NHL Draft History: Final Selections Who Defied the Odds

Nobody likes to be the last one picked. Whether it was for the soccer game in elementary school or the NHL Entry Draft, being the last one chosen can have a certain level of stigma attached. 

Now there is quite a difference in those two references because if you were the last player selected in a professional sports league draft, then you’ve played at an elite level for someone to notice you. Earning that selection, however late it may be, could still be life-altering, whether it is just a fond memory and some time in the minor leagues or a Stanley Cup championship. 

The NHL created the Amateur Draft in 1963. They rebranded the event “Entry Draft” in 1979, meaning there have been 59 such events in the league’s history. According to statistics, there have been 12,029 players selected in the league’s history, with 58 players holding the distinction of being the last player picked in every draft. 

Related: 2021 NHL Draft Guide

When we dig through the numbers, it may or may not surprise people that only 12 players have gone on to play at least one game in the NHL. That means 20.6 percent of these picks have seen action in the world’s grandest league, compared to first overall picks who clock in at 93.2 percent. 

Those numbers seem a little disproportionate to the overall odds of being an NHL player, which is estimated to be 1-in-1000 (from ‘NHL Hockey: How Much Are a Child’s Hockey Dreams Worth?,’ Bleacher Report, 02/17/2013). No matter their story or the path they took, here are the career summaries of the players who defied the odds and entered the NHL record books. 

Honorable Mentions: Blair Barnes (1979 Entry Draft – Round 6 Pick 126) one NHL game and Igor Yzamikin (1987 Entry Draft – Round 12 Pick 252) four NHL games. 

10 – Jacob Middleton (2014 Entry Draft – Round 7 Pick 210)

The Los Angeles Kings selected Middleton in the 2014 Entry Draft after an impressive four-year stint (2012-16) with the Ottawa 67’s in the Ontario Hockey League. In 212 games, the defenseman scored 85 points, with 14 goals and 71 helpers. The Kings didn’t keep him in their system, so he signed a try-out contract with the San Jose Barracuda of the American Hockey League (AHL) in 2016.

Jacob Middleton San Jose Sharks
Jacob Middleton, San Jose Sharks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Middleton averaged over 50 games a season in minors before the San Jose Sharks called him up in 2018-19. So far, the native of Stratford, Ontario, has played in 14 NHL games over the last three seasons, collecting three points. He suited up for one game during the 2020-21 campaign while playing the bulk of the season in the AHL (22 games).

9 – Jay Henderson (1997 Entry Draft – Round 9 Pick 246)

Henderson had a brilliant career (263 games, 195 points) in the Western Hockey League (WHL) before the Boston Bruins selected him in the draft. His production went down as a member of the AHL Providence Bruins; however, he earned a call-up in 1998-99.

Over the next two seasons, Henderson would appear in 33 games scoring just four points with one goal and three assists. After a demotion back to Providence, the native of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, played for three different teams in the AHL before heading to Europe to continue his professional career. After returning to North America in 2009-10, Henderson retired from the game and is now an assistant coach with the Kootenay Ice in the WHL. 

8 – Sergei Pryakhin (1988 Entry Draft – Round 12 Pick 252)

Pryakhin was the first Soviet Union player granted permission by the government to pursue a career in the NHL. After a dominating career on the international scene with Krylya Sovetov Moscow (where he was team captain), the Calgary Flames took a chance on the right-winger who eventually made his NHL debut in 1989. 

Related: The NHL’s Top-50 Russians of All-Time

His professional career in North America lasted only 46 games (11 points) before returning to Europe to help the Soviet Union win the World Championship in 1990. After that Gold Medal win, he bounced around the professional leagues in Switzerland, Finland, and Russia before retiring in 2000. 

7 – Zach Trotman (2010 Entry Draft – Round 7 Pick 210)

Trotman is the first player on the list who recently played in the NHL, having just announced his retirement from the Pittsburgh Penguins in June 2021. He cited injuries as his reason for stepping away, having played limited games with the Penguins AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2020-21. 

Originally a Bruins selection in 2010, Trotman made his debut during the 2013-14 season after three years in the AHL. In 91 career games, the right-handed defenseman scored 13 points with three goals and 10 assists with two NHL franchises. 

