Ranking the Best Homegrown NHL Cores in the Last Decade

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2021

Ranking the Best Homegrown NHL Cores in the Last Decade

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Drafting and developing core talent is among the keys to building and maintaining a successful NHL franchise.

    Hiring a skilled coach to shape the roster and addressing roster weaknesses via trades or free agency are also crucial factors. In today's salary-cap world, however, building a strong nucleus of talent can be the difference between a contender and a pretender.

    NHL history is replete with examples of clubs that built into champions around a talented group of handpicked stars. The Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers built dynasties around such players in the 1970s and 1980s.

    The rise of free agency in the 1990s and the implementation of the salary cap in 2005 has made championship dynasties a thing of the past. Nevertheless, a solid core of homegrown talent remains vital to keeping clubs in perennial contention as Cup contenders.

    Here's our ranking of the NHL's best homegrown cores since 2011. Depth in talent, championships and longevity among the league's top teams factored into this compilation.

6. Los Angeles Kings

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    From 2011-12 to 2013-14, the Los Angeles Kings were among the NHL's most dominant clubs. They won two Stanley Cups (2012 and 2014) and reached the Western Conference Final in 2013.

    That three-year run wouldn't have been possible without their core of homegrown talent. First-round picks Dustin Brown (2003) and Anze Kopitar (2005) were their top forwards, while defenseman Drew Doughty (2008) anchored their blue line. Third-round pick Jonathan Quick (2005) blossomed into one of the league's best goaltenders.

    Captain of the Kings from 2008-09 to 2015-16, Brown is a physical two-way forward who led the club by example during their championships years. His efforts earned him the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2013-14.

    Kopitar quickly established himself among the NHL's best two-way centers, winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 2015-16 and 2017-18. His disciplined play also earned him the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in 2015-16. He took over as Kings captain in 2016-17.

    One of the league's top all-around defensemen, Doughty won the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 2015-16 and was a finalist on three other occasions. Quick's goaltending carried the Kings to their first Stanley Cup in 2012, earning him the Conn Smythe Trophy. He's also a two-time winner of the William M. Jennings Trophy (2013-14 and 2017-18) and is also a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist.

    The Kings struggled following their second Stanley Cup, reaching the playoffs only twice since then. Many of the players on their championship rosters have long since departed. Brown, Kopitar, Doughty and Quick, however, still remain as veteran leaders for their rebuilding club.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Lightning have been among the NHL's best teams over the past six seasons. During that period they won the Stanley Cup (2020), reached the Final in 2015 and advanced to the Eastern Conference Final in 2016 and 2018. They also won the Presidents' Trophy in 2018-19 with a record-tying 62 wins. 

    Leading the way was a talented core of six players the Lightning drafted and developed in stars. The first was center Steven Stamkos. Selected first overall in the 2008 NHL draft, the Lightning captain blossomed into one of the NHL's top snipers, winning the Maurice Richard Trophy in 2009-10 and 2011-12.

    Taken second overall in 2009, Victor Hedman's become one of the league's top defenseman. He took home the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 2017-18 and the Conn Smythe Trophy last year after leading the Lightning to the Stanley Cup.

    Two years later, the Lightning took Nikita Kucherov in the second round. The skillful Russian winger won the Art Ross Trophy, the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award in 2018-19. Kucherov was also last year's postseason scoring leader with 34 points.

    The Lightning struck pay dirt again the following season with first-round pick Andrei Vasilevskiy. He's become one of the league's top goaltenders in recent years, winning the Vezina Trophy in 2018-19 and named a finalist in 2018 and 2020.

    Third-round selections Brayden Point (2014) and Anthony Cirelli (2015) have also blossomed into important core forwards in recent years. They played key roles in the Lightning's march to the Stanley Cup last year.

4. Boston Bruins

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, reached the Cup Final in 2013 and 2019 and took home the Presidents' Trophy in 2020. Several players developed within their system played crucial roles during those years and continue to do so today.

    Center Patrice Bergeron was a second-round pick in the 2003 NHL draft. Overcoming a serious concussion early in his career, he's become one of the best two-way forwards in league history, winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy four times. On Jan. 7, he was named captain of the Bruins.

    Brad Marchand garnered a well-deserved reputation as a pesky winger but in recent years became one of the league's scoring leaders. Taken in the third round in 2006, Marchand had four straight seasons with 85 or more points from 2016-17 to 2019-20. He also tied for the 2019 playoff scoring lead (23 points) with St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly.

    Selected in the second round of the 2004 draft, David Krejci has spent most of his 16 NHL seasons as the Bruins' second-line center. He was the 2011 playoffs scoring leader with 23 points in 2011 and repeated the feat two years later with 26 points.

