AHL games over three seasons
Born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Logan MacMillan is the son of right wing Bob MacMillan, who played for 11 seasons in the NHL, amassing 577 points in 753 games.
Just weeks after winning the Stanley Cup, the Anaheim Ducks selected Logan with the 19th pick in the 2007 draft. The left wing had won a gold medal as part of Canada's Under-18 team at the Junior World Cup during the summer of 2006 and finished fifth in scoring on the 2006-07 Halifax Mooseheads.
When MacMillan turned pro in 2009, he spent most of his first season in the ECHL with the Bakersfield Condors. He was traded to the Calgary Flames during the summer of 2010 and went on to play a total of 71 AHL games with the Abbotsford Heat before departing for Europe in 2012.
MacMillan, now 26, played for the Nottingham Panthers of the UK's EIHL in 2015-16.
Notable players selected after MacMillan in the 2007 draft include Max Pacioretty (22nd), Mikael Backlund (24th), David Perron (26th), P.K. Subban (43rd) and Wayne Simmonds (61st).
Biggest Steal: Keith Yandle
Selected 105th overall in 2005—defense—6'1", 196 pounds
661 GP, 72-297-369
Drafted out of high school from Massachusetts' Cushing Academy, defenseman Keith Yandle quickly showed he had flown below the radar when he joined the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL immediately after being drafted. In his lone major junior season, Yandle collected 25 goals and 84 points and was named the CHL defenseman of the year as the Wildcats won the QMJHL championship.
In the fall of 2006, Yandle made the jump to the pros, spending parts of two seasons with the AHL's San Antonio Rampage before establishing himself with the Coyotes.
By the time he was dealt to the New York Rangers at the 2015 trade deadline, Yandle had played 558 games with the Coyotes and had set the record as the highest-scoring defenseman on the team since its relocation from Winnipeg in 1996, with 65-246-311.
Yandle will continue to pay dividends for the Coyotes for many years to come. When he was traded to the Rangers along with Chris Summers, Arizona received forward Anthony Duclair, defenseman John Moore, a second-round pick in the 2015 draft (which was then traded to the Calgary Flames in exchange for two third-rounders) and a first-round pick in 2016.
Biggest Bust: Blake Wheeler
Selected fifth overall in 2004—right wing—6'5", 225 pounds
615 GP, 173-267-440
The Coyotes' scouts weren't wrong about Blake Wheeler's talent. The power forward out of Minnesota's Breck School is a four-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL and just posted a career year with 26-52-78 in 2015-16.
Wheeler is a bust for the Coyotes because they couldn't sign him to a contract when he left the University of Minnesota after the 2007-08 season. As compensation for failing to sign Wheeler, the Coyotes received the 35th pick in the 2008 draft, which they flipped to Anaheim in a package to acquire the 28th pick.
With that selection, Don Maloney selected forward Viktor Tikhonov, who lasted just one season with the organization before returning to Russia—though he did return to the Coyotes after being picked up on waivers when he returned to the NHL in 2015-16.
After signing as a free agent with the Boston Bruins, Wheeler was dealt to the then-Atlanta Thrashers in February 2011. He has enjoyed his greatest success with the Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets organization. He was named to the U.S. Olympic Team in 2014.
Notable players selected after Wheeler in the 2004 draft include Drew Stafford (13th), Travis Zajac (20th), Cory Schneider (26th), Mike Green (29th) and David Krejci (63rd).
Biggest Steal: Patrice Bergeron
Selected 45th overall in 2003—center—6'1", 195 pounds
820 GP, 238-380-618
Most of the draft steals on this list are mid- to late-round selections that have carved out impressive NHL careers, but Patrice Bergeron is a second-rounder who has proven to be an elite player on par with the best in the game.
Drafted after one season in the QMJHL, Bergeron made an immediate jump to the NHL as an 18-year-old and scored 16 goals in his rookie season in 2003-04. A serious concussion limited him to just 10 games in 2007-08, but by 2010, he was being hailed as one of the best two-way centers in the game.
Bergeron won Olympic gold with Team Canada in 2010 and 2014, won the Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011 and has won three Frank J. Selke Trophies—all by the age of 30.
Here are some of Boston's other strong later-round picks: Nate Thompson (183rd, 2003), Kris Versteeg (134th, 2004), Matt Hunwick (224th, 2004), Vladimir Sobotka (106th, 2005), Milan Lucic (50th, 2006), Brad Marchand (71st, 2006).
Biggest Bust: Zach Hamill
Selected eighth overall in 2007—center—5'11", 180 pounds
20 GP, 0-4-4
Zach Hamill was selected eighth overall by the Boston Bruins after leading the WHL in scoring with 32-61-93 for the Everett Silvertips in 2006-07, but his draft year proved to be the best of his career.
Hamill followed up with a 75-point effort when he returned to Everett after being drafted, but his scoring prowess didn't translate at the pro level. In his four seasons with the Bruins organization, Hamill spent most of his time with the team's AHL affiliate in Providence. He played 16 games in Boston in 2011-12 before being traded to the Washington Capitals. One year later, he signed a free-agent contract with Vancouver that was terminated by mutual agreement in December 2013.
Since then, Hamill has plied his trade in Europe, first in the KHL, then the Finnish League and the Swiss League. Most recently, 27-year-old Hamill played 24 games with the Iserlohn Roosters of the German League in 2015-16.
Notable players selected after Wheeler in the 2007 draft include Logan Couture (9th), Kevin Shattenkirk (14th), Max Pacioretty (22nd) and David Perron (26th).
Biggest Steal: Jason Pominville
Selected 55th overall in 2001—right wing—6'0", 187 pounds
827 GP, 248-347-615
The Buffalo Sabres' best-known late-round steal is goaltender Ryan Miller, who was picked 138th overall in 1999, but he was drafted one year too soon to make this list. Brian Campbell also deserves a nod for playing 1,002 NHL games and counting after being chosen 156th in 1997.
In the 2000s, Buffalo's best find was forward Jason Pominville. Chosen late in the second round in 2001, the Quebec native didn't crack the Sabres lineup full-time until the 2005-06 season. The Sabres reached the Eastern Conference Final in both 2006 and 2007, while Pominville put up six straight seasons with at least 20 goals, built a 335-game Ironman streak and was eventually named team captain in 2011.
When the Sabres started their rebuild, Pominville brought the franchise future building blocks, including first and second-round draft picks, when he was dealt to the Minnesota Wild at the 2013 trade deadline.
Biggest Bust: Marek Zagrapan
Selected 13th overall in 2005—center—6'2", 191 pounds
Did not play in NHL, 56-71-127 in 227 AHL games over three seasons
Slovak center Marek Zagrapan came to North America in his draft year and put up 32 goals and 82 points with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL before Buffalo selected him 13th overall. He duplicated those numbers with 85 points for Chicoutimi in 2005-06 and then joined Buffalo's farm team, the Rochester Americans, when he turned pro.
Zagrapan's best AHL season came in 2008-09 when he scored 21 goals and 49 points for the Sabres' new minor league affiliate, the Portland Pirates, but he couldn't move up a Buffalo depth chart that already featured Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad, Tim Connolly, Jochen Hecht and Adam Mair down the middle.
After playing out his entry-level contract, Zagrapan signed in the KHL. The 29-year-old has spent the past two seasons in the Austrian league.
Notable players selected after Zagrapan in the 2005 draft include Tuukka Rask (21st), T.J. Oshie (24th), James Neal (33rd), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (35th) and Paul Stastny (44th).
Biggest Steal: Johnny Gaudreau
Selected 104th overall in 2011—left wing—5'9", 157 pounds
160 GP, 55-88-143
He was supposed to be too small to make it in the NHL. The Calgary Flames took a gamble by choosing Johnny Gaudreau out of the USHL in 2011, and despite his stature, he has excelled everywhere he has played, including with the Flames.
Before turning pro, Gaudreau won the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA's best player in his third year at Boston College. In 2014-15, he stepped seamlessly into the Flames lineup, scoring 24 goals and finishing third in Calder Trophy voting as rookie of the year. Gaudreau took another step forward in his sophomore season, scoring 30 goals and finishing in a tie for sixth in NHL scoring with 78 points.
Biggest Bust: Brent Krahn
Selected ninth overall in 2000—goal—6'5", 220 pounds
1 GP, 9.00 goals-against average, .667 save percentage
After posting a 33-6-0 record with the WHL's Calgary Hitmen in his draft year, Brent Krahn was the second goalie selected in the top 10 in the 2000 draft, after the New York Islanders selected Rick DiPietro first overall.
