Welcome to a brand new series here at The Hockey Writers called “Road to the Draft.” In this series, our draft contributors will count down from 32nd overall all the way to first overall and revisit each player taken with that pick between 2010 and 2021.
The series focuses on comparing players taken at the same spot in their respective draft years and evaluating the biggest success stories and failed projects. We’ll be taking a look at the sixth overall pick, which has seen a lot of elite talent get drafted at that position, but also some major flops.
Related: THW 2021 NHL Draft Guide
We will feature the last 10 players to enter the league at sixth overall, taking a look at their rise to the NHL and how they fared once they arrived. In the last four years, the Detroit Red Wings have picked with the sixth overall pick three times, so grab some popcorn and enjoy the story, Wings fans. As for the rest of you, the 10 players featured each have their own unique paths, with some of them falling out of favor quickly and others becoming NHL superstars.
2010 – Brett Connolly (RW, Tampa Bay Lightning)
Although he played just 16 games in 2009-10, Connolly impressed the Tampa Bay Lightning enough for him to be selected sixth overall over future NHL All-Stars Jeff Skinner and Vladimir Tarasenko. He scored 10 goals and 19 points for the Western Hockey League’s Prince George Cougars in his draft year. The following season, he stayed in the WHL and scored a whopping 46 goals and 73 points in 59 games.
Connolly started his NHL career in 2011-12 and played 68 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring four goals and 15 points as a rookie. That would be the most points he would score as a member of the Lightning, as he spent a large chunk of his time with Tampa playing in the AHL.
He would bounce around the league over the next few seasons, playing for the Boston Bruins in 2014-15 after being traded there for a second-round pick at the trade deadline. He would play 76 games over two seasons in Boston, scoring nine goals and 27 points before arriving in Washington to play for the Capitals.
The highlight of his career was when he was a part of the Capitals’ Stanley Cup-winning team in 2017-18, playing a critical role. He had six goals and nine points in 24 playoff games en route to a championship. He also scored 22 goals in 2018-19, earning himself a four-year contract worth $3.5 million per season.
He had 19 goals and 33 points in 69 points in 2019-20 before his production fell off in 2020-21 when he was promptly traded alongside Henrik Borgstrom to the Chicago Blackhawks to clear up cap space.
2011 – Mika Zibanejad (C, Ottawa Senators)
Zibanejad stood out in both the J18 and J20 levels in Sweden with Djurgårdens before being called up to their big league roster, putting up 15 goals and 26 points in 27 combined games in the two levels. Playing against older competition in Sweden’s Elitserien, he had five goals and nine points in 26 games, adding a goal and two points in seven playoff games to impress enough for the Ottawa Senators to pick him sixth overall.
He started the 2011-12 season with the Senators after impressing in training camp, scoring his first career goal in his first-ever game. He would go pointless in his next nine games before being sent back to Djugårdens IF on Oct. 26, 2011. In 26 games with Djugårdens, he scored five goals and 13 points while adding four goals and six points in 10 playoff games.
Zibanejad would spend the 2012-13 season splitting time between the AHL and the NHL, scoring seven goals and 20 points in 42 NHL games and four goals and 11 points in 23 AHL games. He would break out the following season, scoring 16 goals and 33 points in 69 NHL games.
For the next two seasons, Zibanejad was a 20-goal scorer who scored around 45-50 points a season. He helped the Senators make the playoffs in 2014-15, scoring one goal and four points in a six-game series loss. After Ottawa missed the playoffs in 2015-16, they decided to send Zibanejad and a 2018 second-round pick to the New York Rangers for Derick Brassard.
That trade ended up being one of the most lopsided in NHL history, with Zibanejad breaking out in 2018-19 after his first two seasons in New York were consistent with his production in Ottawa. In that 2018-19 season, Zibenjad crushed career highs, scoring 30 goals and 74 points in 82 games. His 2019-20 season was even better, seeing him score 41 goals and 75 points in 57 games.
2012 – Hampus Lindholm (D, Anaheim Ducks)
Lindholm played just one game in the J18 level in his draft year before being called up to the J20 level, scoring a goal and four points. It took him 28 games for him to get the call up to Rögle BK’s professional squad, as he scored five goals and 17 points on the blue line. He wrapped up the 2011-12 season, scoring a goal and four points in 20 games before being drafted sixth overall by the Anaheim Ducks.
Lindholm would spend his first season in North America playing in the AHL, scoring one goal and 11 points in 44 games for the Norfolk Admirals. He’d also join Team Sweden in the IIHF World Junior Championship, registering an assist in seven games.
From that point on, Lindholm would become a staple on the Ducks’ defense for years to come after a breakout rookie season in 2013-14. In 78 games, he had six goals and 30 points while adding two assists in 11 playoff games.
