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.
After recapping picks 32 through 24 through the last decade, the series continues with the 11th piece of the series with a look at the entire history of the 23rd pick.
Between 2010 and 2020, four defensemen, three centers, three right-wingers, and one left-winger have been selected with the 23rd pick. The Florida Panthers are the only team in that span who have had the 23rd overall pick multiple times, having it twice, and they will be selecting 23rd again in the 2021 NHL Draft, barring any trades. Of the 11 players selected since 2010, seven of them have played a game at the NHL level. Brock Boeser has been the best of the pack so far, scoring 98 goals and 210 points in 253 career games.
2010 – Mark Pysyk (D, Buffalo Sabres)
In Pysyk’s draft year, he was described as a speedy defenseman who was smart with the puck, but the one issue that has plagued him the most is his size. In that 2009-10 season with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, that reared its ugly head, as he posted a minus-17 with seven goals and 24 points in 48 games. This could’ve caused a slide to where he fell nearly 10 draft spots from where some outlets projected him to go.
Pysyk spent two more seasons with the Oil Kings, serving as their captain while putting up a combined 78 points in 110 games. Then, the transition to the pros started. He spent the first 57 games of his professional career with the AHL’s Rochester Americans, scoring four goals and 18 points, then he received his call up to the Buffalo Sabres.
He spent the next four seasons being sent back and forth between Buffalo and Rochester, recording just 125 games played in four seasons in Buffalo, scoring five goals and 26 points and a minus-15. In the 2016 offseason, the Panthers acquired Pysyk in exchange for Dmitry Kulikov, and South Florida was where he found his footing in the NHL.
Pysyk played all 82 games in both of his first two seasons in Sunrise, scoring a combined seven goals and 33 points. He played a solid role as a secondary puck-moving defenseman over the next two years, even dressing as a forward in some cases, including a game where he scored a hat trick against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After 292 games, 17 goals, and 62 points as a Panther, Pysyk became a free agent in the 2020 offseason and signed a one-year deal worth $750,000 with the Dallas Stars. He played 36 games in Dallas, scoring three goals and four points, and is now due to be an unrestricted free agent again this offseason.
2011 – Joe Morrow (D, Pittsburgh Penguins)
During his years with the Portland Winterhawks, Morrow was more of an offensive defenseman with a solid 6-foot-1, 207-pound frame. In 2010-11, he scored nine goals and 49 points in 60 games while almost being a point-per-game player in the postseason, amassing six goals and 21 points in 20 games. This was enough for the Penguins to select him with the 23rd pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.
He spent another season in Portland after the Penguins drafted him, where he put up the best numbers of his career. In 62 games, Morrow had 17 goals and 64 points, adding four goals and 17 points in 22 playoff games. He was then sent to the AHL, playing 57 games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins before getting traded to the Dallas Stars in a deal that sent Brendan Morrow to Pittsburgh.
Joe Morrow played just nine games for Dallas’ AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, before being traded again. This time, he went to the Boston Bruins in the package that sent Tyler Seguin to the Stars. He then spent the next three seasons splitting time between Boston and Providence, the Bruins’ AHL affiliate. He played just 65 games in the NHL before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
He spent three more seasons in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets and the Montreal Canadiens, playing another 97 games before heading off to Europe. He now plays for Assat in Finland’s Liiga after just 162 games on NHL hockey, scoring just nine goals and 32 points.
2012 – Mike Matheson (D, Florida Panthers)
After a successful stint with the USHL’s Dubuque Flying Saints, putting up 27 points in 53 regular-season games and five points in five regular-season games, the Panthers decided to use their 23rd overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft on Matheson. He went on to play three seasons at Boston College before reaching the pros, donning the “C” in his final season. Over those three years, the Pointe-Claire, Quebec native, amassed 71 points in 112 games, making himself look like a solid two-way presence for the Panthers.
During his first full professional season, he did just that, scoring 20 points in 54 games with the AHL’s Portland Pirates before earning a call-up to join Florida in their 2016 playoff push. Matheson played in three games at the end of the season for the Panthers and impressed enough to make their playoff lineup. As a rookie, he registered an assist in five games in a first-round loss to the New York Islanders, impressing the coaching staff enough to return to the roster next season.
Following a 2016-17 season that saw Matheson register 27 points in 81 games while continuing to be a solid two-way presence on the roster, general manager Dale Tallon was sold on the then-23-year-old defenseman and signed him to an eight-year contract worth $4.8 million per year. However, his defensive value vanished, seeing him become a -24 player the next season.
After a 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the same Islanders team he broke out against that saw him play just two games, the Panthers decided to send Matheson to Pittsburgh in exchange for Patric Hornqvist that offseason. In his first season in Pittsburgh, he scored 16 points in 44 games and played in all six of Pittsburgh’s playoff games in their six-game series loss to the Islanders.
2013 – Andre Burakovsky (LW, Washington Capitals)
Ahead of the 2013 NHL Draft, Burakovsky was described as an agile skater who has the potential to be a gifted offensive talent. He was already playing against men in Sweden, albeit only scoring four goals and 11 points in 43 games with the Malmo Redhawks, but he had shown that he had outgrown the U18 competition. In just three games at the U18 level that season, Burakovsky scored six goals and 10 points, which was more than enough for the Capitals to take a look at him with the 23rd overall pick.