Like DiPietro, Krahn struggled to stay healthy. When he was able to play, he was solid at the AHL level, putting up a 100-75-14 record over eight seasons with six different teams. Krahn left the Flames organization as a free agent in 2008 without playing a single NHL game. His only appearance in the big leagues came on Feb. 14, 2009, when he gave up three goals on nine shots in third-period relief of Marty Turco as the Dallas Stars fell 6-2 to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Krahn retired from hockey after his second season with the AHL's Texas Stars in 2010-11.
Notable players selected after Krahn in the 2000 draft include Brooks Orpik (18th), Justin Williams (28th), Niklas Kronwall (29th), Jarrett Stoll (46th) and Paul Martin (62nd). A goaltender named Henrik Lundqvist was selected by the New York Rangers in the seventh round that year, 205th overall.
Biggest Steal: Justin Faulk
Selected 37th overall in 2010—defense—6'0", 215 pounds
326 GP, 49-106-155
Drafted from the U.S. National Development Team after being part of a gold medal-winning American team at the 2010 World U18 Championship, Justin Faulk needed only one season of development before joining the Carolina Hurricanes' blue line as a 19-year-old in the fall of 2011.
He quickly established himself as a defenseman who can play big minutes and look after the puck, and in the last two seasons, he has proved to be one of the NHL's most lethal power-play quarterbacks.
Just 24, Faulk is establishing himself as one of the game's best all-round blueliners and is still several seasons away from reaching his playing peak.
Biggest Bust: Igor Knyazev
Selected 15th overall in 2001—defense—6'0", 185 pounds
Did not play in NHL, 3-11-14 in 140 AHL games over two seasons
Igor Knyazev showed well on a gold medal-winning Russian team at the 2001 World U18 Championship, played two months before his draft day. The Carolina Hurricanes drafted the defenseman in the middle of the second round. He came to North America as a 19-year-old and joined Carolina's AHL affiliate, the Lowell Lock Monsters, for one unremarkable season before being traded to the then-Phoenix Coyotes during the summer of 2003 in exchange for Daniil Markov and a fourth-round draft pick.
Knyazev lasted just one more season in the AHL before returning to Russia, but the Hurricanes flipped Markov to the Philadelphia Flyers after one season. In return, they received Justin Williams, who played a key role in the team's 2006 Stanley Cup run.
Notable players selected after Knyazev in the 2001 draft include Marcel Goc (20th), Mike Cammalleri (49th), Jason Pominville (55th) and Tomas Plekanec (71st).
Biggest Steal: Dustin Byfuglien
Selected 245th overall in 2003 - defense - 6'5", 260 pounds
678 GP, 152-245-397
With all due respect to 54th-overall pick Duncan Keith, the Blackhawks scouting staff deserve major credit for unearthing mountainous Dustin Byfuglien in the ninth round in 2003.
Byfuglien was a product of the WHL's Prince George Cougars, and his big body made him attractive to coaches as a winger as well as a defenseman. He established himself with the Blackhawks in 2007-08, scoring 19 goals while playing primarily as a forward, and tied Patrick Sharp for the team lead with 11 playoff goals as Chicago won the 2010 Stanley Cup.
Due to salary-cap limitations, Byfuglien was part of a package that was traded to the then-Atlanta Thrashers during the summer of 2010. With the Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets, Byfuglien has established himself as one of hockey's top offensive threats from the blue line. He signed a five-year contract extension in February of 2016 that carries a cap hit of $7.6 million per season, per General Fanager.
Biggest Bust: Kyle Beach
Selected 11th overall in 2004 - right wing - 6'3", 210 pounds (per AHL website)
Did not play in NHL, 43-40-83 in 208 AHL games, primarily over five seasons
Ranked 10th by The Hockey News in his draft year according to Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun, power forward Kyle Beach was a wild card in 2008—a player known to have some issues with his temperament, which had slid him down from the very top of the rankings.
The Blackhawks took a chance on Beach in the 11th spot, and he never made it out of the minor leagues. Beach managed two 16-goal seasons in his three years with the Rockford Ice Hogs before he was dealt to the New York Rangers organization in exchange for forward Brandon Mashinter in December of 2013. At the time, Reed Schreck of the Rockford Register Star reported that off-ice issues were at the root of the trade.
Now 26, Beach has spent most of the last two seasons playing in the Austrian league.
Notable players selected after Beech in the 2008 draft include Tyler Myers (12th), Erik Karlsson (15th), Jordan Eberle (22nd), Roman Josi (38th) and Derek Stepan (51st), Travis Hamonic (53rd) and Braden Holtby (93rd).
Biggest Steal: Paul Stastny
Selected 44th overall in 2005 - center - 6'0", 205 pounds
676 GP, 186-367-553
The Colorado Avalanche have an impressive history of finding decent NHL players like John-Michael Liles, Tom Gilbert, Brad Richardson and David Jones in the fourth round or later. The Avs have also unearthed some top-tier players with second and third-round selections.
Paul Stastny gets the nod here over Ryan O'Reilly (33rd in 2009) and Tyson Barrie (64th in 2009) because of his larger body of work. Where O'Reilly jumped straight into the NHL as an 18-year-old, Stastny spent a second year in college at the University of Denver before making the jump, then scored 28 goals and 78 points in his rookie season.
Stastny spent eight productive seasons in Colorado before signing as a free agent with the St. Louis Blues during the summer of 2014.
Biggest Bust: Conner Bleackley
Selected 23th overall in 2014 - center - 5'11", 195 pounds
Has not yet played in NHL
It feels a bit premature to label a 20-year-old as a "bust," but the Avalanche cut ties with their first-round pick at the 2016 trade deadline when they included him in part of a package that brought Mikkel Boedker to Denver for a late-season playoff push, which ultimately came up short.
Bleackley was out of his junior team's lineup with a cracked kneecap when he was traded. He returned for eight games before being knocked out of the playoffs due to a skate cut to his wrist suffered in the Red Deer Rebels' last regular-season game, according to 106.7 The Drive in Red Deer.
The Arizona Coyotes also declined to offer Bleackley an entry-level contract. They'll receive a compensatory second-round draft pick, and Bleackley will re-enter the draft in June to take another shot at catching on in the NHL.
Players selected after Bleackley in the 2014 draft who have already made a mark in the NHL include Jared McCann (24th), David Pastrnak (25th), and Viktor Arvidsson (112th).
Columbus Blue Jackets
Biggest Steal: Cam Atkinson
Selected 157th overall in 2008 - right wing - 5'8", 180 pounds
300 GP, 86-79-165
He doesn't quite have the profile of Johnny Gaudreau, but Cam Atkinson is another undersized product of the NCAA system who has turned out to be a pretty solid goal-scorer at the NHL level.
Atkinson spent three years at Boston College, then bounced back and forth between the Blue Jackets and the AHL Springfield Falcons in his first pro season, sticking with the big club by the end of the year. After more time in the AHL during the 2012-13 lockout, Atkinson has been a full-time member of the Blue Jackets for the last three and a half years.
From the beginning of his NHL career, Atkinson was able to score goals. In 2015-16, he reached a new career high of 27 goals and 53 points, tying him with Brandon Saad as one of the Blue Jackets' most productive forwards.
Biggest Bust: Nikita Filatov
Selected sixth overall in 2008 - left wing - 6'0", 190 pounds
53 GP, 6-8-14
The same year that the Blue Jackets drafted Atkinson—and picked up utility winger Matt Calvert in the fifth round—the team made a wild misstep by choosing Russian forward Nikita Filatov with the sixth pick.
Filatov was a Russian junior star who had been named the top European skater heading into the draft and was the leading scorer on the Russian U18 team that won gold in Finland two months before draft day. After spending most of his first year in North America with the AHL Syracuse Crunch, Filatov made the Blue Jackets out of camp in his second pro season but, unhappy with his ice time, was loaned back to CSKA Moscow of the KHL by November of 2009.
Returning to North America in 2010-11, Filatov split his time between the NHL and AHL, then his rights were traded to the Ottawa Senators for a third-round draft pick in June of 2011. Filatov played just nine games with Ottawa before eventually returning to the KHL, where the 26-year-old is now a member of Moscow Dynamo.
