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 1st overall and revisit each player taken with that pick between 2010 and 2020.
The goal of this series is to reflect on some of the biggest steals and some of the biggest busts taken in the first round over the past 10 years, as well as to shine a light on some players who could potentially see themselves taken with the corresponding pick at the upcoming 2021 NHL Draft.
Related: THW’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide
In this story, we’ll take a look at the last 10 players to get selected 10th overall and see where their careers have taken them since their respective drafts. The spot has largely delivered disappointment in the past decade, with only one bonafide star emerging from 10th overall – though it’s too soon to fully evaluate the most recent draftees at No. 10.
2010 – Dylan McIlrath (D, New York Rangers)
This list gets off to a rough start with the Rangers’ confounding selection of McIlrath, a hulking defenseman who would have been a sensible pick 20 years earlier but who at the time didn’t fit the NHL’s trend toward speed and mobility from the backline. Sure enough, McIlrath’s career has been unremarkable. The 6-foot-5, 231-pounder played 38 games for the Rangers, totaling two goals and two assists, before bouncing to the Florida Panthers and then the Detroit Red Wings – with AHL stints mixed in. He’s played 66 games in the NHL and compiled five points.
Perhaps the Rangers were trying to find their next Jeff Beukeboom, but the era they selected McIlrath was simply the wrong one. The Winnipeg native wouldn’t be a bad player in another time, but he’s been attempting to play in a high-speed, modern NHL that makes it difficult for him to keep up, leaving his physicality and strength minimally effective.
This one stings the Rangers not just because McIlrath didn’t pan out; it’s also because of who they passed on to take him. Future All-Stars Cam Fowler, Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeni Kuznetsov were available. Ouch.
2011 – Jonas Brodin (D, Minnesota Wild)
Another defenseman went in the 10th spot the year after McIlrath, this time with better results. Brodin has mostly excelled with the Wild, compiling 169 points and a plus-49 rating in nine seasons. He set a career-high for goals with nine last season and has posted three seasons in which he was plus-15 or better.
There is perhaps a tinge of regret for Minnesota with this pick, given who it just missed out on. Picks seven through nine that year were Mark Scheifele, Sean Couturier and Dougie Hamilton, respectively – all future All-Stars.
2012 – Slater Koekkoek (D, Tampa Bay Lightning)
Staying with the blueliner theme, the Lightning went for a fun hockey name but ended up drafting a journeyman. Koekkoek (pronounced KOO-KOO) played 18 games in 2020-21 for the Edmonton Oilers, his third team. He spent five unremarkable seasons with Tampa Bay and has compiled 30 points in 167 career games over seven seasons.
This first round could have fallen under the “excruciating” category for the Lightning, given who went 11th that year – center Filip Forsberg, with 385 points in 497 career games, was drafted by the Washington Capitals in that spot before being traded to the Nashville Predators in April 2013. However, Tampa Bay, no slouch when it comes to the draft, redeemed itself with its second first-round selection. The Bolts grabbed Andrei Vasilevskiy – perhaps the NHL’s top goaltender – 19th overall.
2013 – Valeri Nichushkin (RW, Dallas Stars)
The Stars took the big Russian forward at the 10th spot, and the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder turned in a strong rookie season in 2013-14 with 14 goals, 20 assists and a plus-20 rating in 79 games. Yet that’s turned out to be Nichushkin’s best season so far, as a hip injury that required surgery early in his second season may have played a role in derailing his development. Dallas eventually bought out his contract in June 2019, and Nichushkin inked a one-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche for 2019-20. He’s totaled 23 goals, 25 assists and a plus-35 rating in two decent seasons in Denver, with one season remaining on a two-year, $5 million deal.
Nichushkin’s ceiling appears to be that of a solid bottom-six wing option, totaling 122 points in 343 career games with a plus-48 rating. The team that drafted him, however, certainly wasn’t satisfied with the results, as the Stars had hoped they’d found an impact forward at 10 that year.
