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’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide
We have taken a good look through picks 32-25 over the last decade and now continue the series with installment nine: the 24th overall pick. Some notable players passed the purview of this piece carry around some solid hardware; Mike Richards (2003), T.J. Oshie (2005) and Alexander Steen (2002) are all Stanley Cup Champions. Steve Christoff (1978) was second in goals and third in scoring on the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team that pulled off the “Miracle on Ice” en route to a gold medal.
It seems like it’s becoming a theme in these, having a forward-heavy list, so why stop now? This throwback features a predominantly forward class, with a goalie and defenseman sprinkled into the mix.
2010 – Kevin Hayes (C, Chicago Blackhawks)
The Blackhawks drafted Hayes, but he never played a game for them. He never signed, and after four years at Boston College, he signed with the New York Rangers. His first two years at BC weren’t anything special, but his final two were a different story. He only played 27 games his junior year but put up 25 points. It was a sign of what was to come, as he exploded for 27 goals and 65 points in 40 games to close out his collegiate career.
Hayes went on to have a strong career as a mid-six center in New York. He was both durable and disciplined while finding himself becoming a regular on special teams. After a brief post-trade deadline stint in Winnipeg, Hayes found himself a free agent and signed with the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a good match.
His two-way play and penalty killing, notably his shorthanded goal-scoring ability, helped lead to a successful first two seasons with the Flyers. During the 2019-20 postseason, his performance in the bubble was a bright spot on a run that saw the Flyers’ brass struggle. While his offensive ability may fade over the coming seasons, his two-way play should keep Hayes relevant for years to come.
2011 – Matt Puempel (LW, Ottawa Senators)
Puempel is an example of a really good AHL player who couldn’t quite make it in the NHL. He came out of juniors after putting up 119 goals and 213 points in 195 games across four seasons for the Peterborough Petes and Kitchener Rangers. More goals than assists, he was a goal scorer.
In his first full AHL season, he put up 30 goals but didn’t get a shot at the NHL until the following year. In all, he only played one full season in “The Show,” 2016-17, where he was traded from Ottawa to the Rangers. Puempel set career highs offensively with six goals, three assists and nine points in 40 games.
However, he only played eight more games in the NHL following that season, all with the Detroit Red Wings. He had success with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Detroit’s AHL team, and became a factor in the development of other Red Wings prospects. The 28-year-old left North America to join the Malmo Redhawks of the Swedish Hockey League for the 2020-21 season. He put up four goals and five points in 15 games and two points in two playoff games. It’s unlikely we’ll be seeing him hit NHL ice again.
2012 – Malcolm Subban (G, Boston Bruins)
The only goalie on this list, Subban, has become a bit of a journeyman backup since being taken 24th overall. His Bruins career was short, struggling through two games in the NHL while spending most of his time with their AHL team in Providence. He was picked up off waivers by the Vegas Golden Knights ahead of the 2017-18 season.
Subban’s first season in Vegas, his first full-NHL season, went well. He posted a 2.68 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage in 22 games. The Knights made it to the Stanley Cup Final, but he never saw any action. He’s yet to match the 22 games played in 2017-18, and his numbers have fallen off. He was traded to the Blackhawks in 2020 and is under contract there for another year.
Subban looks to be a perennial backup goalie or an AHL starter. He’s at that in-between where he’s too good for the AHL but isn’t good enough to be the stand-alone starter. That isn’t to take away from the value of a solid backup. On teams with a clear-cut No. 1 goalie, a backup like Subban with a good team in front of him can provide stability in net at a more affordable price than having a 1A-1B situation. If he can keep consistent play and improve his numbers a bit, he should have a place in many NHL locker rooms for years to come.
2013 – Hunter Shinkaruk (C/LW, Vancouver Canucks)
While Puempel became a serviceable AHL veteran when he couldn’t stick in the NHL, Shinkaruk is a different story. He had a strong WHL career, scoring 105 goals and 235 points in 211 games, including 49 and 37 goal campaigns, respectively.
His transition to professional hockey started on a decent foot. He improved in his second year with the AHL’s Utica Comets before earning a call-up, where he made his NHL debut for the Canucks. He was eventually traded to the Calgary Flames, where he would see his last NHL action. In 15 NHL games, he’d score two goals and two assists while spending four minutes in the box.