Notable players selected after Filatov in the 2008 draft include Colin Wilson (seventh), Mikkel Boedker (eighth), Tyler Myers (12th), Erik Karlsson (15th) and Jake Gardiner (17th).
Biggest Steal: Jamie Benn
Selected 129th overall in 2007 - left wing - 6'2", 210 pounds
508 GP, 192-256-448
Sorry, Jussi Jokinen (drafted 192nd in 2001, 518 points in 822 NHL games) and John Klingberg (drafted 131st in 2010, 98 points in 141 NHL games)—Jamie Benn has you beat as the Dallas Stars' best draft steal. He's one of the best steals of all time.
Benn was a late bloomer, a two-sport athlete who also excelled at baseball, and a resident of British Columbia's Vancouver Island, where he played Junior A hockey with the Victoria Grizzlies in his draft year, far from the watchful eyes of most amateur scouts.
After he was drafted by the Dallas Stars, Benn moved up to major junior with the Kelowna Rockets, where he progressed quickly. As a 19-year-old, he won gold with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship, then stepped immediately into the Dallas Stars lineup the following season.
Benn has scored at least 20 goals in every year of his NHL career except for the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, won another gold medal in 2014 as part of Canadian Olympic team and earned the Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer in 2014-15.
Named Dallas' team captain at the beginning of the 2013-14 season, Benn posted a career-best 41 goals and 89 points in the 2015-16 regular season and led the Stars with 15 points in 13 games in the playoffs. Just 26, Benn is now considered an equal to the top draft picks of his era. His best hockey still lies ahead.
Biggest Bust: Scott Glennie
Selected eighth overall in 2009 - center - 6'1", 200 pounds
1 GP, 0-0-0
Ranked seventh among North American skaters in his draft year by NHL Central Scouting, Scott Glennie was a skilled player who was expected to be an offensive threat in the NHL, which earned him a top-10 pick.
Glennie played two solid seasons with the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings after being drafted, but his game didn't translate to the NHL level. He played four seasons in the AHL with the Texas Stars and won a Calder Cup in 2014, but got into just one NHL game in his career, in April of 2012.
The Stars organization chose not to offer him a new contract after the 2014-15 season, effectively ending Glennie's hockey career at the age of 24.
Notable players selected after Glennie in the 2009 draft include Ryan Ellis (11th), Nick Leddy (16th), Chris Kreider (19th), Marcus Johansson (24th) and Ryan O'Reilly (33rd).
Detroit Red Wings
Biggest Steal: Petr Mrazek
Selected 141st overall in 2010 - goal - 6'2", 183 pounds
94 GP, 46-30-8, 2.29 goals-against average, .920 save percentage
Both drafted in the '90s, Pavel Datsyuk (171st in 1998) and Henrik Zetterberg (210th in 1999) just miss out on qualifying for this list, which focuses only players drafted since 2000.
In that window, Detroit's best steal is goaltender Petr Mrazek, who has taken over the No. 1 spot in net at Joe Louis Arena at the age of 24.
Mrazek spent his draft year in major junior with the Ottawa 67s, then started his pro career in the ECHL with the Toledo Walleye in 2012. By the end of that season, he had played his first two NHL games with the Red Wings. That number grew to nine games in 2013-14, 29 games in 2014-15 and 54 games in 2015-16.
Mrazek's emergence has made it possible for Detroit to consider trading Jimmy Howard, who is halfway through his current six-year contract.
Biggest Bust: Anthony Mantha
Selected 20th overall in 2013 - right wing - 6'5", 204 pounds
10 GP, 2-1-3
The Detroit Red Wings have selected players in the first round only eight times since 2000. That limits the number of options for the "bust" tag, especially when three of those eight selections have come in the last three years, and have not yet fully developed.
With that in mind, don't assume that Anthony Mantha definitely won't pan out as an NHL player. After scoring 50 goals in his draft year, then following up with 57 goals and 120 points for the Val D'Or Foreurs in 2013-14, Mantha looked like he was going to be a stone-cold sniper coming out of junior, but his production during his first two AHL seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins has been decidedly more moderate.
Mantha has already been eclipsed on Detroit's prospect chart by the first-rounder drafter one year after him, Dylan Larkin. He'll be 22 by the time the 2016-17 regular season begins, so now's the time for him to prove that he belongs in the NHL.
Notable players selected after Mantha in the 2013 draft who have already made an impact in the NHL include Andre Burakovsky (23rd), Marko Dano (27th), Mattias Janmark (79th), Anthony Duclair (80th) and Sven Andrighetto (86th).
Biggest Steal: Kyle Brodziak
Selected 214th overall in 2003 - center - 6'2", 212 pounds
697 GP, 105-134-239
The Edmonton Oilers have a cupboard full of No. 1 draft picks, but they haven't had much luck building the supporting cast of late. In the late '90s, they had a nice stretch where they parlayed mid-round picks into serviceable players like Jason Chimera (121st in 1997), Shawn Horcoff (99th in 1998) and Mike Comrie (91st in 1999).
But the new millennium has not been kind to this once-storied franchise. Beyond the second rounders, your most impressive overachievers are either Matthew Lombardi (215th in 2000) or the choice here, Kyle Brodziak.
Brodziak spent two full seasons with the Oilers before being traded to the Minnesota Wild during the summer of 2009. He peaked out at 22 goals and 44 points with the Wild in 2011-12, but the 32-year-old also hit a career peak this spring with his first-ever trip to the Western Conference Final in his first season with the St. Louis Blues.
Biggest Bust: Jesse Niinimaki
Selected 15th overall in 2002 - center - 6'2", 196 pounds
Did not play in NHL, 1-0-1 in 24 AHL games over one season
Edmonton may not be known for finding many diamonds in the rough over the last 15 years, but the team has a long list of high picks who haven't turned out to be franchise players. Ales Hemsky (13th in 2001), Devan Dubnyk (14th in 2004), Andrew Cogliano (25th in 2005), Sam Gagner (sixth in 2007) and Magnus Paajarvi (10th in 2009) have all moved on but still have NHL careers, which ranks them well ahead of a player like Jesse Niinimaki.
Drafted midway through the first round in 2002, Niinimaki spent just 24 games in North America, playing with the short-lived Edmonton Roadrunners franchise during their only AHL season, which coincided with the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
When the NHL resumed play in 2005-06, Niinimaki returned to Europe. He carved out a career across the Finnish, Swedish and Swiss leagues and spent the 2015-16 season in Italy as a 32-year-old.
Notable players selected after Niinimaki in the 2002 draft include Alexander Steen (24th), Cam Ward (25th), Jarret Stoll (36th), Trevor Daley (43rd), Duncan Keith (54th), Matt Stajan (57th) and Jiri Hudler (58th).
Biggest Steal: Vincent Trocheck
Selected 64th overall in 2011 - center - 6'1", 196 pounds
146 GP, 37-46-83
Like the Oilers, the Florida Panthers have a long history of making high draft picks, but haven't uncovered much NHL talent beyond the second round. Gregory Campbell was chosen in the eighth round in 2003 and has gone on to play more than 800 NHL games, but it looks like Vincent Trocheck is on his way to becoming a high-end talent.
The 22-year-old broke out in 2015-16, his second NHL season. His 25 goals were good enough to tie him for third in team scoring and to give the Panthers some unexpected depth down the middle—a big part of their strong regular season.
Trocheck suffered a foot injury in March which caused him to miss the last six games of the regular season and first four games of the playoffs. Coming off his entry-level contract, he's a restricted free agent who's expected to be signed to a long-term contract by the Panthers this summer, according to Cam Tucker of NBC Sports.
Biggest Bust: Petr Taticek
Selected ninth overall in 2002 - center - 6'2", 190 pounds
3 GP, 0-0-0
For the most part, the Panthers' first-round picks have been pretty solid. Granted, they have usually picked pretty high, but one notable Top 10 miss was Czech center Petr Taticek.
Taticek was Florida's second first-round pick in 2002—at No. 3, the Panthers made a quality choice with defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. During his first season in North America, Taticek had scored 21 goals and 63 points with the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and was ranked seventh among North American Skaters in the Central Scouting draft rankings, per The Draft Analyst.
After turning pro in 2003 at age 20, Taticek played two seasons in the AHL before making his NHL debut with the Panthers. He lasted just three games.
In March of 2006, Florida traded Taticek to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Richard Jackman, who played just 22 games in Florida.
