Every year upon completion of the Stanley Cup playoffs, NHL teams wind down from the intense post-season competition and then immediately start to gear up again for the June NHL Entry Draft. For many National Hockey League teams, the annual entry draft marks a time for renewed hope as they add valuable members to their organizatinal depth charts. The process of “building through the draft” has become an important strategy for NHL teams with the present salary cap setup. There is no exact science to drafting and developing prospects (although the Detroit Red Wings might argue this point) but there is one common trend to seeing increased success through the draft and that remains patience. With the exception of the top elite draft picks, the majority of NHL prospect require time to develop their skills to become reliable consistent contributors at the next level.
It is not uncommon for the top draft picks in each year to enter into the National Hockey League immediately following their draft. Jerseys donning names including Nugent-Hopkins (1st, 2011), Landeskog (2nd, 2011), Hall (1st, 2010), Seguin (2nd, 2010), Tavares (1st, 2009), Hedman (2nd, 2009), Stamkos (1st, 2008) and Doughty (2nd, 2008) all skated into NHL action following their draft year. The scouting process normally does not steer teams wrong when it comes to selecting in the top few spots as the Stamkos’, Doughty’s, Tavares’ and Hall’s have already shown why they were worthy of being selected atop their group of peers. However, each year over two-hundred players are selected to NHL teams and the majority of those hockey players require extra time to hone their physical and mental game. Truth be told, not every players is ready to step right into NHL action and most of them require years of development.
Almost four years ago, Tampa Bay stood in front of thousands at Ottawa’s Scotiabank Place to welcome superstar sniper Steven Stamkos to their franchise as the first overal pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. After a rocky first transition year, Stamkos quickly emerged as one of the NHL’s top scorers in his second season scoring fifty-one goals to win the Rocket Richard trophy as the NHL’s top scorer (alongside Sidney Crosby). Led by budding stars Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Erik Karlsson and Jordan Eberle, forty-two months following their draft it has becoming apparent that the 2008 Draft class has indeed arrived.
From the thirty first round picks in 2008, only five players have yet to make their National Hockey League debut – Kyle Beach (11th, Chicago), Chet Pickard (18th, Nashville), Anton Gustafsson (21st, Washington), Tyler Cuma (23rd, Minnesota) and Daultan Leveille (29th, Atlanta). Prospects take time to leave their mark and earn consistent minutes at the National Hockey League level. Seventy-nine of a possible two-hundred eleven NHL drafted players that year have skated in at least one NHL game (37%) and while many of those players are not considered “regulars” it is a promising statistic. In comparison, the 2003 draft class which was considered one of the strongest in NHL history have had forty percent of its draft class play in a NHL game after almost almost eight years. The 2003 draft produced many of the current star players including Stanley Cup Champions Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry as well as Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Suter, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler and Mike Richards. Considering the 2008 draft class is less than four years removed from “officially” entering the NHL it is safe to say that thirty-seven percent is an impressive number. To date, the number of players per round in the 2008 NHL draft that have skated in a National Hockey League game reads: 25 (1st Round), 14 (2nd Round), 7 (3rd Round), 9 (4th Round), 11 (5th Round), 9 (6th Round) and 4 (7th Round). Defenseman Jason Demers (186th overall, San Jose) and goaltender Anders Lindback (207th overall, Nashville) have proved to be great value in the seventh round as they have played in 161 and 32 games, respectively.
The draft class in 2008 was dubbed “a strong defensive class” despite Stamkos being picked in the top spot. Erik Karlsson currently leads the league in scoring among defensemen with 48 points in 54 games which is eleven more than the next closest rearguards (Alexander Edler and Brian Campbell). Michael Del Zotto (20th, New York Rangers), Alex Pietrangelo (4th, St. Louis), John Carlson (27th, Washington), and Drew Doughty (2nd, Los Angeles) all sit within the top thirty blueliners in scoring. Luke Schenn (5th, Toronto), Tyler Myers (12th, Buffalo), Jake Gardiner (17th, Toronto via Anaheim) and Colton Teubert (13th, Edmonton via Los Angeles) have shown flashes of why this draft class was so strong defensively.