2014 – Nick Ritchie (LW, Anaheim Ducks)
Ritchie was a high-scoring power forward for the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, but those offensive skills have never fully translated to the NHL. The 6-foot-2, 234-pounder plays a tough game and has recorded 137 points in 350 NHL games, but like Nichushkin the year before, his drafting team got a quality bottom-six winger, not a star.
Ritchie joined the Boston Bruins in a 2019 trade deadline deal with the Ducks and turned in a strong 2020-21 season with 15 goals and 11 assists in 56 games. Ironically, he’s now teammates with forward David Pastrnak – stolen at 25th overall by the Bruins in 2014 and among the best players to come out of that draft.
2015 – Mikko Rantanen (RW, Colorado Avalanche)
General manager Joe Sakic, himself a draft steal at No. 15 overall in 1987, found another in the loaded 2015 first round in Rantanen, the rangy forward who’s been playing on the Avs’ powerhouse top line with Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. The Finn recorded 30 goals and 36 assists in 52 games in 2020-21 while leading the league at plus-30.
Rantanen’s 316 points in 333 games indicate a talent that could have easily been drafted in the top five. In a first round that also saw Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Mitch Marner and Mat Barzal get selected, Colorado’s pick of Rantanen holds up as one of the best of that formidable draft.
2016 – Tyson Jost (C, Colorado Avalanche)
Sakic picked 10th for the second straight year, and this time didn’t come up with a player the quality of Rantanen. He did fine with Jost, who scored 104 points in 48 games in juniors in 2015-16 for Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League. The scrappy Jost centers the Avs’ third line and while he’s yet to reach 30 points in a season, his all-around game has developed the past two seasons, during which he’s a plus-25.
While Jost has become an NHLer, and the 2016 draft wasn’t nearly as stocked as 2015, Colorado did miss on better options. The most notable was Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who went 14th, as well as defender Jakob Chychrun (16th), who had 18 goals and 23 assists in 56 games in 2020-21.
Again, it isn’t easy to fully judge draft picks made this recently. Jost’s game may still be on the rise, but this wasn’t the best pick of the tenure of Sakic, who’s otherwise proven himself to be one of the top executives in the NHL.
2017 – Owen Tippett (RW, Florida Panthers)
Another pick that illustrates patience is necessary when it comes to judging young players taken in recent drafts. Tippett was seen as a top forward prospect before the draft, combining strength, skating and goal-scoring ability. He made the Panthers out of training camp that year but played only seven games and scored one goal before being sent to the minors.
Tippett was off the radar for the next two seasons, excelling in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and American Hockey League (AHL) but not earning a recall to the big club. This past season, however, might prove to be a watershed one for Tippett’s career. He recorded seven goals and 11 assists in 45 games, excelling on a line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Sam Bennett. Tippett recorded two goals and four assists in the final six regular-season games, and the line outplayed their Tampa Bay counterparts in the first round of the playoffs, leading the Lightning in shot attempts (58-47), scoring chances (33-23) and goals (5-3) at 5-on-5. Tippett totaled a goal and three assists in that six-game loss.
The 2021-22 season will prove critical for Tippett’s future, with one year remaining on his three-year entry-level contract. Just 22, it’s too early to proclaim him a bust – particularly after his re-emergence this past season.
2018 – Evan Bouchard (D, Edmonton Oilers)
The Oilers are taking it slow with Bouchard, one of the younger players in his draft class, with a late October birthday. He’s played in only 21 NHL games, mixed in with stints in the AHL and a loan to Canada’s 2019 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships team. He’s totaled three goals and three assists for the Oilers.
Edmonton, not known for properly developing highly-regarded young players in the recent past, has big plans for Bouchard. Early returns on this draft indicate that it was filled with NHL talent, and the Oilers hope Bouchard is no exception.
2019 – Vasily Podkolzin (RW, Vancouver Canucks)
Podkolzin is expected to join the Canucks for the first season of his three-year entry-level deal next season. While it’s, of course, too early to judge this pick, he wasn’t a big scorer in the KHL, recording five goals and six assists in 35 games for St. Petersburg this past season.