Taticek was back in the Czech Republic by the end of the 2006-07 season. He went on to play eight years in Switzerland and has suited up in the German League for the last two seasons.
Notable players selected after Taticek in the 2002 draft include Alexander Semin (13th), Chris Higgins (14th), Alexander Steen (24th), Cam Ward (25th), Duncan Keith (54th) and Tomas Fleischmann (63rd).
Los Angeles Kings
Biggest Steal: Jonathan Quick
Selected 72nd overall in 2005 - goal - 6'1", 218 pounds
475 GP, 252-162-51, 2.27 goals-against average, .916 save percentage
Goalie potential is so tough to project. Some top prospects live up to their billing, while others quickly flame out. This spring, we have seen undrafted Martin Jones emerge to become one of the heroes of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. To get to the Final, he had to outduel the two-time Stanley Cup-winner that he used to back up, Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings.
A Connecticut native, Quick played his high school hockey at Avon Old Farms before being drafted, then spent two years in college with the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In his first pro season, he played 38 games in the ECHL, 19 games in the AHL and three games with the Kings in the NHL.
The following year, he was recalled from the AHL's Manchester Monarchs in December of 2008 and never looked back, finishing his rookie NHL season with a 21-18-2 record and .916 save percentage. Quick has been the Kings' main man in net ever since, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2012 and the William M. Jennings Trophy in 2013-14.
Biggest Bust: Lauri Tukonen
Selected 11th overall in 2004 - right wing - 6'2", 198 pounds
5 GP, 0-0-0
Central Scouting's list of top European Skaters available at the 2004 draft starts off with a bang. Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are the two top names, according to The Draft Analyst. Fifth on the list is Finnish winger Lauri Tukonen, a prodigy who had skated in the Finnish men's league as a 17-year-old.
Tukonen stayed with his Finnish team for one year after being drafted, then joined the Manchester Monarchs, where he stayed for most of the next three seasons. His production was modest, and he did not record a point during either of his brief call-ups to the Kings. By the 2008-09 season, Tukonen was back in the Finnish League, where the 29-year-old is still playing.
Notable Europeans selected after Tukonen in the 2004 draft include Alexander Radulov (15th), Lauri Korpikoski (19th), Nicklas Grossman (56th), David Krejci (63rd) and Andrej Sekera (71st).
Biggest Steal: Erik Haula
Selected 182nd overall in 2009 - center - 5'11", 188 pounds
194 GP, 27-36-63
Finnish center Erik Haula made an early commitment to a hockey career in North America, playing Midget AAA hockey in the noted Shattuck-Saint Mary's program in Minnesota that spawned players like Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews. Under the nose of the Wild scouting staff, he was selected with a late-round pick.
Before turning pro, Haula played in the USHL for one year while finishing high school, then for three years at the University of Minnesota. He spent most his first pro season bouncing back and forth between the Minnesota Wild and their farm team in Iowa, but stuck with Minnesota for good by February of his rookie year.
In 2015-16, Haula proved that he could be more than just a shutdown player, centering the Wild's dangerous third line with Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville while also making life difficult for top opponents. Now 25, he has established himself as an important member of the Wild's forward group.
Biggest Bust: A.J. Thelen
Selected 12th overall in 2004 - defense - 6'3", 212 pounds
Did not play in NHL, 0-0-0 in 10 AHL games over two seasons
Another boy from the Wild's back yard, A.J. Thelen proved to be a major disappointment when he failed to develop into an NHL player.
The big, smooth-skating defenseman was drafted after his freshman season at Michigan State University, but lasted less than one more year in the program before being dismissed for rules violations shortly before the beginning of the CCHA Tournament in March of 2005. According to the USCHO website, the issue boiled down to a dispute between Thelen and his coach Rick Comley.
After leaving school, Thelen spent his next two junior-eligible seasons in the WHL, an experience that culminated with a Memorial Cup win with the Vancouver Giants in 2007. Still, the Wild chose not to offer Thelen an entry-level contract. He spent four seasons in the minors, primarily in the ECHL, before retiring from hockey at age 25.
Notable defencemen selected after Thelen in the 2004 draft include Jeff Schultz (27th), Mike Green (29th), Alex Goligoski (61st), Alexei Emelin (84th) and Alex Edler (91st).
Biggest Steals: P.K. Subban and Brendan Gallagher
Subban selected 43rd overall in 2007 - defense - 6'0", 210 pounds
Gallagher selected 147th overall in 2010 - right wing - 5'9", 184 pounds
Subban: 434 GP, 63-215-278; Gallagher: 260 GP, 77-79-156
Depending on which flavor of draft steal you like best, you can easily make a case for either P.K. Subban or Brendan Gallagher.
Subban's the player who was drafted with middling expectations but quickly became a star, winning the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman in 2012-13.
Gallagher is the fearless, undersized winger who won't take no for an answer—a fifth-round pick who made the Canadiens based on sheer determination and would have surpassed his 2014-15 best of 24 goals and 47 points if he hadn't missed 29 games due to two separate injuries in 2015-16.
Subban has climbed higher, but Gallagher started further down the mountain. Both players have proven to be tremendous selections by Montreal's scouting staff.
Biggest Bust: David Fischer
Selected 20th overall in 2006 - defense - 6'3", 190 pounds
Did not play in NHL, 0-0-0 in two AHL games over one season
The Montreal Canadiens traded down on the draft floor to select Fischer in 2006, sending the 16th pick to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for the 20th pick and the 53rd pick.
The Sharks took defenseman Ty Wishart, whose career peak was 20 games with the New York Islanders in 2010-11, while the Canadiens got three NHL games out of 53rd pick Mathieu Carle (not to be confused with Matt Carle of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who was drafted in 2003).
That's three more games than David Fischer managed. Named "Mr. Hockey" in his home state of Minnesota before his 2006 draft day, Fischer was widely regarded as one of the best high school prospects in the hockey-mad state, but his star lost its shine due to injuries and lacklustre play during his four years at the University of Minnesota.
When the Canadiens decided not to offer Fischer a contract after he finished school, he tried, unsuccessfully, to catch on with the Vancouver Canucks at their 2010 prospect camp. Fischer played two seasons in the ECHL and got into two AHL games with the Houston Aeros before decamping for Germany.
Now 28, Fischer has spent the last three seasons with the Krefeld Penguins of the German League.
Notable players selected after Fischer in the 2006 draft include Claude Giroux (22nd), Semyon Varlamov (23rd), Patrik Berglund (25th), Nick Folgno (28th), Jeff Petry (45th) and Milan Lucic (50th).
Biggest Steal: Pekka Rinne
Selected 258th overall in 2004 - goal - 6'5", 217 pounds
447 GP, 238-156-23, 2.37 goals-against average, .917 save percentage
The Nashville Predators have never had much money to go after free agents or even to re-sign their own players to big contracts. The organization has stayed strong by constantly restocking the prospect pool with plenty of quality picks from all through the draft.
The Predators outdid themselves when they took defencemen Ryan Suter (seventh), Kevin Klein (37th) and Shea Weber (49th) all in the top 50 of the 2003 draft. They got a heckuva player when they took Patric Hornqvist last in the entire draft at No. 230 in 2005, then flipped the asset, along with Nick Spaling, for James Neal in 2014.
But the Preds' all-time best draft steal has to be Pekka Rinne—an eighth-round pick in 2004 who has been the team's backbone for the last eight seasons. A three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, Rinne has consistently carried a heavy workload in Nashville, a key component in the success of a team that, for a long time, lacked the offensive talent to score many goals.
Now 33, Rinne's game is starting to show some cracks, but he has dramatically exceeded the performance that's typically expected of a player drafted at his level.
Biggest Bust: Alexander Radulov
Selected 15th overall in 2004 - right wing - 6'1", 200 pounds
154 GP, 47-55-102
The blueprint of a Predators' first-round draft pick is typically a dependable player who grows into a useful NHLer but isn't especially flashy. Examples include Dan Hamhuis (2001), Scottie Upshall (2002), Colin Wilson (2008) and Ryan Ellis (2009). When they miss, they end up with borderline NHLers like Ryan Parent (2005) or Jonathan Blum (2007).
In 2004, Nashville tried something different, choosing ultra-talented but mercurial Russian Alexander Radulov with their 15th pick. Radulov played for two seasons in the QMJHL after being drafted, scoring at will but courting controversy with his on-ice antics—very different from a typical Predators player.
