The NHL Draft is used to try and level the playing field in the league. The teams near the bottom of the league standings get the opportunity to draft first in the draft, getting the first chance at some of the best players of that class.
Every prospect is different, however, and they develop in different ways. Some are extremely late bloomers. Some don’t look as good in their draft year as they will one day be.
Related: The Best Late Round NHL Draft Picks
It’s these players that test NHL scouts. The ability to find talent in the latest picks of the draft is no easy task. More often than not, they won’t pan out. But, every now and then, with the proper development, these players can excel at hockey’s top level.
With that in mind, this piece will take a look at the 10 best seventh-round picks since 2005. The draft was altered for the 2005 NHL Entry Draft in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, making what was once a nine-round draft into a seven-round draft.
So, this list is the 10 best players that were taken in the last round of the NHL Draft since 2005.
10. Andreas Johnsson, Toronto Maple Leafs, 202nd (2013)
After being drafted in 2013, Andreas Johnsson took a while to crack the Toronto Maple Leafs roster, but after a nine-game stint in 2017-18, the Swedish left winger made the jump in 2018-19.
He made an impression right away, hitting the 20-goal mark and adding 23 assists for 43 points in 73 games. He finished eighth in Calder Trophy voting as Rookie of the Year and cemented his spot on the New Jersey Devils forward group after being traded there. He’s up to 96 points in 197 games in his short five-season career and will be adding on to that in a big way on the offence-driven Leafs squad.
He’s still young at just 27 years old, and could very well move his way up this list. Out of all the seventh-round picks taking from 2005 to 2019, Johnson’s 0.536 points per game are sixth. As he extends his NHL career, look for him to be one of the more impressive seventh rounders in recent years.
9. Erik Haula, Minnesota Wild, 182nd (2009)
It’s pretty rare for a player drafted out of high school to be drafted to the NHL, let alone playing in the league as a regular, but that’s exactly what Erik Haula has done. Granted, coming from the highly regard Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep School is a step above.
After playing 46 games in his 2013-14 rookie season, the Finnish centreman became an NHL regular for the Minnesota Wild. He ended up being selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 Expansion Draft and has since bounced around going to the Carolina Hurricanes and is currently a member of the Boston Bruins.
In 475 NHL games, the forward has put up 95 goals, 105 assists, and 200 points. He’ll likely end up being passed on this list by Johnsson and some of the players to watch at the bottom of this article, but there’s no arguing that he’s put together a solid career so far for a seventh-round pick out of high school.
8. Ryan Dzingel, Ottawa Senators, 204th (2011)
The Ottawa Senators have landed some of their best players in their history in the later rounds of the draft, and Ryan Dzingel is a part of that list. After playing 30 games in his rookie season in 2015-16, he cemented himself on the roster in 2016-17 and hasn’t looked back.
His next three seasons saw him improve on his point total, putting up a career-high 56 points in 78 games in 2018-19. This was split between the Senators and the Columbus Blue Jackets. He had a bit of a down year in 2019-20 with the Carolina Hurricanes, but he remains a solid second-line option in the NHL. He is currently playing for the Arizona Coyotes.
In his 386 games, Dzingel scored 84 goals and added 100 assists for 185 points. He’s 29 years old, so rising up this list seems unlikely at this point, especially as younger players look to make an impression in the coming years, but for now, he’s been one of the best seventh-round selections since 2005.
7. Justin Braun, San Jose Sharks, 201st (2007)
The San Jose Sharks are one of two teams on this list that appear more than once, which is an impressive feat considering the difficulty in scouting players in the later rounds. While not a name that you’ll find in everyday hockey talk, Justin Braun’s longevity in the league has to come into consideration.
Related: Flyers: Getting to Know Justin Braun
Braun isn’t exactly an offensive defenseman, collecting 173 points (27 goals, 146 assists) in 669 games. He’s a defensive player, blocking shots, making hits, and shutting down the opposition. He spent his first nine seasons with the Sharks, before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2019.
He plays solid minutes, playing over 20 minutes a night through his career in San Jose. Although that dropped to just over 17 minutes in 2019-20. Shut-down defenders are often underrated because people love point-producers, but there’s no questioning what the top-four defender brings to the ice.
6. Carl Gunnarsson, Toronto Maple Leafs, 194th (2007)
The Maple Leafs are on here again with another Swede, this time taking defenseman Carl Gunnarsson back in 2007. He fits a similar mould to Braun, with two-way potential but often used in a defensive role. After being selected, it was just two seasons before he made the jump to the big leagues.
Gunnarsson spent the first five seasons of his career with the Maple Leafs, racking up 86 points (15 goals, 71 assists) in 304 games. He was then traded to the St. Louis Blues along with a fourth-round pick for Roman Polak. To date, he’s collected 136 points in 617 games.
