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 ten 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 21, the series continues with the 13th piece, where we’ll take a deep dive into the entire history of the 20th overall pick.
Unlike the last few picks, the 20th selection has seen a few defencemen walk through its doors over the last decade. Of the 11 players chosen, four of them patrol the blueline, and three have played at least 100 games in the NHL. Overall, 20 has been a pretty lucky number for NHL success as all but one have seen some time in the NHL. Shakir Mukhamadullin is the lone player without an NHL debut and he was drafted just last year.
2010 – Beau Bennett (RW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
Impressing scouts everywhere with an insane 120 points in 56 games playing for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), Beau Bennett was an intriguing prospect going into the 2010 Draft. Blessed with terrific speed, size, and an NHL-caliber shot, he was almost unstoppable in a league not normally known for producing high-end NHLers.
Committed to the University of Denver, Bennett played two seasons in the NCAA after he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Against the tougher competition, he finished his freshman season with a modest nine goals and 25 points in 37 games. His sophomore campaign didn’t go as planned either, as a ruptured tendon in his wrist caused him to miss almost the entire season.
Bennett made his professional with the Penguins during the 2012-13 season, a season that saw him score three goals and 14 points in 26 games while splitting his time with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. After two more seasons of bouncing around the AHL and NHL, Bennett became a full-time NHLer in 2015-16 and was immediately traded to the New Jersey Devils the following offseason. After a career-high eight goals and 19 points, he signed a one-year deal with the St. Louis Blues and played only six games primarily as a callup from the Chicago Wolves. Returning to North America from the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in 2019, he closed out his career with the Tuscon Roadrunners before announcing his retirement in 2021 at the young age of 29.
2011 – Connor Murphy (D, Phoenix Coyotes)
Another product of USA Hockey, Connor Murphy spent his draft year split between the USNTDP Juniors and the U.S. National U17 and U18 teams where he recorded 14 points in 33 games. Deciding against the NCAA path, he played the next two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with the Sarnia Sting where he finished with 14 goals and 44 points in 68 games.
From there, Murphy made his AHL debut with the Portland Pirates in 2013-14 and finished his rookie season with 13 points in 36 games. He also played his first 30 games with the then-Phoenix Coyotes, scoring his first NHL goal in the process. Since then, he has established himself as a strong two-way defenceman in the NHL averaging over 20 minutes a night in the top-four. Now approaching 500 games in the league, he has accumulated 28 goals and 110 points skating with the Arizona Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks. He has also captained Team USA at the 2017 World Championship.
2012 – Scott Laughton (C, Philadelphia Flyers)
One of the rare 20-goal scorers that recorded over 100 penalty minutes, Scott Laughton made a name for himself in the OHL as a gritty power forward that prided himself on physicality. A two-way force with the Oshawa Generals, it was almost a given that his name was going to be called by the Philadelphia Flyers. He didn’t have to wait long for his debut either, as he played five games with them at the end of the 2012-13 season.
After a career-high 40 goals and 87 points in 54 games during his final season in the OHL, Laughton turned pro permanently with the Leigh Valley Phantoms in 2014-15 and finished his rookie campaign with 14 goals and 27 points in 39 games. Since then, he has become exactly what he was in junior, a two-way monster and consistent producer in the top nine. He hasn’t hit the 20-goal plateau yet, but he has eclipsed double-digits in goals three times and has proven to be a playoff performer too, evidenced by his five goals and nine points during the 2020 Playoffs.
2013 – Anthony Mantha (RW, Detroit Red Wings)
A prolific goal-scorer in junior, Anthony Mantha was a highly-touted prospect going into the 2013 Draft. Finishing his draft year with 50 goals and 89 points in 67 games, every team searching for scoring talent was looking squarely at the 6-foot-5, 234-pound forward from Longueuil, Quebec. Size, speed, NHL-caliber shot, Mantha had it all. Eventually ending up with the Detroit Red Wings at 20th overall, he returned to the QMJHL and the Val-d’Or Foreurs for his draft-plus-one year and proceeded to blow his previous totals away with a career-high 57 goals and 120 points in 57 games. By the end of the season, he had won the Jean Beliveau Trophy, Michel Briere Trophy, CHL Player of the Year Award, and was a QMJHL champion.
Since that unbelievable 2013-14 season, Mantha has become a consistent offensive threat in the NHL. He hasn’t hit 50 goals yet, but he has seen two 20-goal seasons and five straight campaigns with 10 goals or more. Now with the Washington Capitals after 302 games in the Motor City, he currently sits at 99 goals and 202 points.