Burakovsky started his transition to the North American game immediately, leaving Sweden to play for the OHL’s Erie Otters that season. He dominated the junior competition, scoring 41 goals and 87 points in 57 regular-season games and 10 goals and 13 points in 14 playoff games. That was more than enough for the Capitals to put him on their opening night roster in 2014-15.
He became the second-fastest Capital to score their first NHL goal after he scored 6:43 into his NHL debut, never looking back from there. He split that season between the NHL and the AHL’s Hershey Bears, playing 13 games there following a demotion. As for his NHL totals from his rookie season, he scored nine goals and 22 points in 53 games.
Burakovsky would play four more seasons with the Capitals, becoming a staple depth player on a team that consistently made the playoffs. After having his best season in Washington in 2015-16, scoring 17 goals and 38 points, he would score 12 goals in each of the next three seasons. This included the 2017-18 season, where he scored two goals and six points in 13 games en route to a Stanley Cup.
On June 28, 2019, the Capitals sent Burakovsky to the Colorado Avalanche for two draft picks, and he has continued to be a solid secondary scorer since. He most notably scored seven goals and 17 points in 15 games in his first playoff run in the Mile High City while adding 39 goals and 89 points in 111 regular-season games with the Avalanche. He has quietly become one of the better goal scorers in the league, as his 39 goals rank tied for 51st in the NHL since he arrived in Denver in the 2019-20 season.
2014 – Conner Bleackley (C, Colorado Avalanche)
After wowing the Avalanche enough to select him with the 23rd pick in the 2014 NHL Draft in a season that saw him score 29 goals and 68 points in 71 games with the Red Deer Rebels, Bleackley was never able to reach the NHL level. He spent another two seasons in Red Deer, combining for 40 goals and 95 points in 106 games.
He then started his professional career with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves and never seemed to find his footing, scoring just two goals and 10 points in 45 games. He also played 14 games with the ECHL’s Missouri Mavericks that season, scoring four goals and 17 points. Bleackley spent the rest of his career splitting time between the AHL and ECHL and currently plays for the Indy Fuel.
2015 – Brock Boeser (RW, Vancouver Canucks)
Out of all of the players selected with the 23rd overall pick over the past ten years, Boeser seems to be the biggest hit. In a deep 2015 NHL draft class, many teams overlooked him after lighting it up with the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks, scoring 35 goals and 68 points in 57 games, a preview of what was to come from the sniper.
After being drafted by the Canucks, Boeser spent two seasons with the University of North Dakota, scoring a combined 43 goals and 94 points in 74 games. The best year of his stint in North Dakota was the 2015-16 season, where he scored 27 goals and 60 points in 42 games while leading the Fighting Hawks to an NCAA Championship.
After his 2016-17 season with North Dakota, Boeser signed his entry-level contract and played nine games with Vancouver that season, scoring four goals and five points. But the best was yet to come for the rookie forward. In his first full season, he registered 29 goals and 55 points in 62 games, winning 2018 All-Star Game MVP and finishing second to Mathew Barzal in Calder Trophy voting.
Boeser followed up his rookie season with yet another quality season, scoring 26 goals and 56 points in 59 games during the 2018-19 campaign. Since then, he has always been good for at least 20 goals, with the exception of the 2019-20 campaign shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which only saw him score 16 goals and 45 points in 57 games. He made up for lost time in his lone playoff appearance at just 22 years old, scoring four goals and 11 points in 17 games before exiting in the second round to the Vegas Golden Knights.
2016 – Henrik Borgstrom (C, Florida Panthers)
Borgstrom, like Bleackley, is one of the more disappointing names on this list, playing just 58 games as a Panther before eventually leaving for Europe following two stints in the AHL and eventual trade of his RFA rights to the Chicago Blackhawks. Over the course of his Panthers tenure, he registered just nine goals and 19 points.
After getting Borgstrom to return to North America with a two-year deal on May 12, the Blackhawks will be hoping to see production mirroring his junior career. In his draft year in 2015-16, he scored 29 goals and 55 points in 40 games for HIFK’s U20 SM-Liiga team. He went on to play at the University of Denver afterward, scoring 45 goals and 95 points in 77 games.
2017 – Pierre-Olivier Joseph (D, Arizona Coyotes)
Currently, Joseph has been splitting his time between the NHL and AHL, but the 22-year-old defenseman still has plenty of time to prove his worth at the NHL level. Acquired by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the trade that sent Phil Kessel to Arizona, he saw some success in his first stint in the big show. In 16 games with the Penguins, Joseph scored one goal and five points.
During his junior career, Joseph served as a quality two-way defenseman for the Charlottetown Islanders of the QMJHL. In his draft year in 2016-17, he scored six goals and 39 points in 62 games that season, serving as an alternate captain. He became the captain of the Islanders the next season and combined for 20 goals and 71 points in 90 games over the next two seasons before getting traded to the Drummondville Voltigeurs. He played 35 regular-season games with them, scoring two goals and 22 points while adding two goals and nine points during their 16-game playoff run.