Cole Caufield, taken five spots after Podkolzin, didn’t make it easy for the Canucks with his breakout playoff performance for the Montreal Canadiens. Podkolzin, 19, is a skilled winger who plays an edgy, aggressive game.
2020 – Cole Perfetti (C, Winnipeg Jets)
The most recent 10th overall pick in the NHL Draft turned in a promising first AHL season in 2020-21, recording 26 points in 32 games. The Jets hope Perfetti will eventually become the big-time offensive player he was during his time in the OHL when he piled up 185 points in 124 games.
Though not the strongest skater, Perfetti’s outstanding hands and powerful wrist shot are what compelled Winnipeg to make him a top-10 pick.
Players Who Could Be Drafted 10th Overall in 2021
ALL-TIME PLAYERS TAKEN 10TH OVERALL
1969 – Jim Rutherford (G, Detroit Red Wings)
1970 – Chris Oddleifson (C, California Golden Seals)
1971 – Steve Vickers (LW, New York Rangers)
1972 – Al Blanchard (LW, New York Rangers)
1973 – Bob Neely (D, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1974 – Rick Chartraw (D, Montreal Canadiens)
1975 – Rick Blight (RW, Vancouver Canucks)
1976 – Harold Phillipoff (LW, Atlanta Flames)
1977 – Mark Napier (RW, Montreal Canadiens)
1978 – Tim Higgins (LW, Chicago Black Hawks) “Black Hawks” as two words here is correct – the team was referred to as such until the 1986-87 season
1979 – Tom McCarthy (LW, Minnesota North Stars)
1980 – Jim Fox (F, Los Angeles Kings)
1981 – Garth Butcher (D, Vancouver Canucks)
1982 – Rich Sutter (RW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1983 – Normand Lacombe (RW, Buffalo Sabres)
1984 – J.J. Daigneault (D, Vancouver Canucks)
1985 – Dan Gratton (C, Los Angeles Kings)
1986 – Jocelyn Lemieux (RW, St. Louis Blues)
1987 – Jayson More (D, New York Rangers)
1988 – Teemu Selanne (RW, Winnipeg Jets)
1989 – Bobby Holik (C, Hartford Whalers)
1990 – Drake Berehowsky (D, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1991 – Martin Lapointe (RW, Detroit Red Wings)
1992 – Andrei Nazarov (LW, San Jose Sharks)
1993 – Jocelyn Thibault (G, Quebec Nordiques)
1994 – Nolan Baumgartner (D, Washington Capitals)
1995 – Radek Dvorak (RW, Florida Panthers)
1996 – Lance Ward (D, New Jersey Devils)
1997 – Brad Ference (D, Vancouver Canucks)
1998 – Nikolai Antropov (C, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1999 – Branislav Mezei (D, New York Islanders)
2000 – Mikhail Yakubov (C, Chicago Blackhawks)
2001 – Dan Blackburn (G, New York Rangers)
2002 – Eric Nystrom (LW, Calgary Flames)
2003 – Andrei Kostitsyn (RW, Montreal Canadiens)
2004 – Boris Valabik (D, Atlanta Thrashers)
2005 – Luc Bourdon (D, Vancouver Canucks)
2006 – Michael Frolik (RW, Florida Panthers)
2007 – Keaton Ellerby (D, Florida Panthers)
2008 – Cody Hodgson (C, Vancouver Canucks)
2009 – Magnus Paarjarvi-Svensson (LW, Edmonton Oilers)
I’m a resident of the Chicago suburbs by way of White Plains, NY. I worked for the Associated Press sports department in New York City for 10 years before moving to Chicago in 2005, when the AP’s then-internet division entered into a joint venture with STATS LLC. I worked for STATS for 11 years, until 2016. Since then I’ve covered the Rangers for Elite Sports NY, a hyper-local website, writing long form features and news stories. I’m very excited to be a part of The Hockey Writers.