When it comes to the NHL draft, teams can have it easy. Maybe they won the draft lottery and are rewarded with a Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews. Or perhaps they have the top pick and their decision comes down to choosing between Taylor or Tyler, or Nico or Nolan.
But the rest of the time, especially for teams drafting outside the top 10, general managers and scouting staffs are offering their best guess to predict what the future holds for a group of 18- or 19-year-olds.
And history tells us this is an inexact science. For every home run, there are high-profile busts. For every late-round draft pick that never makes it out of juniors, there are Hall of Famers whose names weren’t called until the final few rounds.
That got me thinking, who are some of the best value picks picks for each round? Again, it’s easy to pick at the top of the draft, but what teams have struck gold with a late first-round pick or snagged the perennial all-star half way through the draft? Who are the modern versions of Brett Hull, Pavel Datsyuk and Doug Gilmour?
Draft Pick All-Stars
Intrigued after researching a few drafts, I decided to put together my own All-Star team of players – one for each round of the draft from 2004 until 2013 – of who achieved the most “bang for the buck."
While 2004 to 2013 may appear random, it’s not. Looking across the NHL landscape, you’ll see that many players drafted prior to 2004 may be on the downside of their career or out of hockey altogether.
Meanwhile, players drafted after 2013 have barely started to make an impact at the NHL level. Among the players taken in 2014, only 19 players outside of the first round have played a single game in the league. For those drafted in 2015, that number drops to 13. For 2016, it’s a whopping zero.
The criteria is simple: What player in each of the draft’s seven rounds represents the best pick in that particular round based on NHL performance vs. other players selected in that round during the same time frame?
The selections do not take into account the eighth and ninth rounds of the 2004 draft which were phased out in 2005. (A quick shout out to 2004 ninth rounders Dan Winnick, Mark Streit and Jannik Hansen for not only making “The Show" but for sticking around as long as they have.) And I did not examine undrafted free agents during the period.
Erik Karlsson – 15th Overall in 2008
The best defenseman in hockey was the seventh blueliner selected in 2008. Even as four defensemen were taken off the board with the second through fifth picks (Drew Doughty, Zack Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo and Luke Schenn) Karlsson lasted until after Tyler Myers and Colten Tuebert were picked. He has responded with four seasons of 70-plus points and has won the NHL’s Norris Trophy twice.
Karlsson gets the nod over two guys drafted 22nd – Claude Giroux in 2006 and Max Pacioretty in 2007.
Nikita Kucherov – 58th Overall in 2011
From 2005 until 2013, the second round has produced some notable players, but Kucherov’s ascendance the past two seasons has set him apart. Over the past three seasons his goals have steadily increased each year: 29 in 2014-15, 30 in 2015-16 and 40 goals last season.
He edges out Roman Josi (38th in 2008), P.K. Subban (43rd in 2007) and Wayne Simmonds (61st in 2007). (Random side note: Bonus points to the Montreal Canadiens for their first two picks in the 2007 draft.)
Brad Marchand – 71st Overall in 2006
Marchand is an elite offensive player in addition to being an elite pain in the butt. He has six seasons where he potted 20 or more goals, including two straight 30-goal campaigns. He would have netted 40 goals for the first time in his career last season if it weren’t for a suspension he earned for a spearing incident.
Marchand is the pick over Kris Letang (62nd in 2005); Jonathan Quick (72nd in 2005); and Shayne Gostisbehere (78th in 2012).
Johnny Gaudreau – 104th Overall in 2011
“Johnny Hockey" was a diminutive winger heading to play collegiately when nabbed mid-way through the fourth round. He went on to win the Hobey Baker award during his junior year as the best player in the NCAA and has proven to be a gifted offensive player in the NHL. He was an all-star his first two years in the league and has posted 73 goals and 204 points in three full seasons of action.
Gaudreau narrowly slides ahead of Braden Holtby (93rd in 2008); Keith Yandle (105th in 2005); and Viktor Arvidsson (112th in 2014)
Jamie Benn – 129th Overall in 2007
Talk about coming out of nowhere. Overlooked for four entire rounds, Benn has emerged as a preeminent power forward in the NHL. A two-time first-team NHL All-Star, his mantle holds an Art Ross trophy for leading the league in scoring in 2014-15 and an Olympic gold medal from the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia. An eight time 20-goal scorer, he posted a three-year stretch where he scored 34, 35 and 41 goals.
Benn was an easy choice over teammate John Klingberg (131st in 2010); Mike Hoffman (130th in 2009); and Brendan Gallagher (147th in 2010).
Cam Atkinson – 157th Overall in 2008
On the short list (no pun intended) of breakout players for several years, Atkinson finally had his coming out party in 2016-17 when he scored 30 goals for the first time (35). His small stature has not stopped him from posting four straight seasons of 20-plus goals and playing in 320 out of a possible 328 games during that time.
Atkinson ekes out Anders Lee (152nd in 2009); Jared Spurgeon (156th in 2008); and Mathieu Perreault (177th in 2006).
Patric Hornqvist – 230th Overall in 2005
The final pick of the 2005 draft, Hornqvist is a well-rounded player that has put up solid numbers during his nine-year career. A seven-time 20 goal scorer, he has been an integral part of the Pittsburgh Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.
Hornqvist is an easy selection, but there are several players nabbed during the final round who have put together solid, if not spectacular, careers. This includes: Jason Demers (186th in 2008); Ondrej Palat (208th in 2011); Troy Brouwer (214th in 2004) and Anton Stralman (216th in 2005).