While following up that rookie season with another seven goals and 34 points in 78 games, he broke out in the playoffs, scoring two goals and 10 points in a 16-game playoff run. Ever since then, he has been one of the most reliable two-way defensemen in the league, being good for at least 25 points a season during a full season.
2013 – Sean Monahan (C, Calgary Flames)
After a dominant 2012-13 season, where he scored 31 goals and 78 points in 58 games while captaining the Ottawa 67’s, Sean Monahan was selected sixth overall in the 2013 NHL Draft by the Calgary Flames. He immediately became an impact player for the Flames during his rookie season in 2013-14, scoring 22 goals and 34 points in 75 games, starting a seven-year streak of seasons with at least 20 goals.
Monahan had his coming-out party in 2014-15, scoring 31 goals and 62 points and adding three goals and six points in 11 games in his first-ever postseason appearance. He kept that same pace for the next three seasons, scoring at least 27 goals and 55 points in all of those seasons.
The 2018-19 campaign was the peak of Monahan’s career, as he scored a whopping 34 goals and 82 points in 78 games. He hasn’t reached those heights since then, scoring 48 and 28 points the next two seasons, respectively, but he has established himself as one of the best two-way forwards in the game.
2014 – Jake Virtanen (RW, Vancouver Canucks)
2015 – Pavel Zacha (C, New Jersey Devils)
While often being labeled as a bust, especially considering how deep the 2015 NHL Draft class is, Pavel Zacha quietly had a breakout season in 2020-21. After scoring just 37 goals and 108 points in 266 NHL games before that season, he burst onto the scene with 17 goals and 35 points in 50 games.
Zacha showed promise as a sniper with a large frame, standing at 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, during his draft year in 2014-15, scoring 16 goals and 18 points in 34 games with the Sarnia Sting. In his last season with the Sting, he scored 28 goals and 64 points in 51 games. While he hasn’t reached the level of play that he was once heralded to have, if he plays as well as he did in 2020-21, he may show flashes of that ability.
2016 – Matthew Tkachuk (LW, Calgary Flames)
Son of NHL legend Keith Tkachuk, Matthew Tkachuk had an explosive draft year in 2015-16. In 57 games with the London Knights, he scored 30 goals and 107 points in 57 games. In 18 playoff games, he dominated with 20 goals and 40 points. He also added four goals and 11 points in seven games representing the United States in the IIHF World Junior Championship. With the dynamic playmaking, goal scoring, and physicality Tkachuk has, the Flames decided to select him with the sixth pick in 2016.
He immediately became an impact player for the Flames, scoring 13 goals and 48 points in 76 games. He steadily improved the following season, where he started his three-year streak of scoring at least 20 goals with a 24-goal, 49-point season in 68 games.
The 2018-19 season was his best, where he scored 34 goals and 77 points in 80 games. During the two COVID-19 shortened seasons that followed, he scored 23 goals and 61 points in 69 games and 16 goals and 43 points in 56 games, respectively.
The 6-foot-2, 203-pound winger is now one of the NHL’s rising stars with the potential to become one of the league’s next great power forwards.
2017 – Cody Glass (C, Vegas Golden Knights)
After being the first player in NHL history to be drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights, Cody Glass never had an opportunity to prove he could be a mainstay on the NHL roster. In 66 NHL games, he scored just nine goals and 22 points. In the 2021 offseason, the Golden Knights sent him to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Nolan Patrick.
If Glass plays anything as he did in his career in the WHL with the Portland Winterhawks, the Predators are in luck. In his draft year in 2016-17, he scored 32 goals and 94 points in 69 games. He followed that up with a 37-goal, 102-point season in 2017-18. He showed flashes of being a very talented playmaker and could thrive in a new system in Nashville.
2018 – Filip Zadina (RW, Detroit Red Wings)
While he hasn’t had the time in the NHL to make too much of an impact, scoring 15 goals and 22 points in 86 NHL games, Filip Zadina is on the cusp of breaking out. He proved that in the shortened 2020-21 season, scoring six goals and 19 points in 49 games.
He showed a lot of promise in his draft year in 2017-18 with the Halifax Mooseheads, scoring 44 goals and 82 points in 57 games. He added five goals and 12 points in nine postseason games and also scored seven goals in seven games while representing the Czech Republic in the IIHF World Junior Championship. If he stays on that trajectory, Zadina can reach the promise he showed during his junior career.
2019 – Mortiz Seider (D, Detroit Red Wings)
Seider had a solid season in the SHL while playing on loan in 2020-21, scoring seven goals and 28 points in 41 games for Rögle BK. With that, Seider may be NHL bound for the first time next season, after registering two goals and 22 points in 49 AHL games in 2019-20 — the season after the Red Wings drafted him.