Shinkaruk would have an alright 2017-18 season in the AHL, but his production quickly fell off. He found his way to the KHL for part of the 2019-20 season and has played there for the Kunlun Red Star since. He’s put up fairly decent numbers, but underwhelming considering where he was drafted. It is doubtful that he’ll see the NHL again, but if his numbers are consistent in the KHL, a return to the AHL may not be far off.
2014 – Jared McCann (C/LW, Vancouver Canucks)
McCann is the first real success story for the No. 24-spot since 2010’s Hayes. However, he wasn’t a success story for the Vancouver Canucks. After a solid junior hockey career with the Soo Greyhounds, McCann stepped right into the NHL with the Canucks, but lasted a season before being traded to the Florida Panthers.
He spent time in the AHL with Florida’s affiliate, but during the 2018-19 season, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Now 25 years old, McCann’s proving that the Canucks made a mistake in trading him as his career starts to take flight. This past season, he was able to step in when Evgeni Malkin went down to injury and provide secondary scoring behind a strong Penguins top line.
That secondary scoring came via 14 goals, 18 assists and 32 points in 43 games. He was on pace for 61 points over an 82 game season, shattering his career-high 35. McCann has developed to be dependable on both sides of the puck, seeing both penalty kill and power play time for the Penguins.
McCann is just entering his prime and is likely to get a decent raise following the 2021-22 season. He currently makes $2.94 million a year and will become a restricted free agent. The Penguins should do everything in their power to sign him long-term.
2015 – Travis Konecny (RW/LW, Philadelphia Flyers)
It’s safe to say that the Flyers got a steal with Konecny dropping to 24th overall. He stepped right into the NHL after a very successful career in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), playing for the Ottawa 67’s and a brief stint with the Sarnia Sting. He tallied 85 goals and 239 points in 183 games for a strong junior career.
The Bruins had three straight first-round picks in the 2015 draft. Jake DeBrusk has played 244 games, while Zachary Senyshyn and Jakub Zboril have combined for just 58. Konecny only played less than 58 games once in his career, and it was this past pandemic-shortened season.
In 349 games, he has 94 goals and 219 points. He’s played the seventh-most games and has the eighth-most points of his draft class, a class that saw names like Pavel Zacha, Timo Meier and Lawson Crouse taken ahead of him. Interestingly, his goal totals throughout his five seasons earned him a full house. He has three seasons scoring 24 goals and two scoring 11.
The Flyers’ core is getting a bit long in the tooth, and it seems like they have a new wave of youth coming up, which could make for a changing of the guard. If this is the case, expect Konecny to have many more strong years in the orange and black. Especially in the immediate future, as he’s signed through the 2024-25 season at a very fair $5.5 million cap hit.
2016 – Max Jones (LW, Anaheim Ducks)
Jones is going to be someone to keep an eye on for the 2021-22 season. He’s coming off his first full-NHL season, where he tallied seven goals and 11 points in 46 games. Offensively, it’s nothing to write home about. However, the potential is there, as he has had some decent scoring years in the OHL.
He’s coming off his entry-level contract, and at this point, shouldn’t be seeing that much of a pay raise, which is good if you’re the Ducks. He has seen some time on both the power play and penalty kill, which will help round him into a complete player. In addition, his offensive numbers may have been negatively impacted due to the Ducks having a tough year in 2020-21.
He has 17 goals and 28 points in 135 games, but if this past season is any indication, he will be sticking around the NHL. Expect noticeable offensive improvements, especially if the Ducks can put together a decent season.
2017 – Kristian Vesalainen (LW/RW, Winnipeg jets)
Vesalainen really ran up his air miles this past season. He played in three different leagues, the Finnish Elite League (SM-liiga), AHL and NHL, but only dressed for 28 total games. He scored well in the SM-liiga and AHL, with eight points in 10 games and five points in six games, respectively. However, he had trouble finding the scoresheet in the NHL, registering a lone assist in 12 games.
Despite the lack of production, he may have a strong shot at cracking the Jets’ roster next season. He hadn’t really sniffed any special teams chances this past season and only registered five shots in those 12 games and six in 17 NHL games, according to Natural Stat Trick. He has a decent shot, so he really needs to find a way to get pucks on net. If he’s able to start finding twine, his confidence should soon follow.
2018 – Filip Johansson (D, Minnesota Wild)
Filip Johansson’s offensive numbers won’t be getting him much play in fantasy hockey, but in reality, he’s known more for his two-way play and defensive ability. In 85 games over two seasons in the Swedish Hockey League (SweHL), he has eight goals and 15 points. Yes, it does feel odd seeing a defenseman scoring more goals than assists.