6 – Hans Jonsson (1993 Entry Draft – Round 11 Pick 286)

Jonsson is from Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, a place he has played the bulk of his professional hockey career. (from ‘Victor Hedman follows other stars’ path from their shared hometown,’ Tampa Bay Times, 11/08/2019) His journey started in the Swedish U20 league in 1990-91. He progressed through the ranks, which included a brief stint with Husums IF in the Swedish Elite League (SHL) Tier 2, before making the jump to Modo Hockey of the top tier in the SHL in 1991-92. 

It took six years for Jonsson to come to North America after being selected in 1993. He would eventually suit up for 242 games with the team that drafted him, the Pittsburgh Penguins. In four seasons, the defenceman scored 48 NHL points before returning to Modo Hockey in 2003-04. He continued to play for almost another decade before retiring in 2011. 

5 – Jonathan Ericsson (2002 Entry Draft – Round 9 Pick 291)

Ericsson is still an NHL free agent in 2021. He did not find a contract in the league after the 2019-20 season and didn’t seek employment in any other professional associations during the 2020-21 season.

Jonathan Ericsson - Red Wings
Jonathan Ericsson, formerly of the Detroit Red Wings. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 2002, Ericsson has spent his entire 680 game career with the organization, including several seasons with their AHL club, the Grand Rapids Griffins. Originally, Ericsson played center; however, he was called upon to play defense one game and caught the eye of a scout. That person thought he showed great promise in the position, so he converted full-time. The rearguard currently has 125 career points with 535 penalty minutes on his résumé. 

4 – Andy Brickley (1980 Entry Draft – Round 10 Pick 210)

Brickley became just the second player in league history to appear in an NHL game after being selected as the last pick in an Entry Draft. His career started in Philadelphia, with stops in Boston, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and Winnipeg. 

He played 385 games in the league, scoring a respectable 222 points. Many may not remember his playing days. However, fans of today’s game will be familiar with his voice as a color commentator on radio, local, and national TV, something he’s been doing since 1997. 

3 – Kim Johnsson (1994 Entry Draft – Round 11 Pick 286)

Johnsson was selected by the New York Rangers months after their Stanley Cup triumph in the spring of 1994. Before coming to North America for the 1999-00 season, Johnsson was a defenseman with his hometown team, the Malmö Redhawks, in the SHL. 

The veteran of 739 games scored 284 points but may always be remembered as a player in the trade that sent Eric Lindros from the Philadelphia Flyers to the New York Rangers in 2001. After several seasons with the Flyers, Johnsson moved on to the Minnesota Wild before playing his final season with Chicago in 2009-10. Since he only suited up for eight games that year, he could not have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup when the Blackhawks won it. 

2 – Gerry Meehan (1963 Amateur Draft – Round 4 Pick 21)  

Meehan had quite a destination when he played his first NHL game in 1968-69. He was the first player to be selected last in the draft and make an NHL debut, a record he would hold alone for 14 seasons. 

Another veteran with ten years of NHL experience with six different franchises, Meehan played in 670 games and scored 423 points. His point total is second amongst drafted players who were selected last. 

1 – Patric Hornqvist (2005 Entry Draft – Round 7 Pick 230) 

If anyone had to guess Hornqvist’s draft position, the majority would never consider a player of his caliber to be the last name at the 2005 Entry Draft. However, the Nashville Predators grabbed one of the draft’s best steals as he is currently the ninth-best scorer from his draft class, which includes Hornqvist’s former teammate, Sidney Crosby. 

Patric Hornqvist Florida Panthers
Patric Hornqvist, Florida Panthers (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

There is no doubt that Hornqvist has had the most successful career of anyone ever drafted as the last pick in the draft. He is a two-time Stanley Cup winner, the only player in this group to have achieved that ultimate goal. As of 2021, he has played 814 games scoring 252 goals for 512 points. 

Final Analysis

While researching draft statistics, I noticed that current Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice was the last selection in the 1985 Draft (Round 12 Pick 252). Sadly, Maurice suffered a career-ending eye injury that prevented him from ever playing in the league as a defenseman. However, he’s gone on to have an incredible career as a head coach, one worthy of a Hall of Fame selection upon retirement. 

Seeing his name on the list with no NHL games attached to his profile got me thinking about who else has been in his position. It is an honor to get drafted into the NHL no matter what position you get selected, yet how many can say they were their draft class final pick. How many defied the odds and lived out their dream to be an NHL player, let alone one who stayed for more than a few games. 

This list proves that anything is possible through hard work and determination. No matter what happens in life, don’t give up. If you are the last one selected for anything, your turn will come, just like these guys. 

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