The defender has received votes for the Lady Byng Trophy three teams, finishing in the top 35 once (in 2011-12) and the top 60 twice. He’s only amassed 173 penalty minutes in his entire career. His main highlight, however, is helping the Blues to the Stanley Cup in 2019. He collected one goal in that playoff run – an overtime winning in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
5. Jason Demers, San Jose Sharks, 186th (2008)
Another Sharks pick and another defenseman. Perhaps targeting defenders in the seventh round is a good idea? Jason Demers wasted no time at all after San Jose grabbed him in 2008. By the 2009-10 season, he was a full-time NHLer. (He played 51 games in that season).
Demers is a two-way, puck-moving defender that likes to get involved. In his 658 career games, he’s picked up 45 goals, 165 assists, and 210 points. After spending his first six seasons in California, he was traded to the Dallas Stars. Since then, he’s played for the Florida Panthers and is currently a member of the Arizona Coyotes. Do you think he enjoys the warm-climate teams?
Playing nearly 20 minutes a night on average over his career, he’s shown up in both ends when asked. Like the two defenders prior, he’s a well-rounded player. With Braun, Gunnarsson, and Demers, there might not be one aspect of their game that jumps out, but they are reliable defenders that can contribute all over the ice.
4. Anton Stralman, Toronto Maple Leafs, 216th (2005)
Once again, the Maple Leafs find themselves on this ranking. However, they didn’t reap the benefits of this selection for too long. Anton Stralman jumped into the league in 2007-08, playing just two seasons (88 games) with Toronto.
He was then traded to the Calgary Flames for a summer, and never played a game before getting flipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets. After just two seasons there, he signed with the New York Rangers for three seasons, the Tampa Bay Lightning for five seasons, and is currently a with the Panthers.
He’s played 818 NHL games, collecting 52 goals, 209 assists, and 261 points. For the majority of his career, he’s been playing over 20 minutes a night and has even earned votes for the Norris Trophy twice. He’s turned into one of the most dependable defensemen in the league despite being drafted near the end of the draft.
3. Frederik Andersen, Carolina Hurricanes, 187th (2010)
Alright, there’s a catch with this one. Frederik Anderson was drafted 187th overall in 2010. But he failed to reach a deal with the Hurricanes and re-entered the draft in 2012, going 87th overall to the Anaheim Ducks. So maybe there’s an asterisk on this one, but hey, he was a seventh-round pick.
The Danish netminder is the only goaltender on this list but has shot himself into the top tier of NHL netminders. In his first NHL season, he finished ninth in Calder Trophy voting after going 20-5 with a .923 save percentage. Since then, he’s earned himself a William Jennings Trophy (2015-16, split with John Gibson).
In 2016, he was traded to – you guessed it – seventh-round draft pick collectors, the Maple Leafs. He’s twice been a top-10 Vezina Trophy finalist. He has a career save percentage of .917, and is regularly among the league leaders in wins. He was drafted as a seventh-round pick to start, so he’s earned a spot on this list.
2. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning, 208th (2011)
In the next few seasons, I expect Ondrej Palat to take over the top spot on this list. You could make a case for him now. Taken by the Lightning in 2011, he played 14 games in 2012-13 before forcing his way into the league in 2013-14 and producing – putting up 23 goals, 36 assists, and 59 points in his 81-game rookie season.
The Czech star has only continued to produce since then. In 496 games, he’s put up 110 goals, 218 assists, and 328 points. He’s earned Selke Trophy votes three times, finishing ninth in 2014-15. He also finished second for the Calder Trophy in 2013-14 and got some Lady Byng recognition in 2017-18.
He’s had some injury trouble in his career which has held him back a bit, but there’s no questioning that this has been a dynamic, playmaking forward for the Lightning. He also brings a solid two-way presence to his game, making him a very desirable package for any team.
1. Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators, 230th (2005)
Patric Hornqvist benefits from longevity in this list a bit, but he’s earned this spot. The Swedish winger started his career in 2008-09 with the Nashville Predators, and quickly became an offensive force, putting up 51 points in his second season.
He spent six seasons with the Predators, collecting 106 goals, 110 assists, and 216 points in 363 games. In 2014, he was sent to the Pittsburgh Penguins along with Nick Spaling for James Neal. With the Penguins, Hornqvist has continued offensive prowess, bringing his totals to 238 goals, 242 assists, and 480 points.
His time with the Penguins has seen him raise the Stanley Cup twice, in 2016 and 2017. He’s been starting to wind down, so it will be long before we see Palat in this spot (or Andersen if he has a big season or two). But since the change in the NHL Draft to seven rounds, Hornqvist is among the best to be selected.
Players to Watch
Honestly, there are not many honourable mentions. If Sergei Kostitsyn (Montreal Canadiens, 200th, 2005) was in the league longer, he’d be in this discussion. So instead, let’s take a look at some players who very well could be on this list, and among the leaders, very soon (alphabetical):
- Nikita Gusev, Tampa Bay Lightning, 208th (2012)
- Dominik Kubalik, Los Angeles Kings, 191st (2013)
- Markus Nutivaara, Columbus Blue Jackets, 189th (2015)
- Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres, 181st (2014)
Would you change this ranking at all? Who would you add or take away? Is there anyone else you’ll be keeping an eye on from the final round of the draft? Leave a comment!
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.