Radulov's offensive talent was on display during his time Nashville but after two seasons, he decamped for the KHL during the summer of 2008 despite owing one more year to the Predators on his contract. The KHL contract was allowed to stand, and Radulov played four seasons in Russia before announcing his intention to return to the Predators for the end of the 2011-12 season.
Once again, his time in Nashville ended in disappointment. He was suspended by the team for Game 3 of the Predators' second-round playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes after he and teammate Andrei Kostitsyn were discovered to have broken curfew before Game 2. The Predators went on to lose the series and the team announced that it would not be offering Radulov a new contract, making him a free agent.
After another four successful seasons in the KHL, Radulov is once again eying a return to North America. It's safe to assume that the twice-burned Predators will not be among the teams bidding for his services.
Notable forwards selected after Radulov in the 2004 draft include Travis Zajac (20th), Dave Bolland (32nd), Bryan Bickell (41st), Blake Comeau (47th), Carl Soderberg (49th), David Booth (53rd), Brandon Dubinsky (60th) and David Krejci (63rd).
New Jersey Devils
Biggest Steal: Adam Henrique
Selected 82nd overall in 2008 - center - 6'0", 195 pounds
349 GP, 98-105-203
In his draft year, Adam Henrique was overshadowed on the Windsor Spitfires by Josh Bailey, chosen eighth in 2008, and by a young Taylor Hall, who would eventually be selected first overall in 2010.
Henrique was also a bit of a late bloomer. His game evolved significantly during his last two years of junior, when the Spitfires won back-to-back Memorial Cups, and in first pro season with the AHL Albany Devils.
Henrique caught on with the New Jersey Devils in 2011-12, scoring 16 goals in his rookie season and earning a nomination for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. He chipped in 13 points during the Devils' postseason run to the Stanley Cup Final, including series-clinching goals in overtime in both the first and third rounds.
In 2015-16, Henrique hit the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career and finished second in Devils scoring with 50 points.
Biggest Bust: Mattias Tedenby
Selected 24th overall in 2008 - right wing - 5'10", 175 pounds
120 GP, 10-20-30
In the same draft that the Devils scored with Henrique in the third round, they committed one of their franchise's biggest blunders when they selected Swedish speedster Mattias Tedenby in the first round.
Tedenby parachuted almost directly into the NHL when he came over from Sweden as a 20-year-old in 2010, playing just 12 games in Albany during his rookie season. He managed eight goals and 22 points, but his roster spot on the big club became more tenuous over the next two seasons. Tedenby suited up for just 43 games for New Jersey in 2011-12 and did not participate in a playoff game. He played mainly in the AHL for the next two years before heading back to Sweden to rejoin his old club, HV71 Jonkoping, to start the 2014-15 season.
In addition to Henrique, notable players selected after Tedenby in 2008 include Tyler Ennis (26th), John Carlson (27th), Roman Josi (38th), Derek Stepan (51st) and Travis Hamonic (53rd).
New York Islanders
Biggest Steal: Anders Lee
Selected 152nd overall in 2009 - center - 6'3", 228 pounds
180 GP, 50-43-93
A two-sport athlete who excelled in both football and hockey, Anders Lee's draft stock may have been hurt by the fact that he was playing hockey for his local public high school in Edina, Minnesota leading into his draft year. He was a finalist for Minnesota's "Mr. Football" in 2008 and for "Mr. Hockey" in 2009, when he lost out to his future New York Islanders teammate Nick Leddy.
Initially eligible for the 2008 draft, Lee was passed over, setting up his late-round selection in 2009. After one year in the USHL, Lee spent three seasons playing college hockey with Notre Dame before signing his entry-level contract with the New York Islanders in April of 2013.
In 2014-15, Lee became a full-time member of the Islanders, and rewarded the organization's faith in him with a 25-goal season—which earned him a four-year contract extension with a cap hit of $3.75 million per season, per General Fanager.
Lee followed up with 15 goals in 2015-16. He was not part of New York's playoff run after breaking his leg with two games left to play in the regular season but is expected to be an important member of the Islanders' forward group going forward—a rarity for a sixth-round draft pick.
Biggest Bust: Ryan O'Marra
Selected 15th overall in 2005 - center - 6'2", 220 pounds
33 GP, 1-6-7
Drafted 15th overall out of the Erie Otters of the OHL, Ryan O'Marra was a big-bodied center with a solid CHL pedigree who was expected to make a smooth transition to the NHL.
Instead, O'Marra saw himself slide from the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers down to the ECHL's Stockton Thunder during his first pro season.
Without ever having played a game for the Islanders, O'Marra was packaged with a first-round draft pick and another former first-rounder, center Robert Nilsson, in a massive 2007 trade-deadline deal for Ryan Smyth.
Smyth became a free agent and signed with the Colorado Avalanche after the Islanders were eliminated in the first round by the Buffalo Sabres, while Nilsson suited up for 199 games over four seasons with the Oilers. O'Marra's NHL debut eventually came with the Oilers during the 2009-10 season, but his successes were limited.
After the end of the 2011-12 season, O'Marra decamped for Europe, where he spent three years playing first in Finland, then Italy, then Great Britain. He hung up his skates after the 2014-15 season, at the age of 27.
Notable players selected after O'Marra in the 2005 draft include T.J. Oshie (24th), James Neal (33rd), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (35th) and Paul Stastny (44th).
New York Rangers
Biggest Steal: Henrik Lundqvist
Selected 205th overall in 2000 - goal - 6'1", 188 pounds
685 GP, 374-229-72, 2.28 goals-against average, .921 save percentage
Looking back, it's amazing to realize that Henrik Lundqvist's twin brother Joel, who played center for 134 games in the NHL, was chosen in the third round of the 2000 draft, but his goaltending brother Henrik had to wait until Round 7 to hear his name called.
Now 34, Lundqvist's 685 NHL games rank him 26th on the all-time list of games played by a goalie, per QuantHockey. He's 15th in wins and his .921 career save percentage ties him for fourth all-time. Only Dominik Hasek has delivered a better save percentage (.922) while playing more games than Lundqvist (735).
Lundqvist's coming-out party was his gold-medal performance for Team Sweden at the 2006 Olympics, midway through his rookie NHL season. In 11 years with the New York Rangers, he has been a Vezina Trophy finalist five times and won the award in 2011-12. The Rangers made the playoffs in 10 of those 11 seasons, and Lundqvist backstopped the team to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014.
Biggest Bust: Hugh Jessiman
Selected 12th overall in 2003 - right wing - 6'6", 231 pounds
2 GP, 0-0-0
The Rangers had high hopes for towering power forward Hugh Jessiman when they drafted him out of Dartmouth College in 2003. Born in New York City, Jessiman grew up in Darien, Connecticut—and did he ever grow. His playing size is listed as 6'6" and 231 pounds.
But Jessiman never played an NHL game for the Rangers. After three seasons at college, he started his pro career after the conclusion of the 2004-05 NHL lockout, but failed to make a strong impression. Jessiman bounced back and forth between the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack and the ECHL's Charlotte Checkers for two seasons before becoming a full-time player in Hartford.
In October of 2008, Jessiman was dealt to the Nashville Predators for future considerations. He went on to spend time as part of the Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators organizations, playing his only two NHL games with the Panthers in 2010-11.
After eight seasons and 498 games in the AHL, Jessiman headed to Europe to start the 2013-14 season. His hockey career ended after one season in the KHL and a brief appearance in the Austrian league.
Notable players selected after Jessiman in the first round of the talent-rich 2003 draft include Dustin Brown (13th), Brent Seabrook (14th), Zach Parise (17th), Ryan Getzlaf (19th), Brent Burns (20th), Ryan Kesler (23rd), Mike Richards (24th) and Corey Perry (28th).
Biggest Steal: Mark Stone
Selected 178th overall in 2010 - right wing - 6'3", 205 pounds
178 GP, 53-80-133
Daniel Alfredsson is the Ottawa Senators' famous draft steal, chosen 133th overall in 1994, but his selection came before the window we're focusing on here, which highlights draft picks since 2000. In his first two full NHL seasons, Mark Stone's career trajectory is tracking right alongside Alfredsson's.
Like Alfredsson, Mark Stone is a right winger who was selected in the sixth round—in Stone's case, in 2010. Alfredsson scored 26 goals and won the Calder Trophy in his rookie season in 1995-96; Stone also scored 26 goals in his first full season in Ottawa, finished the year three points ahead of Alfredsson's rookie total of 61 and finished second in Calder voting in 2014-15.
