The Best Expansion Draft Picks in NFL, MLB and NHL History

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2021

The Best Expansion Draft Picks in NFL, MLB and NHL History

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    William Karlsson
    William KarlssonJohn Locher/Associated Press

    When a franchise joins the NFL, the NHL or MLB, the league will conduct an expansion draft to build the new team's roster. Existing clubs "expose" players, and the incoming team peruses the selection pool in hopes of shaping a competitive squad.

    Ordinarily, most expansion draft picks are forgettable. That's not surprising, since current teams protect their top players.

    Every so often, though, the incoming franchise finds a gem. And the NHL's Seattle Kraken are hoping for the same in 2021.

    The following list is organized chronologically based on expansion draft year. While the choices are subjective, individual production and accomplishments for the drafting team are main factors.

    Note: While all 12 NHL and six MLB drafts are considered, only the NFL's four 1970 post-merger drafts are included.

The MLB Asterisks

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    Trevor Hoffman
    Trevor HoffmanRobert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

    Dean Chance, Washington Senators

    Washington added Chance in the 1960 expansion draft but immediately flipped him to the Los Angeles Angeles. He spent six seasons on the Angels, earning the most recognition in 1964. Chance posted a 20-9 record and 1.65 ERA and brought home the American League Cy Young Award.


    Bobby Shantz, Washington Senators and Houston Colt .45's

    The AL MVP with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1952, Shantz has a fascinating story. After the Senators took him in 1960, the Houston Colt .45's picked Shantz in 1961.

    In reality, however, neither Washington nor Houston deserves much credit. Shantz totaled three appearances for the drafting teams; they both promptly traded him. But on the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1961 and St. Louis Cardinals in 1962, he won a Gold Glove. Shantz added two more Gold Gloves in 1963 and 1964.


    Mike Marshall, Seattle Pilots

    Although the Pilots nabbed Marshall in the 1968 expansion draft, he rose to prominence a half-decade later. Marshall won the 1974 NL Cy Young with the Los Angeles Dodgers, led his respective league in saves three times and made two All-Star teams.


    Trevor Hoffman, Florida Marlins

    During the 1992 expansion draft, Hoffman moved from the Cincinnati Reds to the Marlins. After one season, Florida packaged the reliever in a trade to acquire Gary Sheffield. Hoffman merely turned into a legend with the San Diego Padres, tallying a then-record 601 saves and entering the Hall of Fame in 2018.


    Bobby Abreu, Tampa Bay Rays

    The 1997 expansion draft brought Abreu to Tampa Bay for just a few hours before they traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies. Abreu played for 18 seasons, landing two All-Star nods and winning both a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove once.

Jim Fregosi, Los Angeles Angels

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    Jim Fregosi
    Jim FregosiGB/Associated Press

    During the 1960 expansion draft, the Angels added one of the most productive players in team history. They snagged Jim Fregosi from the Boston Red Sox.

    The shortstop made his MLB debut one year later and soon became a cornerstone. In 11 seasons with Los Angeles/California, he made six All-Star teamsincluding five straight appearances from 1966 to 1970and won a Gold Glove in 1967.

    Fregosi still holds the franchise record with 70 career triples and top-10 marks in hits (1,408), runs (691) and doubles (219).

Bernie Parent, Philadelphia Flyers

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    After spending two seasons on the Boston Bruins, Bernie Parent headed to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1967 expansion draft. He played there until 1971 when Philadelphia shipped the goalie to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who traded him back to Philly in 1973.

    And then Parent became a star.

    The netminder earned both the Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophies in 1974 and 1975, leading the Flyers to back-to-back Stanley Cup wins. He allowed just 1.96 goals per game during the two-year stretch.

    Philadelphia retired his No. 1 jersey in 1979, and Parent entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984.

Nate Colbert, San Diego Padres

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    Ed Widdis/Associated Press

    Nate Colbert managed a total of 39 appearances with the Houston Astros in 1966 and 1968. His big break arrived when San Diego came calling in the 1968 expansion draft.

    That first year, Colbert swatted 24 homers. He remained a key piece of the Padres' lineup through 1974. While hitting 20-plus homers in five seasons, Colbert knocked 163 balls out of the parkwhich 47 years later is still the franchise record.

    Colbert appeared on three straight All-Star teams from 1971 to '73, even scoring the winning run in the 1972 contest.

Billy Smith, New York Islanders

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    Ray Stubblebine/Associated Press

    From 1980 to '83, the New York Islanders stood atop the hockey world as winners of four straight Stanley Cups.

    In net the whole time? Billy Smith.

    The future Hall of Famer made his NHL debut as a member of the Los Angeles Kings, but the Islanders nabbed him in the 1972 expansion draft. Smith played 17 seasons with New York and owns the franchise record for wins (304).

    Beyond the Islanders' four championships, Smith won the Vezina Trophy in 1982 and Conn Smythe in 1983.

Vinny Castilla, Colorado Rockies

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    Beth A. Keiser/Associated Press

    Vinny Castilla must have enjoyed his time in the thin Denver air.

    During the 1992 expansion draft, the Colorado Rockies scooped him up with future All-Star second baseman Eric Young. Castilla mashed home runs alongside Andres Galarraga, Dante Bichette, Larry Walker and later Todd Helton with the Rockies.

    The three-time Silver Slugger and two-time All-Star hit 30-plus homers in five straight years from 1995 to '99, maxing out at 46 in 1998. Castilla returned to Colorado in 2004, smacking 35 homers and driving in a National League-high 131 runs.

John Vanbiesbrouck and Scott Mellanby, Florida Panthers

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    MARTA LAVANDIER/Associated Press

    Thanks to John Vanbiesbrouck and Scott Mellanby, the Florida Panthers nearly had a storybook start to their history. They reached the Stanley Cup Final in their third season. 

    Both players headed to Florida in 1993 as proven commodities; Vanbiesbrouck won the Vezina with the New York Rangers in 1986, and Mellanby had notched three 50-point years in seven full seasons between the Flyers and Edmonton Oilers.

    Vanbiesbrouck gave the Panthers a steady net presence and represented them in three All-Star Games. Mellanby served as a key playmaker for seven-plus years and ranks fourth in career goals (157) and seventh in assists (197) for the franchise.

Aaron Glenn, Houston Texans

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    RICHARD PATTERSON/Associated Press

    The NFL doesn't have a history of great picks in the expansion draft. None of the Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars or Carolina Panthers had particularly memorable choices.

    At the very least, the Houston Texans added a star corner.

    Houston picked up Aaron Glenn, already a two-time Pro Bowler, from the New York Jets. He immediately locked down one side of the field, landing a Pro Bowl nod in 2002. He snared 11 interceptions with 44 pass defenses in three seasons on the Texans.

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    With deserving nods to Marc-Andre Fleury and Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson gets the spotlight here.

    In 2017, the Vegas Golden Knights plucked William Karlsson from the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Anaheim Ducks draft pick had managed 50 points in 183 career NHL appearances, but the location change unlocked his potential.

    Karlsson posted a league-best plus-49 while tallying 43 goals and 35 assists in 2018, winning the Lady Byng Trophy and helping Vegas win the Western Conference.

    He followed that up with 56 points in 2019 and then 46 and 39 in shortened 2020 and 2021 seasons.