First round picks Drew Doughty (2nd, Kings), Zach Bogosian (3rd, Thrashers), Luke Schenn (5th, Maple Leafs), Mikkel Boedker (8th, Coyotes), Josh Bailey (9th, Islanders), Luca Sbisa (19th, Flyers), and Viktor Tikhonov (28th, Coyotes) all joined Steven Stamkos to play in the National Hockey League immediately following their draft year. In hindsight, some NHL teams may have decided against bringing these kids into NHL action so quickly had they known the struggles and inconsistencies a few of them would go through. While Stamkos and Doughty adjusted quickly to the NHL game, players such as Bogosian, Schenn and Bailey have had their share of criticism despite remaining in the lineup for the majority of their team’s games. Mikkel Boedker has shown flashes of offensive skills but his inconsistencies have led to several demotions to the American Hockey League. The Philadelphia Flyers debuted their first round pick, Luca Sbisa, in 39 games during the 2008-09 season before returning the Swiss defender to the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes. Sbisa would later return to play with Philadelphia during the playoffs before he was packaged with forward Joffrey Lupul in a trade to the Anaheim Ducks for hulking defenseman Chris Pronger. Sbisa has certainly made his presence felt in Anaheim this season as he sits fifth in ice-time (17:06 minutes per game) and has notched 17 points to date.
The 2008 draft class has ironed out some of their inconsistencies and many are making important contributions to their team. Four months have been completed in the 2011-12 NHL Season and the NHL has welcomed fourteen new faces from the 2008 draft class as six forwards, seven defensemen and one goaltender have made their debut. Defensemen Jake Gardiner (17th, Toronto via Anaheim), Slava Voynov (32nd, Los Angeles), Roman Josi (38th, Nashville) and Marc-Andre Bourdon (67th, Philadephia) currently patrol NHL bluelines while Colton Teubert (13th, Edmonton), Tomas Kundratek (90th, New York Rangers), and Mark Borowiecki (139th, Ottawa) have played in limited action. Skating up front, Jimmy Hayes (60th, Chicago), Andre Petersson (109th, Ottawa), David Ullstrom (102nd, New York Islanders), Philippe Cornet (133rd, Edmonton) Gustav Nyquist (121st, Detroit), and Cam Atkinson (157th, Columbus) have showed up huge for their AHL teams and have earned abbreviated looks at the NHL level as well. The latter two players, Nyquist and Atkinson, are close to NHL ready and will certainly be fixtures within their team’s depth charts in the very near future. The Hurricanes’ recalled goaltender Mike Murphy for a two-game stint to replace injured backup Brian Boucher and the young netminder saved all nine shots he faced in his brief action.
The current season has witnessed several key contributors emerge for teams across the league with players like Colin Wilson (7th, Nashville), Cody Hodgson (10th, Vancouver), Tyler Ennis (26th, Buffalo), John Carlson (27th, Washington), Luke Adam (44th, Buffalo), Derek Stepan (51st, New York Rangers), Travis Hamonic (53rd, New York Islanders), Adam Henrique (82nd, New Jersey), TJ Brodie (114th, Calgary) and Jared Spurgeon (156th, Minnesota) taking the next step towards becoming productive NHL players. Adam Henrique suited up for one game in the 2010-11 season but he has emerged as one of the more valuable rookies this season. Zack Smith (79th, Ottawa), Dale Weise (111th, Vancouver), Matt Martin (148th, New York Islanders), and Zack Rinaldo (178th, Philadelphia) have all shown their teams that they are reliable players who can be counted on to amp up team energy playing in a bottom six role. Mattias Tedenby (24th, New Jersey) and Andrei Loktionov (123rd, Los Angeles) currently are battling for top six roles needed for them to succeed but have displayed their NHL readiness forcing their franchises to give them opportunity.
Toronto`s trade acquisitions in Joe Colborne (16th) and Jake Gardiner (17th) have shown lots to be excited about as they adjust to the NHL game. Colborne made his debut last season as he suited up for one game but has shown plenty of promise in his nine games of action this season scoring five points. Minnesota native Jake Gardiner has provided Maple Leafs’ fans with lots of hope tallying seventeen points in forty-six games. Colborne and Gardiner join teammate Luke Schenn (5th) as Maple Leafs`property represented in the 2008 class and the trio will continue to progress in their development to become valuable NHL commodities. Luke Schenn and Jake Gardiner currently sit tied for the Maple Leafs’ team lead with a plus-10 rating.