Alfredsson started in the NHL as a 22-year-old when he came over from Sweden. Stone was also 22 when he established himself full time with the Senators after spending most of his first two pro seasons in the AHL. The parallels are impressive—and bode extremely well for Stone's hockey future in Ottawa.
Biggest Bust: Jakub Klepis
Selected 16th overall in 2002 - center - 6'1", 207 pounds
66 GP, 4-10-14
The Jakub Klepis era was extremely brief in Ottawa.
The Senators chose the stocky center after his first North American season, where he put up 64 points and 111 penalty minutes with the Portland Winter Hawks of the WHL. But Klepis elected to return to the Czech Republic for the 2002-03 season, and Ottawa cut ties with him almost immediately.
In February of 2003, Klepis was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for veteran winger Vaclav Varada and a fifth-round draft pick. Varada managed 12 goals in 117 games over three seasons with the Senators before heading back to Europe.
Klepis' rights were traded from Buffalo to Washington at the 2004 trade deadline. He played his 66 NHL games with the Capitals between 2005 and 2007.
Notable players selected after Klepis in the 2002 draft include Boyd Gordon (17th), Alexander Steen (24th), Jarret Stoll (36th), Trevor Daley (43rd), Matt Stajan (57th), Jiri Hudler (58th), Frans Nielsen (87th) and Valtteri Filppula (95th).
Biggest Steal: Shayne Gostisbehere
Selected 78th overall in 2012 - defense - 5'11", 186 pounds
66 GP, 17-29-46
The draft pick that the Philadelphia Flyers used to take Shayne Gostisbehere was one of those throw-ins that got shuffled twice before the 2012 draft. It originally belonged to the San Jose Sharks, who traded it to Florida in order to move up 10 spots in the second round of the 2011 draft, then was traded on to the Flyers a few days later as part of the package that the Panthers used to acquire Kris Versteeg.
Born in Florida, Gostisbehere attended high school in Connecticut, then played college hockey at Union College in Schenectady, New York. With just five goals in his draft year, his flair as a power-play specialist had not yet become apparent when he was drafted.
Gostisbehere drew attention for his strong play when Union College won the NCAA national title in 2014, but a torn ACL kept him out of action for most of his first pro season in 2014-15.
When "Ghost" did earn his callup from the Flyers in November of 2015, he immediately made the most of his NHL opportunity. His 17 goals ranked him sixth among all NHL defensemen, earned him a Calder Trophy nomination and helped the Flyers earn a playoff berth after a one-year absence from the postseason.
Biggest Bust: Joni Pitkanen
Selected 4th overall in 2002 - defense - 6'3", 210 pounds
535 GP, 57-225-282
The Flyers don't always hang onto the players they select with their first-round picks, but they generally do a good job of drafting solid NHL players such as Justin Williams (2000), Jeff Carter and Mike Richards (2003), Claude Giroux (2006), James van Riemsdyk (2007) and Sean Couturier (2011).
One of the highest picks the Flyers have made since 2000 turned out to be one of their least successful, which is why Joni Pitkanen qualifies as the biggest bust. Only van Riemsdyk was drafted higher (second). In the four-spot, a team should be able to do better than to choose a journeyman defenseman.
Pitkanen's career came to an untimely end as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes in April of 2013 when he suffered a shattered heel after crashing hard into the end boards, but that came long after the Flyers cut him loose. Pitkanen had a good shot and showed some strong offensive instincts—he finished seventh in Calder Trophy voting in his rookie season and earned some Norris votes as one of the league's best defensemen when he scored 13 goals and 46 points in 58 games in 2005-06.
But even early on, he was injury prone, and the physical side of his game was lacking. After scoring just four goals and going from a plus-22 to a minus-25 in 2006-07, the Flyers traded Pitkanen to the Edmonton Oilers as part of a package that brought Joffrey Lupul and Jason Smith to Philadelphia.
Jay Bouwmeester was chosen one spot ahead of Pitkanen in the 2002 draft, at No. 3. In the Flyers' defense, 2002 wasn't a great year for highly-ranked defensemen. Other blueliners selected later in the first round include Ryan Whitney (fifth), Keith Ballard (11th), Steve Eminger (12th), Denis Grebeshkov (18th), Anton Babchuk (21st) and Martin Vagner (26th). Later, however, Trevor Daley was selected 43rd, Duncan Keith was 54th and Johnny Boychuk was taken 61st.
Biggest Steal: Kris Letang
Selected 62nd overall in 2005 - defense - 6'0", 201 pounds
562 GP, 82-270-352
In a few years, young members of the Pittsburgh Penguins who emerged in the 2016 playoffs could be laying claim to the title of the team's greatest draft steals. Keep an eye on Matt Murray (83rd in 2012), Bryan Rust (80th in 2010) and Tom Kuhnhackl (110th in 2010) down the road but right now, it's impossible not to name Kris Letang.
The Penguins turned around their franchise when they selected Sidney Crosby first overall in 2005 but they added another important player to their roster when they chose Letang in the third round. Despite myriad injuries and health issues throughout his career, Letang remains an excellent skater and power-play point man, and doesn't shy away from playing a physical game.
In 2015-16, Letang hit new career highs with 16 goals and 67 points in the regular season—none sweeter than the Stanley Cup-winner in Game 6 against the San Jose Sharks.
Biggest Bust: Angelo Esposito
Selected 20th overall in 2007 - center - 6'0", 190 pounds
Did not play in NHL, 10-28-38 in 124 AHL games over five seasons
One of the brightest prospects of his era in Quebec, Angelo Esposito captained Canadian teams to gold medals at the 2006 World U17 Hockey Challenge and 2006 Ivan Hlinka tournament as part of a standout rookie season with the Quebec Remparts.
As the center on the Remparts top line that also featured Alexander Radulov, hopes were high for Esposito, but his stock declined in his draft year after his point totals dropped from 98 to 79 in 2006-07.
The Penguins had enough faith in his talent to draft him in the 20th spot, but just seven months after he was drafted, he was included in the trade-deadline package that Pittsburgh sent to the Atlanta Thrashers to acquire Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis, which fuelled their run to the 2008 Stanley Cup Final.
While toiling primarily in the AHL, Esposito was subsequently traded to the Florida Panthers in 2011, then the Dallas Stars in 2012. Now 27, he has spent most of the last four seasons in Europe. He had his most productive season as a pro with 15 goals and 38 points with Cortina of the Italian League in 2015-16.
Notable centers selected after Esposito in the 2007 draft include Mikael Backlund (24th), Alex Kllorn (77th), Joakim Andersson (88th), Nick Bonino (173rd), Paul Byron (200th) and—listed as a center though he now plays left wing—Jamie Benn (129th).
San Jose Sharks
Biggest Steal: Joe Pavelski
Selected 205th overall in 2003 - center - 5'11", 190 pounds
725 GP, 266-297-563
The man they call Little Joe in the Bay Area has stepped into the spotlight in his first year as team captain, posting his third straight season of at least 37 goals and 70 points and leading the playoffs with 14 goals as his San Jose Sharks reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
Pavelski grew up in Wisconsin and was drafted out of the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL in 2003. After two years of college, he made the jump to the pros at the age of 22 and played just 16 games in the AHL before establishing himself as a Sharks regular during the 2006-07 season—just one year after Joe Thornton arrived on the scene from Boston.
He's well behind Thornton (887 points in 835 games as a Shark) and leader Patrick Marleau (1,036 points in 1,411 games), but after 10 NHL seasons, Pavelski already ranks third on San Jose's all-time points list.
Biggest Bust: Ty Wishart
Selected 16th overall in 2006 - defense - 6'4", 222 pounds
26 GP, 1-5-6
The Sharks traded a second-round draft pick to the Montreal Canadiens for the opportunity to move up four spots in the draft and select big defenseman Ty Wishart out of the Prince George Cougars of the WHL—junior home of successful NHL defensemen like Zdeno Chara (1996), Eric Brewer (1997) and Dan Hamhuis (2001).
After completing his four years of junior eligibility, Wishart played just five games in the organization for AHL's Worcester Sharks before being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning as one of four components in the package that brought Dan Boyle to San Jose.
Over the next two and a half seasons, Wishart got into five NHL games while playing mostly with the AHL's Norfolk Admirals. On January 1, 2011, he was sent to the New York Islanders in exchange for veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson.