Seider’s development since his draft year in 2018-19 has been promising. Playing in Germany’s DEL, he scored two goals and six points in 29 games while adding five assists in 14 playoff games. Since then, he has become very fluent in both the defensive and offensive zones and can be a blue-chip defenseman for the Red Wings moving forward.
2020 – Jamie Drysdale (D, Anaheim Ducks)
Drysdale joined the Anaheim Ducks for 24 games in 2020-21 after being drafted, already showing the potential to be a dominant defenseman. In 24 games, he had three goals and eight points, adding four goals and 10 points with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.
He was a mainstay on the Erie Otters’ defense for the two seasons he played for them, scoring seven goals and 40 points in 2018-19 and nine goals and 47 points in 49 games in 2019-20. Drysdale is a swift skater with natural playmaking abilities that will make him a great asset to the Ducks’ offense. He has the potential to be their no. 1 defenseman for years to come.
2021 – Simon Edvinsson (D, Detroit Red Wings)
The Detroit Red Wings added another future star to their defense core with the sixth pick of the 2021 NHL Draft, selecting Simon Edvinsson after showing promise in Sweden’s professional levels. He had a combined six assists in 24 games while playing a solid defensive game against older players.
At 6-foot-5, 207 pounds, Edvinsson has a massive wingspan, which he uses to defend any pass that comes in his direction. He’s very mobile for his size and can move the puck with ease while being a physical force in the defensive zone. He will be returning to Frolunda for the 2021-22 season, but when he’s NHL ready, he’ll be a crucial piece to Detroit’s defense.
All-Time Players Selected 6th Overall
1963 – Walt McKechnie (C, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1964 – Claude Chagnon (C, Montreal Canadiens)
1965 – George Surmay (G, New York Rangers)
1966 – Steve Atkinson (RW, Detroit Red Wings)
1967 – Bob Dickson (LW, New York Rangers)
1968 – Gary Edwards (G, St. Louis Blues)
1969 – Bob Currier (C, Philadelphia Flyers)
1970 – Chuck Lefley (LW, Montreal Canadiens)
1971 – Ron Jones (D, Boston Bruins)
1972 – Michael Larocque (G, Montreal Canadiens)
1973 – Andre Savard (C, Boston Bruins)
1974 – Doug Hicks (D, Minnesota North Stars)
1975 – Don Ashby (C, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1976 – Don Murdoch (RW, New York Rangers)
1977 – Doug Wilson (D, Chicago Blackhawks)
1978 – Behn Wilson (D, Philadelphia Flyers)
1979 – Craig Hartsburg (D, Minnesota North Stars)
1980 – Paul Coffey (D, Edmonton Oilers)
1981 – Jim Benning (D, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1982 – Phil Housley (D, Buffalo Sabres)
1983 – John MacLean (RW, New Jersey Devils)
1984 – Craig Redmond (D, Los Angeles Kings)
1985 – Brad Dalgarno (RW, New York Islanders)
1986 – Vincent Damphousse (C, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1987 – Dave Archibald (RW, Minnesota North Stars)
1988 – Scott Pearson (LW, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1989 – Adam Bennett (D, Chicago Blackhawks)
1990 – Scott Scissons (C, New York Islanders)
1991 – Peter Forsberg (C, Philadelphia Flyers)
1992 – Cory Stillman (LW, Calgary Flames)
1993 – Viktor Kozlov (C, San Jose Sharks)
1994 – Ryan Smyth (LW, Edmonton Oilers)
1995 – Steve Kelly (C, Edmonton Oilers)
1996 – Boyd Devereaux (C, Edmonton Oilers)
1997 – Daniel Tkaczuk (C, Calgary Flames)
1998 – Rico Fata (RW, Calgary Flames)
1999 – Brian Finley (G, Nashville Predators)
2000 – Scott Harnell (RW, Nashville Predators)
2001 – Mikko Koivu (C, Minnesota Wild)
2002 – Scottie Upshall (RW, Nashville Predators)
2003 – Milan Michalek (LW, San Jose Sharks)
2004 – Al Montoya (G, New York Rangers)
2005 – Gilbert Brule (C, Columbus Blue Jackets)
2006 – Derrick Brassard (C, Columbus Blue Jackets)
2007 – Sam Gagner (C, Edmonton Oilers)
2008 – Nikita Filatov (LW, Columbus Blue Jackets)
2009 – Oliver Ekman-Larsson (D, Phoenix Coyotes)
Colby Guy is a writer for the Florida Panthers department here at THW. He’s a senior at Florida Atlantic University and currently serves as a football contributor, social media contributor and photographer for FAU Owls Nest.
Previously, Colby has written for FanSided as a New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators writer. He also served as Editor-In-Chief for FAU’s University Press. You can find him on Twitter at @ColbyDGuy.