Every draft class has its disappointments and the 2008 crop is no different. The Columbus Blue Jackets had bigger expectations for their sixth overall selection of Russian sniper Nikita Filatov. Following an eight game stint in 2008-09 where Filatov buried four goals, Columbus demoted Filatov to their AHL affiliate Syracuse. Filatov would score 16 goals and 32 points in 39 games for the Crunch earning him another thirteen game trial with Columbus to begin the 2009-10 season. After only two points, Filatov went to Russia to play for the CSKA Moskow team of the KHL. Eventually, Filatov returned to North America and split the following season between Columbus and Syracuse with mediocre success. Earlier this season, Columbus traded Filatov to the Ottawa Senators who provided him with a fresh opportunity. Nikita suited up for nine games in the Capital city earning a lonely one point before he was demoted to Binghamton of the AHL where he fared well tallying 12 points in 15 games. With the permission of the Senators, Filatov was loaned back to CSKA Moskow to finish this season. The twenty-one year old is still young and there is a chance he redeems himself as a good prospect but it is unlikely he develops into an top echelon player that Columbus had once hoped for.
Coyotes’ Viktor Tikhonov continues to develop in Russia and while they signed him to a one-year contract last summer it is clear that the big Russian winger has been a disappointment early on in his career. Tikhonov’s offensive production in the KHL has been good (29 points) but as an original overager in his draft class he was expected to be playing in the big league by now.
The Red Wings receive a lot of praise for their shrewd draft picks but in 2008 it appears that they might have made a mistake in drafting goaltender Thomas McCollum at the thirtieth position. The New York native’s development has been very disappointing since becoming the property of the Detroit Red Wings. After posting stellar numbers in his draft season for the OHL’s Brampton Battalion (1.94 GAA and .929 Save Percentage), McCollum has watched his value plummet eventually being sent from the AHL to the ECHL. The chances of becoming an NHL backup goaltender appears to be very bleak for Thomas McCollum. Florida Panthers’ future goaltender, Jacob Markstrom, was drafted one pick after Detroit took McCollum 30th overall and certainly has to be frustrating for the Red Wings’ organization.
Jacob Markstrom (31st) is one player ready to take the next step up to the NHL. The big Swedish netminder is one of many 2008 drafted players who are waiting for their NHL full-time opportunity after showing good development in the American Hockey League. With sixty-nine NHL games under his belt, Carolina’s Zack Boychuk (14th) has been given NHL chances with inconsistent results but he is running out of opportunity at the NHL level to prove that he belongs. Teammate Zac Dalpe (45th) has been up and down this year with Carolina but has surpassed many Hurricane prospects on the depth chart and appears to have a scoring mentality that Carolina could certainly use. Evgeny Grachev (75th, St.Louis via New York Rangers) has shown his skill set at both the AHL and NHL levels, however, he is a player competing for a roster spot on a very deep St. Louis Blues roster.
Greg Nemisz (25th, Calgary), Patrice Cormier (54th, Atlanta/Winnipeg), Marco Scandella (55th, Minnesota), Brandon McMillan (85th, Anaheim), Braden Holtby (93rd, Washington), Matt Calvert (127th, Columbus), Mark Olver (140th, Colorado) and Philip Larsen (149th, Dallas) are all names ready to play in the National Hockey League but it is up to them to take advantage of the call-ups to prove they belong amongst the world’s best hockey players.
The crop of ’08 are pushing for roster spots and while every player might not be a “gamebreaker” or “star” there are plenty of serviceable players showing that they can play minutes in the bottom roles of the depth chart right now. Forwards Phil Mcrae (33rd, Dallas), James Wright (117th), Tomas Kubalik (135th), Teemu Hartikainen (163rd, Edmonton), Ben Smith (169th, Chicago) and Tommy Wingels (177th) are a few more names capable of skating alongside NHL players. One of the New York’s five goaltenders this season, Kevin Poulin (126th), showcased his skills for the developing Islanders in three games posting better numbers than the million-dollar-fifteen-year-contract-man Rick DiPietro.
Each year at the draft, we witness several teams make great selections like Jordan Eberle at 22nd as well as terrible picks like Nikita Filatov ahead of Erik Karlsson (ya I know, it’s hindsight but could Columbus ever use a Erik Karlsson type of player right now). The point being that the drafting process does not occur without some luck, both good and bad. NHL franchises are investing millions of dollars into their scouting and player development departments in order to produce the most competitive teams in the future. If one of those areas faulter then the prospect’s future is put at risk. The pressure of drafting the correct player remains high and many jobs rely on the success of the draft. In the end, developing players involves much more than simply identifying talent. Teams need to develop their investments properly, cash in on their investments at the right time and also surround their prospects with other valuable drafted players. The 2008 NHL draft class has developed nicely in under four years time producing several high profile players, many more complimentary players and a bunch of eager players ready and waiting to take on the challenge of the NHL.
How would you rate the 2008 NHL draft class today?