    Joining those veterans among the Bruins core players are David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy. A first-round pick in 2015, Pastrnak finished last season with a career-high 48 goals and 95 points. McAvoy, a 2016 first-rounder, has become one of the top young defensemen in the league. Both helped the Bruins reach the 2019 Cup Final and win the Presidents' Trophy last year.

3. Washington Capitals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Since 2010, the Washington Capitals have won the Presidents' Trophy three times, and they took home their first Stanley Cup championship in 2018. They can thank a solid core of players who came through their system for keeping them among the NHL's top teams throughout the past decade.

    Leading the way is captain Alex Ovechkin. The greatest goal scorer of his generation was selected first overall in 2004. The skillful left winger won Art Ross Trophy in 2007, the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2018, is a multiple-time winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award and a nine-time winner of the Maurice Richard Trophy.

    Selected in the first round of the 2006 draft, Nicklas Backstrom has been a reliable presence at center throughout his 14 seasons with the Capitals. He's reached or exceeded 65 points in 10 seasons when he's played 75-plus games.

    The 2008 draft saw the Capitals select John Carlson and Braden Holtby. Carlson's become one of the league's best puck-moving defensemen and was a finalist last season for the James Norris Memorial Trophy. Holtby won the Vezina Trophy in 2016 and backstopped the Capitals to the Stanley Cup during his eight seasons as their starting goalie before departing last fall via free agency.

    Evgeny Kuznetsov was a 2010 first-rounder who joined the Capitals in 2013-14. He soon became their first-line center alongside Ovechkin and has three 70-plus-point campaigns on his resume. Winger Tom Wilson was taken in the first round two years later and has become a core player over the past four seasons with his clutch scoring and physical play.

    Ovechkin, Backstrom and Carlson are aging but show no signs of slowing down. With Kuznetsov and Wilson, they're among the reasons the Capitals are among this season's top teams and remain a Cup contender.

2. Chicago Blackhawks

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    Paul Beaty/Associated Press

    The Chicago Blackhawks ended a 49-year Stanley Cup drought in 2009-10. For the next five seasons, they were among the NHL's top teams, winning two more championships in 2013 and 2015.

    Leading the way were five players who rose through the ranks to establish themselves as the core of those championship years. They include center Jonathan Toews (drafted 2006) and high-scoring winger Patrick Kane (2007) and defensemen Duncan Keith (2002) and Brent Seabrook (2003). Goaltender Corey Crawford (2003) was their starter through most of the past decade.

    Toews captained the Blackhawks to those three championships, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2010. Considered one of the best two-way players and leaders in the game, he won the Frank J. Selke Award in 2012-13 and the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2014-15.

    Kane is among the NHL's top scorers. He's won several individual awards, including the Conn Smythe Trophy (2013), as well as the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award in 2015-16.

    One of the NHL's best defensemen during his prime, Keith won the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 2009-10 and 2013-14. He also took home the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2015.

    Crawford was a two-time winner of the William M. Jennings (2012-13, 2014-15), providing the Blackhawks with clutch goaltending. Seabrook never garnered individual awards but was a reliable all-around presence on their blue line.

    The Blackhawks have steadily declined over the past five years as salary-cap constraints depleted their roster. Kane, Keith, Toews and Seabrook remain, with Kane still in superstar condition. Toews was sidelined this season by illness and Seabrook is on permanent long-term injured reserve. Nevertheless, those players formed the core of one of the NHL's best teams during the first half of the last decade.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Penguins are poised to reach the postseason for the 15th straight year. They have won three Stanley Cups during that period, including in 2016 and 2017, thanks in part to a core of several homegrown stars.

    Topping the list is Sidney Crosby. Selected first overall in 2005, the longtime Penguins captain is among the greatest players in NHL history. He's a multiple-time winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, Art Ross Trophy, Maurice Richard Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy.

    Selected second overall the year before Crosby, Evgeni Malkin rose quickly to become an NHL star. A two-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy in 2008-09 and 2011-12, the Russian center also won the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2007, the Conn Smythe in 2009 and the Hart Memorial Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award in 2012.

    The Penguins selected goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury first overall in 2003. He backstopped them to the Stanley Cup in 2009 and split the goaltending duties with Matt Murray (third round, 2012) during their championship runs in 2016 and 2017.

    Kris Letang was selected in the third round in the same draft as Crosby. Cracking the roster full-time in 2007-08, he's the longest-serving defenseman in franchise history.

    Selected in the third round of the 2012 draft, Jake Guentzel blossomed into a scorer skating on Crosby's wing. He's become one of their scoring leaders over the past three seasons, establishing himself as a core player in the 2017 playoffs with 13 goals and 21 points.

    Fleury and Murray are no longer with the Penguins. Crosby, Malkin and Letang are in their mid-30s, but they and Guentzel are key reasons why the Penguins remain a playoff contender.


    Award info via NHL.com. Player info via Hockey Reference.