2014 – Nick Schmaltz (C, Chicago Blackhawks)
Another alumnus of the vaunted North Dakota Fighting Hawks, Nick Schmaltz was a key part of the team that ended up winning the NCAA National Championship in 2016. Along with his linemates, Vancouver Canucks first-round pick Brock Boeser and undrafted free agent Drake Caggiula, they were nearly unstoppable at times posting a combined 63 goals and 157 points as a line.
After lighting it up with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers and the NCAA’s University of North Dakota, Schmaltz turned pro with the Rockford IceHogs in 2016-17. After a strong start in the AHL, he made his NHL debut with the Chicago Blackhawks and ended up finishing with six goals and 28 points in 61 games. Exploding for 21 goals and 52 points in 2017-18, he was eventually traded to the Arizona Coyotes for Brendan Perlini and Dylan Strome after a slow start to the 2018-19 campaign that only saw him score two goals in 23 games. Now entering his fourth season with the Coyotes, he has 55 goals and 182 points in 301 career NHL games.
2015 – Joel Eriksson Ek (C, Minnesota Wild)
Touted as a 200-foot pivot that could score big goals and provide a solid defensive presence down the middle, Joel Eriksson Ek took a while to establish himself in the NHL. After spending his first two post-draft seasons overseas with Farjestad BK and winning a gold medal at the 2017 World Juniors with Team Sweden, he made the trek over to North America to try his luck in the AHL. Proving to be too good for the Iowa Wild, he only played eight games there before his first call-up to the Minnesota Wild in 2017-18. Playing mostly in the bottom-six as their third-line center, he finished his rookie season with six goals and 16 points in 75 games.
After three seasons of middling production as a match-up center, Eriksson Ek has now become a veritable star with the Wild. Emerging as their top-line center during the 2020-21 season, he hit a career-high 19 goals and 30 points in 56 games and at only 24-years-old, is just hitting his prime in the NHL.
2016 – Dennis Cholowski (D, Detroit Red Wings)
One of the few NHL players to hail from Langley, British Columbia, Dennis Cholowski spent his draft year as a productive piece of the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs. Finishing with 12 goals and 40 points in 50 games, the Detroit Red Wings grabbed him with their 20th pick. Committed to St. Cloud University for the 2016-17 season, he decided to only play 36 games in the NCAA before traveling back to BC to play for the WHL’s Prince George Cougars in 2017-18.
Traded midseason to the Portland Winterhawks for Connor Bowie and a package of draft picks, Cholowksi finished with a combined 14 goals and 66 points in 69 games, which eventually ended up being his first and only season in the WHL. Transitioning to the pro game at the beginning of the 2018-19 season, he made his NHL debut with the Red Wings and finished his rookie campaign with a solid seven goals and 16 points in 52 games. Still looking for that elusive season without an AHL appearance, he has played 104 games in the NHL so far.
2017 – Robert Thomas (C, St. Louis Blues)
A Stanley Cup champion before he was 20-years-old, the tenacious Robert Thomas was lucky enough to be part of the St. Louis Blues when they made their magical run in 2018-19. He wasn’t just a benchwarmer either, he was a significant part of their bottom-six that helped drive their success as a four-line team. Drafted out of the factory known as the London Knights, he showcased himself as a skilled playmaker when he finished his draft year with 50 assists and 66 points in 66 games.
After a swan song in the OHL that saw him split the season between the Knights and Hamilton Bulldogs, Thomas made the transition to full-time NHLer almost immediately. Making the Blues straight out of training camp, he finished his rookie season with nine goals and 33 points in 70 games and one goal and five points en route to their first Stanley Cup. He followed that up with a career-high 10 goals and 42 points in 2019-20 and is now closing in on 100 points in the NHL at only 22-years-old.
2018 – Rasmus Kupari (C, Los Angeles Kings)
Part of the powerhouse of talent the Los Angeles Kings are building right now, Rasmus Kupari is a highly skilled center who could take over for the recently-departed Jeff Carter as their second line pivot one day. Hailing from the small country of Finland, he was one of the rare forwards to play in both the U18 and U20 World Junior Championships (WJC) as a 17-year-old. Ranked as high as 15th by ISS Hockey, he ended up falling to the Kings at 20th overall.
After another season in the Finnish Liiga that saw Kupari post a career-high 12 goals and 33 points in 43 games with Karpat, he made his way over to North America for the 2019-20 campaign. Debuting with the AHL’s Ontario Reign, he had an impressive first 27 games until a knee injury felled him at the beginning of the 2020 WJC. He ended up having season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL, and after months of rehab, played his first NHL game with the Kings in 2020-21. Finishing with eight goals and 23 points in 32 games with the Reign and one goal in seven games with the Kings, he is ready to compete for a full-time NHL job in 2021-22.
