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 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 2021 NHL Draft Guide
After recapping picks 32 to 19, the series continues with the 12th piece, where we’ll take a deep dive into the entire history of the 18th-overall pick.
There are a lot of disappointing players selected in this position, except for a few. Thomas Chabot has provided excellent value for the Ottawa Senators, and Teuvo Tervainen is a first-line player in Carolina. Dawson Mercer is the only player not to make his NHL debut yet, and he was drafted in 2020.
2010 – Austin Watson (LW, Nashville Predators)
Austin Watson became an intriguing player in the 2010 Draft after being traded from the Windsor Spitfires to the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Watson was out for five weeks after blocking a Brandon Gromley shot in the Top Prospects Game but played again later in the season. In the 2011-12 season, he scored three goals and nine points in six games for the USA at the Under-20 World Junior Championships (U20 WJC). He ended off the regular season with nine goals and 20 points in 10 games and was also known for being an effective penalty killer. He looked to be a solid second-line threat at the NHL level.
Upon transitioning to the American Hockey League (AHL), it would take Watson a few years to establish himself. Before being sent down, he earned a six-game stint with the Nashville Predators in 2011-12, scoring his first NHL goal. He would stay with the Milwaukee Admirals until the 2015-16 season, where he finally broke through with the Predators. He is not the player he was projected to be, but he’s a mediocre fourth-line option. He was a part of Nashville’s playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, putting up four goals and nine points in 22 games. He can step up his game when it matters the most. These days, he is playing with the Senators and is looking to appear in his 400th NHL game next season.
2011 – Mark McNeil (C, Chicago Blackhawks)
Mark McNeil stepped up his game in the 2010-11 season, more than doubling his previous season point total from 24 to 81. Playing for the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League (WHL), the center was a force at both ends of the ice. He accomplished this playing on one of the worst teams, as the Raiders finished fifth-last in the league. He appeared to have a lot of potential as a centerman, and that is why the Chicago Blackhawks selected him. They were hoping that he would contribute in future playoff runs.
Stan Bowman, before securing his title as Senior Vice President, was the general manager of the Blackhawks at the time. He was patient in developing McNeil through their AHL system with the Rockford IceHogs, but he never took that next step. He only suited up for one measly game with Chicago when they played the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 26, 2016. After it became apparent that he wasn’t working, the Dallas Stars acquired McNeil and a 2018 conditional fourth-round pick for Johnny Oduya in 2017. He would only last one season in the Stars organization, as he would be moved to Nashville for Andrew O’Brien. McNeil is still playing for Vita Hasten HC in HockeyAllsvenskan, the second tier of Sweden’s Hockey system.
2012 – Teuvo Teravainen (LW, Chicago Blackhawks)
This is the best player selected out of the bunch so far, and there’s quite a sizable gap. Playing for Jokerit Helsinki of the Finish Elite League (Liiga), Teuvo Teravainen scored 11 goals, and 18 points in 40 games in his draft year. He was viewed as an undersized prospect, and that caused him to drop outside the top-10. He has always had the speed, and passing ability that has made him such an electrifying player to watch today. Chicago was able to identify that early on.
He returned to Jokerit the following season and proved to be a star player. He put up 44 points in 49 games and tallied 15 points in seven games for Finland at the U20 WJC. He would transition to North American ice, playing for the IceHogs and Blackhawks in that same season. He would solidify himself as an NHL regular by the Blackhawks’ 2015 Playoff run. That is where he had his coming-out party, putting up 10 points in 18 games en route to their Stanley Cup victory.
Due to the Blackhawks’ salary cap troubles, the team had to trade Teravainen to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2016. He was sent in a package with Bryan Bickell for a 2016 second-round pick, and a 2017 third-round pick. He has become a first-line contributor for the Hurricanes, averaging 60-70 points in his last three full seasons. His chemistry with Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov has made the team so exciting to watch. He has exceeded his expected value from his draft spot.
2013 – Mirco Mueller (D, San Jose Sharks)
Getting back into draft disappointments, Mirco Mueller fits into this category. He looked very promising as a prospect, putting up 31 points in 63 games with the Everett Silvertips of the WHL. He would get a nine-game stint in 2014 with the Worchester Sharks of the AHL and then jump with San Jose the following season. It would be the start of a long journey for Mueller, who would never find his footing in an NHL lineup. He was always a step behind.