2018 – Isac Lundestrom (C, Anaheim Ducks)
The final player on this list to reach the NHL so far, Lundestrom has been on the fringe of the NHL and AHL roster ever since the 2018-19 season. He hasn’t seen much NHL action, playing just 71 games in three seasons, scoring six goals and 15 points. But with him spending the entire season on the Ducks’ roster in 2020-21, he seems to be a mainstay in Anaheim. He potted all six of his NHL goals this season, adding three assists in the process in 41 games.
Based on his junior career, where Lundestrom served as a quality two-way forward for Lulea HF, the Ducks have a lot of reason to believe in the 21-year-old. While he only scored six goals and 15 points in 42 games as an 18-year-old in 2017-18, his defensive abilities and powerful skating were what impressed the Ducks the most, and with him having experience playing against older players, Lundestrom has been serviceable for Anaheim right out of the gate.
2019 – Simon Holmstrom (RW, New York Islanders)
At Sweden’s J20 level, Holmstrom has proven to be a consistent point producer with playmaking ability and powerful skating. Throughout his career with HV71 J20, he scored 18 goals and 50 points in 49 games. This included a seven-goal and 20 point season in his final 21 games with the team during his draft year, which prompted the Islanders to take him 23rd overall.
Holmstrom immediately opted to come to North America following the 2019 NHL Draft, spending the past two seasons with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (now named the Bridgeport Islanders) of the AHL. In 70 total games, the 20-year-old scored 12 goals and 22 points. He also added five assists in five games for Team Sweden in the 2021 World Junior Championship. With the NHL roster looking to go on another deep playoff run, Holmstrom will have more time to develop in the AHL.
2020 – Tyson Foerster (RW, Philadelphia Flyers)
During his draft year, Foerster showed flashes of dominance for the OHL’s Barrie Colts. In 62 games, the Ontario native scored 36 goals and 80 points, nearly quadrupling his point total from the prior season. With his goal-scoring ability at full display and his defensive instincts also showing promise, the Flyers decided to draft him with their 23rd overall pick.
With the COVID-19 pandemic providing the rare opportunity for CHL players to play in the AHL, Foerster joined the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and immediately proved the Flyers right. In his first 24 professional games, the 19-year-old scored 10 goals and 17 points. He now has an opportunity to compete for an NHL roster spot next season, especially if the Seattle Kraken decide to clear a path for him by taking a Flyers forward in the expansion draft this offseason.
Players Who Could Be Drafted 23rd Overall In 2021
ALL-TIME PLAYERS TAKEN 23RD OVERALL
1969 – Bert Wilson (LW, New York Rangers)
1970 – Murray Keogan (C, St. Louis Blues)
1971 – Dave Fortier (D, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1972 – Tom Bladon (D, Philadelphia Flyers)
1973 – Wayne Bianchin (LW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1974 – Ron Sedlbauer (LW Vancouver Canucks)
1975 – Jerry Rollins (D, Detroit Red Wings)
1976 – Vern Stenlund (C, California Golden Seals)
1977 – Don Chicoine (RW, Cleveland Barons)
1978 – Paul MacKinnon (D, Washington Capitals)
1979 – Mike Perovich (D, Atlanta Flames)
1980 – Moe Mantha Jr. (D, Winnipeg Jets)
1981 – Claude Loiselle (C, Detroit Red Wings)
1982 – Yves Courteau (RW, Detroit Red Wings)
1983 – Ville Siren (D, Hartford Whalers)
1984 – Craig Billington (G, New Jersey Devils)
1985 – Lee Giffin (RW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1986 – Jukka Seppo (C, Philadelphia Flyers)
1987 – Ricard Persson (D, New Jersey Devils)
1988 – Jeff Christian (LW, New Jersey Devils)
1989 – Travis Green (C, New York Islanders)
1990- Jiri Slegr (D, Vancouver Canucks)
1991 – Ray Whitney (LW, San Jose Sharks)
1992 – Grant Marshall (RW, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1993 – Todd Bertuzzi (RW, New York Islanders)
1994 – Yan Golubovsky (D, Detroit Red Wings)
1995 – Miika Elomo (C, Washington Capitals)
1996 – Craig Hiller (G, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1997 – Scott Hannan (D, San Jose Sharks)
1998 – Milan Kraft (RW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1999 – Steve McCarthy (C, Chicago Blackhawks)
2000 – Nathan Smith (C, Vancouver Canucks)
2001 – Tim Gleason (D, Ottawa Senators)
2002 – Ben Eager (LW, Phoenix Coyotes)
2003 – Ryan Kesler (C, Vancouver Canucks)
2004 – Andrej Meszaros (D, Ottawa Senators)
2005 – Nicholas Bergfors (RW, New Jersey Devils)
2006 – Semyon Varlamov (G, Washington Capitals)
2007 – Jonathon Blum (D, Nashville Predators)
2008 – Tyler Cuma (D, Minnesota Wild)
2009 – Tim Erixon (D, Calgary Flames)
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 social media manager 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.