2019 – Ville Heinola (D, Winnipeg Jets)
One of the top defensive prospects in the 2019 Draft, Ville Heinola played in both the U18 and U20 WJC and the Finnish Liiga during his draft year and excelled in all three. The smooth-skating offensive defenceman finished with a combined four goals and 20 points in 44 games and a U20 WJC gold medal around his neck.
After being selected by the Winnipeg Jets and making the team out of training camp in 2019-20, Heinola hit the ground running with five points in eight games. Deciding to not burn a year on his entry-level contract, they ultimately loaned him back to the Liiga for the season where he finished with seven points in 29 games. Because of the pandemic, he remained there for the beginning of the 2020-21 season before the Jets recalled him to the AHL in February. Finishing with 11 points in 19 games, he will try again to win a full-time job on the Jets’ blueline next season.
2020 – Shakir Mukhamadullin (D, New Jersey Devils)
If Shakir Mukhamadullin realizes the dream and plays in the NHL, he will have one of the best names in the entire league. A polarizing prospect in the 2020 Draft here and within the draft community, he was ranked as high as 22nd by ISS Scouting and as low as 72nd by McKeen’s Hockey. Ultimately drafted by the New Jersey Devils 20th overall, he spent his draft year primarily in the KHL with Salavat Yulaev Ufa where he recorded a single assist in 27 games.
Known for his mobility, size, and powerful one-timer, Mukhamadullin certainly has the skills to be a top-four defender in the NHL. Improving on his 2019-20 season, he finished his draft-plus-one year with a solid three goals and 10 points in 39 games. That may not sound like a lot, but in limited ice time of under 13 minutes a game, that’s actually pretty good production. If he continues to develop his defensive game, he could be in the NHL as soon as 2022-23.
ALL-TIME PLAYERS TAKEN 20TH OVERALL
1968 – Jim Trewin (D, Oakland Seals)
1969 – Doug Brindley (LW, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1970 – Fred Barrett (D, Minnesota North Stars)
1971 – Larry Robinson (D, Montreal Canadiens)
1972 – Don Kozak (RW, Los Angeles Kings)
1973 – Larry Goodenough (D, Philadelphia Flyers)
1974 – Glen Burdon (C, Kansas City Scouts)
1975 – Don Cairns (LW, Kansas City Scouts)
1976 – Brian Sutter (LW, St. Louis Blues)
1977 – Miles Zaharko (D, Atlanta Flames)
1978 – Paul Mulvey (LW, Washington Capitals)
1979 – Michel Goulet (LW, Quebec Nordiques)
1980 – Steve Patrick (RW, Buffalo Sabres)
1981 – Marty Ruff (D, St. Louis Blues)
1982 – Jim Playfair (D, Edmonton Oilers)
1983 – David Jensen (C, Hartford Whalers)
1984 – Duncan MacPherson (D, New York Islanders)
1985 – Scott Metcalfe (LW, Edmonton Oilers)
1986 – Kerry Huffman (D, Philadelphia Flyers)
1987 – Darren Rumble (D, Philadelphia Flyers)
1988 – Eric Charron (D, Montreal Canadiens)
1989 – Steven Rice (RW, New York Rangers)
1990 – Martin Brodeur (G, New Jersey Devils)
1991 – Martin Rucinsky (LW, Edmonton Oilers)
1992 – David Wilkie (D, Montreal Canadiens)
1993 – Mike Wilson (D, Vancouver Canucks)
1994 – Jason Botterill (LW, Dallas Stars)
1995 – Denis Gauthier (D, Calgary Flames)
1996 – Marcus Nilson (LW, Florida Panthers)
1997 – Mike Brown (LW, Florida Panthers)
1998 – Scott Parker (RW, Colorado Avalanche)
1999 – Barrett Heisten (LW, Buffalo Sabres)
2000 – Alex Frolov (LW, Los Angeles Kings)
2001 – Marcel Goc (C, San Jose Sharks)
2002 – Daniel Paille (LW, Buffalo Sabres)
2003 – Brent Burns (D, Minnesota Wild)
2004 – Travis Zajac (C, New Jersey Devils)
2005 – Kenndal McArdle (LW, Florida Panthers)
2006 – David Fischer (D, Montreal Canadiens)
2007 – Angelo Esposito (C, Pittsburgh Penguins)
2008 – Michael Del Zotto (D, New York Rangers)
2009 – Jacob Josefson (C, New Jersey Devils)
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, editor, part-time journalist, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.