After getting traded to the New Jersey Devils in the 2017 offseason, he became a more prominent role in their lineup. His career-high 11 points in 53 games during the 2018-19 season would be his peak value. He currently finds himself playing in the Hockeyettan, Sweden’s third-tier league, for Leksands IF. He suited up for 13 of their games last season, scoring four goals and seven points. An NHL return could be possible in the future.
2014 – Alex Tuch (RW, Minnesota Wild)
Alex Tuch has transformed into a great player in the NHL. Even before getting drafted, the signs were there with him. It started in the 2013-14 season, where he produced 13 goals and 32 points in 25 games in the United States Hockey League (USHL). That would lead to the Minnesota Wild selecting him, knowing that he was committed to playing for Boston College in the following year. After enjoying two productive seasons, his NHL time would come. He got a six-game stint with Minnesota in 2016-17, where he was just a minus-3 in that span.
Tuch was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for a 2017 or 2018 conditional third-round pick three seasons after being drafted. He was dealt as the Golden Knights promised to select Erik Haula with their choice in the expansion draft. That would end up being the best scenario for him, as Tuch has scored 139 points in 249 games for Vegas. The Wild could have found a better way to keep Tuch around, but they chose not to.
2015 – Thomas Chabot (D, Ottawa Senators)
The best player out of the bunch, Tomas Chabot, has always had the spotlight on him. The 2015 Draft has produced many valuable selections, and Chabot has proven to be among them. He spent two seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs, showcasing his poise with the puck and steady two-way game. He would make his NHL debut in 2017 with the Senators, suiting up for just one game. In 2018, he established himself as a full-time player and is now a top-pairing defenseman on the young Senators team.
His career-best season was in 2018-19, where he scored 14 goals and 55 points in 70 games. For the last two years, he has had trouble remaining healthy, mainly because of the heavy minutes that he’s consuming. There were nights that he played over 30 minutes of ice time. When the younger pieces around him in Jake Sanderson and Jacob Bernard-Docker arrive, he will become more dominant. I see a Norris Trophy in his future.
2016 – Logan Stanley (D, Winnipeg Jets)
Another defender was taken in back-to-back years, and Logan Stanley was selected by the Winnipeg Jets. His draft value was higher than it should have been. His 6-foot-7 frame and lethal shot caused him to be overrated, but he has shown promise for the Jets so far. Before getting swept by the Montreal Canadiens, Stanley scored two goals in Game 4 to give the team hope. Although they would lose, he has now been protected for Winnipeg in the expansion draft. They value him as a player for their long-term future.
His offensive game still needs work, as he only scored four points in 37 games during his rookie season. It remains to be seen if he will ever become a better player than Dylan Demelo, who currently stands in his way of moving up in the lineup. He will need to break through to provide positive value for being draft in that selection. If he can perform like his two-goal game against Montreal, then maybe it’s possible.
2017 – Urho Vaakanainen (D, Boston Bruins)
The players selected at this point are still in the early stages of their development. Urho Vaakanainen has struggled to make the Boston Bruins lineup since being chosen, but he is still in their plans. During his draft year, he impressed with 11 points in 43 games for SaiPa Lappeenranta of the Liiga.
His longest NHL stint was in the 2020-21 season, where he provided two assists in nine games played. This past season, he split time between the Providence Bruins of the AHL and Lappeenranta due to the pandemic. He will return to North America to play an entire season that starts in October, and he is hoping to make the Bruins’ opening-night roster. The same goes for Timothy Liljegren in Toronto, who was drafted one spot earlier than Vaakanainen.
2018 – Liam Foudy (C, Columbus Blue Jackets)
It was a surprising selection when Liam Foudy’s name was called by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 6-foot-2 center had only scored 40 points in 65 games and looked to have gone 20 spots too early. Since then, he proved his doubters wrong, scoring 136 points in 107 games with the London Knights of the OHL. His play earned him an NHL stint in 2019-20, where he would achieve his first career goal in Game 5 of the Qualifying Round versus the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Foudy played his first entire season of professional hockey, splitting it between the Cleveland Monsters and Columbus. With the Monsters, he dominated in every sense. He scored three goals, along with 13 assists in just 13 games. He couldn’t replicate that production with the Blue Jackets, only scoring four assists in 24 games. He is a speedy centerman and will likely carve out a career for himself on a skillful third line.