Wishart spent another two and a half seasons with the Islanders organization, where he played 21 NHL games but once again, was used primarily as a farmhand. In 2013, at the age of 25, he headed for Germany. Last season, Wishart played for Crimmitschau ETC of the second-division German League.
The defensemen the Montreal Canadiens chose with the Sharks' original 20th pick in 2006, David Fischer, was also a bust. Other blueliners selected in the 2006 draft include Jeff Petry (45th), Mike Weber (57th), Korbinian Holzer (111th), Alex Biega (147th) and Andrew MacDonald (160th).
St. Louis Blues
Biggest Steal: David Backes
Selected 62nd overall in 2003 - center - 6'3", 221 pounds
727 GP, 206-254-460
A native of Minnesota, David Backes was passed over as an 18-year-old, then turned out to be a hidden gem when he was selected by the St. Louis Blues after scoring 28 goals and 69 points with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL in 2002-03.
Backes spent his next three seasons with Minnesota State University, Mankato, then put in 43 games with the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL before nailing down his NHL job in 2007.
By the summer of 2008, Backes had shown enough of his power forward game and strong leadership that he was signed to an offer sheet by the Vancouver Canucks, but the Blues matched the three-year, $7.5 million offer to retain his rights.
In 2010, Backes won a silver medal with the U.S. Olympic team and in 2011, he was named captain of the Blues. Along the way, he has racked up six 20-goal seasons and five campaigns with at least 100 penalty minutes.
Backes' future with the Blues is currently uncertain as he's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. One possible draft steal who could make a big impact down the road is defenseman Colton Parayko, who just completed an impressive rookie season after being drafted 86th in 2012.
Biggest Bust: Marek Schwarz
Selected 17th overall in 2004 - goal - 6'0", 180 pounds
6 GP, 0-2-0, 4.32 goals-against average, .809 save percentage
David Rundblad hasn't established himself as a defenseman that was worthy of a 17th pick in 2009, but the Blues quickly righted that wrong by trading him just one year later—for the first-round pick they'd use to select Vladimir Tarasenko. So that worked out just fine, I'd say.
Not so good—in 2004 the Blues tried to take a step toward ending the ever-changing cast of characters that had been playing goal behind a pretty good team during the early part of the millennium. Drafting goalies with high picks was all the rage—Marc-Andre Fleury had been chosen first overall the year before and Al Montoya and Devan Dubnyk had already been selected by the time it was St. Louis' turn to choose at No. 17.
Marek Schwarz had made a splash in the Czech men's league as a 17-year-old, prompting hopes that he might be the heir apparent to Dominik Hasek. After being drafted, he spent his first season in North America with the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, but returned to the Czech Republic for a year as a 19-year-old in 2005-06.
The following season, Schwarz signed his pro contract and started his career with the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL. He got into action in two NHL games as a call-up with the Blues, a pattern that continued in his two subsequent seasons as he spent most of his time in the AHL and the ECHL.
After his entry-level contract expired at the end of the 2008-09 season, Schwarz returned to Europe. He continues to play in the Czech league, where he went 13-5-0 in 2015-16 with HC Bili Tygri Liberec.
Notable players selected after Schwarz in the 2004 draft include Travis Zajac (20th), Cory Schneider (26th), Mike Green (29th) and David Krejci (63rd).
Tampa Bay Lightning
Biggest Steal: Ondrej Palat
Selected 208th overall in 2011 - left wing - 6'0", 188 pounds
232 GP, 57-109-166
On some teams, finding a player like Nikita Kucherov with the 58th pick would qualify as a terrific draft steal. But when the Tampa Bay Lightning roster also boasts gems like undrafted Tyler Johnson, 77th pick Alex Killorn, 101st pick Cedic Paquette and 208th pick Ondrej Palat, Kucherov practically qualifies as a blue-chipper. Palat's the steal.
A native of Frydek-Mistek in the Czech Republic, Palat was a 20-year-old who had been in North America for two seasons when the Lightning decided to spent a late-round pick on him. The year he was drafted, he tied 18-year-old Sean Couturier for the scoring lead on the QMJHL's Drummondville Voltagiers with 39-57-96.
Older players who put up big points at the end of their junior careers often can't translate those skills to the pros. Palat proved to be the exception, but it's his two-way game that has been his calling card. In his first year at the AHL level, Palat won the Calder Cup with the Norfolk Admirals, then reached the Calder Cup Final again in 2012-13 with Tampa Bay's new affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.
In 2013-14, he made the jump to the NHL full time, scoring 23 goals and 59 points and earning a Calder Trophy nomination as one of the NHL's top rookies of the year. Palat also chipped in 16 points in 26 games when the Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2014-15.
Biggest Bust: Andy Rogers
Selected 30th overall in 2004 - defense - 6'5", 225 pounds
Did not play in NHL, 0-10-10 in 119 AHL games over four seasons
It's not easy for a franchise to keep its focus on solid drafting and developing immediately after winning a Stanley Cup—especially not when it means that the team receives the last pick in the first round of the subsequent draft.
Faced with that situation in 2004, general manager Jay Feaster elected to select a big stay-at-home defenseman from the WHL's Calgary Hitmen, Andy Rogers.
After Rogers was traded to the Prince George Cougars midway through the 2004-05 season, the Lightning inked him to an entry-level deal as the NHL lockout came to a close, then returned him for a fourth major junior season.
During his three years under contract with the Lightning organization, Rogers failed to distinguish himself at the AHL level. He was packaged up as part of a low-level trade-deadline deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs in March of 2009. After an unsuccessful attempt to catch on with the Marlies for the 2009-10 season, Rogers' hockey career came to an inauspicious close.
Notable defensemen selected after Rogers in the 2004 draft include Nicklas Grossmann (56th), Alex Goligoski (61st), Andrej Sekera (71st), Clayton Stoner (79th), Alexei Emelin (84th), Alex Edler (91st), Nikita Nikitin (136th), Adam Pardy (173rd), Roman Polak (180th) and Matt Hunwick (224th).
Toronto Maple Leafs
Biggest Steal: James Reimer
Selected 99th overall in 2006 - goal - 6'2", 208 pounds
215 GP, 91-78-23, 2.78 goals-against average, .914 save percentage
As a general rule of thumb, a draft can be considered successful if a team can unearth two players with the skills to contribute at the NHL level. The Toronto Maple Leafs hit the motherload in 2006 with Jiri Tlusty (13th), Nikolay Kulemin (44th), James Reimer (99th), Korbinian Holzer (111th), Viktor Stalberg (161st) and Leo Komarov (180th). Only Tyler Ruegsegger, chosen 166th, hasn't played some games in the show.
In terms of impact to the Leafs, James Reimer gets the nod here as the biggest draft steal. For the last six seasons, he has been flirting with Toronto's starting job and along the way, he has managed to become the ninth-longest tenured goaltender in Leafs history at 207 games, according to Quant Hockey.
Reimer's .914 save percentage is also second-best in franchise history since that stat started being kept in the 1950s, just a hair behind Jonathan Bernier's .915.
More than the other members of his 2006 Leafs draft class—and more than some other good Toronto draft picks that went on to star in other organizations (like Anton Stralman, originally selected 216th in 2005)—Reimer was one of the Leafs' most important players for much of his time in Toronto.
Biggest Bust: Tyler Biggs
Selected 22nd overall in 2011 - right wing - 6'2", 220 pounds
Has not played in NHL, 11-6-17 in 119 AHL games over four seasons
The Leafs are well-known for giving up on some of their best draft picks before they reach their full potential, with Tuukaa Rask (2005) and Alexander Steen (2002) standing out in this category.
It remains to be seen whether or not 2011 first-rounder Tyler Biggs will also come back to bite them. The right winger has an impressive international pedigree, which includes gold medals at the U17, U18 and World Junior levels, but left college after one year to play in the OHL, then had two unremarkable seasons with the Toronto Marlies before he was thrown into the package that made up the Phil Kessel trade to Pittsburgh.
Biggs is still just 23 years old, and he's now in an organization that had great success with reclamation projects in 2015-16 at both the pro and minor-league levels. Biggs didn't do anything for the Leafs, but he still has a shot to turn around his hockey career in Pittsburgh.