What’s interesting is that Johansson doesn’t have a contract with the Wild right now. That is likely to change in the near future, especially if the Wild has to expose one of their top defensemen to the Seattle Kraken. There are some defensive holes in that lineup that he could fit into if he signs and makes a strong transition to North American hockey.
2019 – Philip Tomasino (RW, Nashville Predators)
Tomasino looks ready to make the jump to the NHL. After a strong finish to his OHL career, 40 goals and 100 points in 62 games, he stepped into the AHL with the Chicago Wolves and tied for the team-lead in scoring. He scored 13 goals and 32 points in 26 games. His plus/minus was +20 and he had four goals and 12 power-play points while rifling off 91 shots.
Following the Viktor Arvidsson trade, the door is wide open for Tomasino. If he can have a good training camp, there is little reason why the almost 20-year-old shouldn’t be on the Predators’ opening day roster.
2020 – Connor Zary (C, Calgary Flames)
Zary spent time in both the WHL and AHL this past season, putting up six goals and 24 points in 15 games for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers. He had a strong handful of games with the Stockton Heat, too. He scored three goals and seven points in nine games, a preview of what’s to come.
The 19-year-old pivot could see NHL ice this upcoming season as the Flames could use some help down the middle. If they drop Derek Ryan down to center the fourth line, Zary could slide in and center that third line, potentially playing alongside Dillon Dubé. However, it may be best for him to play in the AHL off the hop to build up some confidence before making the jump to ‘The Show.’
Players Who Could Be Drafted 24th Overall in 2021
ALL TIME PLAYERS TAKEN 24TH OVERALL
1969 – Larry Romanchych (C, Chicago Blackhawks)
1970 – Al McDonough (RW, Los Angeles Kings)
1971 – Michel DeGuise (G, Montreal Canadiens)
1972 – Jack Lynch (D, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1973 – George Pesut (D, St. Louis Blues)
1974 – Rich Nantais (LW, Minnesota North Stars)
1975 – Doug Jarvis (C, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1976 – Dave Farrish (D, New York Rangers)
1977- Bob Gladney (D, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1978 – Steve Christoff (C, Minnesota North Stars)
1979 – Errol Rausse (LW, Washington Capitals)
1980 – Normand Rochefort (D, Quebec Nordiques)
1981 – Gary Yaremchuk (C, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1982 – Gary Leeman (LW, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1983 – Shawn Evans (D, New Jersey Devils)
1984 – Brian Wilks (C, Los Angeles King)
1985 – Sean Burke (G, New Jersey Devils)
1986 – Todd Copeland (D, New Jersey Devils)
1987 – Rob Murphy (C, Vancouver Canucks)
1988 – Stephane Fiset (G, Quebec Nordiques)
1989 – Kent Manderville (C, Calgary Flames)
1990 – David Harlock (D, New Jersey Devils)
1991 – Rene Corbet (LW, Quebec Nordiques)
1992 – Peter Ferraro (RW, New York Rangers)
1993 – Eric Lecompte (LW, Chicago Blackhawks)
1994 – Chris Wells (C, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1995 – Alexei Morozov (RW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1996 – Daniel Briere (C, Phoenix Coyotes)
1997 – Jean-Francois Damphousse (G, New Jersey Devils)
1998 – Christian Backman (D, St. Louis Blues)
1999 – Luca Cereda (C, Toronto Maple Leafs)
2000 – Brad Boyes (RW, Toronto Maple Leafs)
2001 – Lukas Krajicek (D, Florida Panthers)
2002 – Alexander Steen (LW, Toronto Maple Leafs)
2003 – Mike Richards (C, Philadelphia Flyers)
2004 – Kris Chucko (RW, Calgary Flames)
2005 – T.J. Oshie (RW, St. Louis Blues)
2006 – Dennis Persson (D, Buffalo Sabres)
2007 – Mikael Backlund (C, Calgary Flames)
2008 – Mattias Tedenby (RW, New Jersey Devils)
2009 – Marcus Johansson (LW, Washington Capitals)
Sean Raggio lives for hockey. He will be covering the Seattle Kraken, and is a co-host of “What’s Kraken” for THW. Sean gained experience in writing for television, print and radio while studying journalism at Quinnipiac University and being an active member in the student media organizations there. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out on Twitter! A link can be found at the bottom of his articles, such as this one.