2019 – Thomas Harley (D, Dallas Stars)
Tomas Harley is a big, left-handed defenseman that has already made an impact at the professional level. This is also just a reminder that he doesn’t turn 20 years old for another month. With the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL, he scored 58 points in 69 games during his draft year. He is talented in the offensive zone and effectively finds the shooting lanes through heavy traffic.
The pandemic provided a unique opportunity for Harley, as he was able to play for the Texas Stars in the AHL. He didn’t look out of place, scoring 25 points in 38 games, but his defensive game proved to be shaky at times, with lots of turnovers in all three zones. He looks like he will provide excellent value for where he was drafted. He will still need to develop in the minors before making the permanent jump, but he is a player that could be ready in a few seasons.
2020 – Dawson Mercer (C, New Jersey Devils)
There are a lot of people that are high on Dawson Mercer as a prospect. Starting with his speed, he can exit the zone by himself with his terrific skating. His hands match the quickness of his strides, and he can execute a lot of nifty plays with his teammates. On top of that, he is such an effective penalty killer and can threaten to score on a shorthanded chance.
Looking at the numbers, playing for Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), he scored 19 goals in 23 games during 2020-21. There is the possibility that he cracks the New Jersey Devils’ opening night roster next season. I expect that he could play a few games and be sent back down to Chicoutimi to further his development. There is a lot of raw potential with this player, and if he can reach his ceiling, he will provide terrific value in this draft spot.
ALL-TIME PLAYERS TAKEN 18TH OVERALL
1968 – Fraser Rice (C, Boston Bruins)
1969 – Ron Stackhouse (D, Oakland Seals)
1970 – Bill Clement (C, Philadelphia Flyers)
1971 – Brian McKenzie (C, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1972 – Dwight Bialowas (D, Atlanta Flames)
1973 – Blake Dunlop (F, Minnesota Wild)
1974 – Don Larway (RW, Boston Bruins)
1975 – Alex Forsyth (F, Washington Capitals)
1976 – Bruce Baker (RW, Montreal Canadiens)
1977 – Norm Dupont (LW, Montreal Canadiens)
1978 – Tim Coulis (F, Washington Capitals)
1979 – Ray Allison (RW, Hartford Whalers)
1980 – Barry Pederson (F, Boston Bruins)
1981 – Gilbert Delorme (D, Montreal Canadiens)
1982 – Ken Daneyko (D, New Jersey Devils)
1983 – Bruce Cassidy (D, Chicago Blackhawks)
1984 – Mikael Andersson (RW, Buffalo Sabres)
1985 – Ryan Stewart (Winnipeg Jets)
1986 – Ken McRae (RW, Quebec Nordiques)
1987 – Jody Hull (RW, Hartford Whalers)
1988 – Robert Cimetta (LW, Boston Bruins)
1989 – Jason Miller (C, New Jersey Devils)
1990 – Shawn Antoski (LW, Vancouver Cnucks)
1991 – Glem Murrary (RW, Calgary Flames)
1992 – Jason Smith (D, New Jersey Devils)
1993 -Jesper Mattsson (RW, Calgary Flames) –
1994 – Brad Brown (D, Montreal Canadiens)
1995 – Petr Sykora (C, New Jersey Devils)
1996 – Matt Higgins (C, Montreal Canadiens)
1997 – Michael Holmqvist (C, Anaheim Ducks)
1988 – Dmitri Kalinin (D, Buffalo Sabres)
1999 – Konstantin Koltsov (RW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
2000 – Brooks Orpik (D, Pittsburgh Penguins)
2001 – Jens Karlsson (LW, Los Angeles Kings)
2002 – Denis Grebeshkov (D, Los Angeles Kings)
2003 – Eric Fehr (RW, Washington Capitals)
2004 – Kyle Chipchura – (C, Montreal Canadiens)
2005 – Ryan Parent (D, Nashville Predators)
2006 – Chris Stewart (RW, Colorado Avalanche)
2007 – Ian Cole (D, St. Louis Blues)
2008 – Chet Pickard (G, Nashville Predators)
2009 – Louis Leblanc (C, Montreal Canadiens)
Jordan Jacklin is a freelance writer who covers the Buffalo Sabres here at The Hockey Writers. Jordan is a student at Ryerson’s Sport Media program and uses analytics and video scouting to evaluate your favourite players in the game.