Notable players selected after Biggs in the 2011 draft include Vladislav Namestnikov (27th), Rickard Rackell (30th), Tomas Jurco (35th), Boone Jenner (37th), John Gibson (39th), Brandon Saad (43rd), Matt Nieto (47th), Nikita Kucherov (58th), Vincent Trocheck (64th), Adam Lowry (67th), Jean-Gabriel Pageau (96th), Johnny Gaudreau (104th), Andrew Shaw (139th) and Ondrej Palat (207th).
Biggest Steal: Jannik Hansen
Selected 287th overall in 2004 - right wing - 6'1", 195 pounds
537 GP, 99-123-232
One of a handful of players from Denmark to have suited up in the NHL, Jannik Hansen stepped up from his role as a utility winger and penalty-killer to spend most of the 2015-16 season on the Vancouver Canucks' first line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, reaching a new career high with 22 goals.
Playing his minor hockey in a country that's off the main hockey radar, it's understandable that the speedy Hansen escaped the notice of many scouts. He didn't arrive in North America until the 2005-06 season, a full year after he was drafted, but immediately proved that he could handle the North American game by scoring at a point-a-game pace with the WHL's Portland Winter Hawks.
After a smooth transition to the AHL, Hansen made his debut with the Canucks during the 2007 playoffs, but needed one more season before establishing himself as a full-time NHL player. He found a role on a top-ranked team, played in every game of the 2011 run to the Stanley Cup Final, and has continued to grow his game as the Canucks rebuild their roster—now a savvy veteran who's capable of playing in all situations.
Biggest Bust: Patrick White
Selected 25th overall in 2007 - center - 6'0", 188 pounds
0 GP, 0-0-0
Patrick White led off a remarkable 2007 draft for the Vancouver Canucks, where not one of the six players selected skated in even a single NHL game.
The Canucks were looking for depth at their center position behind Henrik Sedin and Brendan Morrison when they targeted White. Hailing from Minnesota, where high school hockey rules the roost, White had been named the Associated Press' 2007 high school player of the year before adding a silver medal with the U.S. Under-18 team.
After being drafted, White moved on to the University of Minnesota but struggled to earn ice time. In his sophomore season in 2008-09, he finished 10th in scoring with 16 points on a team that was led offensively by another future first-round disappointment for Vancouver, 17-year-old Jordan Schroeder.
The Canucks chose Schroeder with their 22nd selection that June, then cut ties with White two months later by trading him to the cap-strapped San Jose Sharks along with defenseman Daniel Rahimi in exchange for two blueliners—power-play specialist Christan Ehrhoff and forward Brad Lukowich.
After White finished college, the Sharks declined to offer him a contract. He signed in Germany and has gone on to play in Slovakia, Austria, Sweden and France.
Because White was a first-round draft pick, per Matthew Taylor of Fear the Fin, San Jose received a second-round pick as compensation for not signing him. With that pick, the Sharks selected Chris Tierney, who became a full-time member of their team midway through the 2014-15 season.
Notable players selected after White in the 2007 draft include David Perron (26th), P.K. Subban (43rd), Wayne Simmonds (61st) and Jamie Benn (129th).
Editor's note: This slide originally listed Luc Bourdon as the Canucks' biggest draft bust. While we attempted to provide the necessary context around Bourdon's passing to avoid an insensitive discussion of this tragedy, we recognize that his inclusion was inappropriate.
Biggest Steal: Braden Holtby
Selected 93rd overall in 2008 - goal - 6'2", 217 pounds
244 GP, 149-60-25, 2.37 goals-against average, .921 save percentage
The Washington Capitals quietly scooped an elite goaltender out of the fourth round of the 2008 draft, long after goalies like Chet Pickard (18th), Tom McCollum (30th), Jacob Markstrom (31st), Jake Allen (34th), Tyler Beskorowany (59th) and Michael Hutchinson (77th) had been chosen.
Holtby was born one day after the draft cutoff age, on September 16, so he was one of the oldest players selected in the 2008 draft. In his final year with the WHL's Saskatoon Blades in 2008-09, Holtby posted an impressive 40-16-4 record, but he still bounced between the AHL's Hershey Bears and the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays in his 2009-10 rookie pro season.
One year later, Holtby served notice that he deserved to be taken seriously in the NHL, posting a 10-2-2 record and a .934 save percentage with the Capitals. Despite playing just seven NHL games in 2011-12, Holtby stole the net from Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun during the 2012 playoffs, setting up his progression to the starter's position.
In 2015-16, Holtby was nominated as a Vezina Trophy finalist for the first time after tying Martin Brodeur's all-time NHL record with 48 wins in a single season.
Biggest Bust: Sasha Pokulok
Selected 14th overall in 2005 - defense - 6'5", 230 pounds
Did not play in NHL, 3-12-15 in 68 AHL games over four seasons
Since 2000, the Washington Capitals have made a whopping 22 first-round draft selections in 16 years. In both 2002 and 2004, they picked three times, and they've only gone without a first-round selection twice—in 2001 and 2011.
What's more, nearly all of those picks turned into NHL players. The best, of course, is Alex Ovechkin, chosen first overall in 2004.
A rare misstep was hulking defenseman Sasha Pokulok, drafted 14th in 2005. The Caps went way off the board in choosing the Cornell freshman, who was ranked 39th among North American skaters according to Central Scouting via the Draft Analyst.
Pokuluk left college after his second season, but failed to find his footing. After an up-and-down four years in the minor leagues that included plenty of time riding the buses in the ECHL, Pokuluk decamped for Germany. He spent his last three seasons of pro hockey with the Cornwall River Kings of Quebec's LNAH, last playing in 2014-15.
Lower-ranked players from the 2005 draft class who did pan out include Keith Yandle (105th), Vladimir Sobotka (106th), Niklas Hjalmarsson (108th), Darren Helm (132nd), Nathan Gerbe (142nd), Mark Fayne (155th), Anton Stralman (216th) and Patric Hornqvist (230th).
Winnipeg Jets / Atlanta Thrashers
Biggest Steal: Connor Hellebuyck
Selected 130th overall in 2012 - goal - 6'4", 207 pounds
26 GP, 13-11-1, 2.34 goals-against average, .918 save percentage
Any player that gets drafted into the NHL from the Tier II junior Odessa Jackalopes in the team's first seaon as part of the NAHL earns immediate bonus points for selection to this list. Connor Hellebuyck grew up in Michigan and caught scouts' attention as he put together a 26-21-5 season in Texas, with a .930 save percentage.
From there, it was on to two seasons in the more traditional hockey stomping grounds of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell before Hellebuyck turned pro at the beginning of the 2014-15 season. He was named a starter at the league's All-Star Game and was also named to the All-Star Team later that spring when he backstopped Team USA to a bronze medal at the 2015 World Championship in the Czech Republic.
After all his success since being drafted, expectations were high for Hellebuyck when he made his NHL debut in November of 2015. He didn't disappoint, putting up solid numbers and serving notice that he's ready to challenge Ondrej Pavelec for the starter's job in Winnipeg.
Biggest Bust: Alex Bourret
Selected 16th overall in 2005 - right wing - 5'10", 205 pounds
Did not play in NHL, 28-72-100 in 176 AHL games over four seasons
If we went back to 1999, we could spotlight Atlanta's first-overall pick Patrik Stefan as one of the worst of all time, but he falls just outside the scope of this piece. In the 2000s, the Thrashers' first-round picks typically haven't panned out as elite players, but they've carved out NHL careers of some substance.
But the Thrashers usually finished low enough in the standings that they got to choose from the best-available draft talent. When faced with the 16th selection in 2005, the team failed miserably when it selected winger Alex Bourret out of the Quebec League.
Bourret was ranked 17th among North American skaters by Central Scouting according to the Draft Analyst, so the Thrashers clearly had him ranked higher than most after his 86-point season in his draft year.
The gamble looked like it would pay off when Bourret exploded for 44 goals and 114 points when he was traded to the Shawinigan Cataractes to start the 2005-06 season—eighth in the league, just two points behind fellow first-rounder Derick Brassard—but Bourret couldn't translate his talent into success at the pro level.
In his first AHL season, Bourret was dealt to the New York Rangers as part of a 2007 trade-deadline deal. After a season in their minor-league system, the Rangers shuffled him on to the Phoenix Coyotes during the summer of 2008. After that, Bourret's career devolved into a series of short-term minor-league gigs.
Bourret was one of three first-rounders from his draft year never to play an NHL game—a pretty typical ratio for the era.
Draft details, player stats and trade information from HockeyDB.com.