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
After delving into the history of the 32nd through 26th overall picks, the series continues today with the eighth piece and a look at the history of the 25th overall pick. This pick has not seen much success in the last decade with only three major NHLers coming out of it in David Pastrnak (427 points in 438 games), Connor Murphy (110 points in 494 games), and Jack Roslovic (101 points in 228 games). Having said that, there is some intriguing potential coming up with Connor McMichael and Justin Barron just beginning their respective journeys in professional hockey. Again dominated by forwards, the 25th pick has only seen three defencemen join its club in the last eleven drafts.
2010 – Quinton Howden (C, Florida Panthers)
Selected with the pick the Florida Panthers acquired in the Keith Ballard deal with the Vancouver Canucks, Quinton Howden was expected to be a high-end pivot in the NHL. After a very successful WHL career with the Moose Jaw Warriors where he put up 111 goals and 239 points in 244 games, he made his Panthers’ debut in only his first season of professional hockey.
Unfortunately Howden never really established himself as anything more than a replacement-level player on the third and fourth lines. Shuttling between the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage and the Panthers for three seasons and only posting seven goals in 92 games wasn’t what scouts and draft pundits were forecasting when they ranked him as a first-round pick in 2010. The Panthers eventually gave up on his potential and allowed him to enter free agency during the 2016 offseason, where the Winnipeg Jets signed him to a one-year deal. After posting zeroes in the NHL and 24 points in the AHL, he was again left unsigned in the offseason, which led him overseas to the KHL’s Dinamo Minsk.
Since then, he has bounced around several teams including Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, Vityaz Podolsk, and the Malmo Redhawks. He also won a bronze medal with Team Canada at the 2012 Winter Olympics where he recorded one assist in three games. He was last seen with the Redhawks during the 2020-21 season, where he finished with three assists in 11 games.
2011 – Connor Murphy (D, Phoenix Coyotes)
Connor Murphy spent his draft year as a part of the US National Team Development Program (USNTDP) where he split his time between the USNTDP Juniors and the U17 and U18 U.S. National Teams. In 33 games, the Boston native had nine goals and 14 points and impressed scouts during the U18 World Junior Championship when he scored three goals in six games en route to a gold medal. Then, after being selected 25th overall by the then-Phoenix Coyotes, he ventured north of the border to continue his career in the OHL with the Sarnia Sting, who had drafted him 290th overall in the OHL Priority Selection Draft back in 2009.
Murphy proceeded to play two seasons with the Sting where he accumulated 14 goals and 44 points in 68 games before graduating to the AHL and the Portland Pirates for the beginning of the 2013-14 season. It only took 36 games and 13 assists in the AHL to convince Coyotes’ brass that he was ready for full-time NHL duty, because he has never seen the inside of an AHL arena since. After four relatively solid seasons with the Coyotes, he was traded along with Laurent Dauphin to the Chicago Blackhawks for Niklas Hjalmarsson and has since established himself as one of their best defencemen.
2012 – Jordan Schmaltz (D, St. Louis Blues)
Another product of the USHL and the USNTDP, Jordan Schmaltz was a very productive piece of the Sioux City Musketeers and Green Bay Gamblers. After finishing with 10 goals and 41 points in 62 games during his draft year, the Blues thought it would be good to select him over Brady Skjei who was drafted by the Rangers only two picks later. That choice appeared to be the right one for a while, as Schmaltz continued his rise in the NCAA with the University of North Dakota where he had three productive seasons of 20 points or more.
Unfortunately for Schmaltz, he was buried behind a very deep blueline in St. Louis. After bouncing between the Blues and their farm club for several seasons, he was eventually traded in 2019 to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Andreas Borgman, capping his career in the Show-Me state at 42 games. He never saw a game with them though, as he was traded again in 2020 to the New York Islanders. He was last seen with the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners where he finished the 2020-21 season with two goals and six points in 30 games. With his NHL career effectively over, he has decided to continue his hockey journey overseas as he recently signed a contract to play in the Finnish Liiga with HIFK.
2013 – Michael McCarron (RW, Montreal Canadiens)
Like Murphy before him, Michael McCarron made his mark in the USHL before he headed north to play in the OHL. Playing primarily for the U.S. National U18 Team in his draft year, he was a physical force using his 6-foot-6, 229-pound frame to intimidate his opponents. A rare breed of agitation and scoring ability, the Michigan native put up 16 goals and 37 points in 59 games and saw a lot of the penalty box too, racking up 182 penalty minutes.
Starring with the powerhouse London Knights, McCarron looked every bit of the forward the Montreal Canadiens thought they were getting when they drafted him 25th overall. In three seasons with the Knights and Oshawa Generals, the power forward recorded 42 goals and 102 points in 122 games, including a career-high 28 goals and 68 points in 56 games during his final season in the OHL. He made his NHL debut a season later with the Canadiens and ended up playing 20 games with the big club, scoring his first goal in the process.
At this stage in McCarron’s career, he probably won’t hit the immense potential almost every scout was projecting for him in his draft year. After only 75 games since his debut during the 2015-16 season, he is probably going to top out as a third or fourth line injury replacement. He is currently a restricted free agent (RFA) with the Nashville Predators.
2014 – David Pastrnak (RW, Boston Bruins)
Hands down the best 25th overall pick in the last decade (could be bordering on all-time actually), David Pastrnak has established himself as one of the most lethal goal scorers in the NHL. Outscoring all his peers ahead of him in the 2014 Draft, including second-overall pick Leon Draisaitl and third-overall pick Sam Reinhart, he already has 200 goals in the NHL and has scored 30 or more in four of the last five seasons. Teaming up with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the aptly named Perfection Line, the trio is arguably one of the best lines in the entire NHL.
Somehow falling to the bottom of the first round, Pastrnak may have been a late bloomer as he was not a superstar goal scorer in Sweden during his draft year. Recording only eight goals and 24 points in 36 games playing for Sodertalje SK in the HockeyAllsvenskan, every scout dismissed him as a top-15 pick, which he clearly is now. If the 2014 Draft was re-done today, he would easily go in the top five, no question about it.
2015 – Jack Roslovic (C, Winnipeg Jets)
Like many of the prospects on this list, Jack Roslovic was a product of USA Hockey and the USNTDP. However, unlike most of them, his stardom followed him to the big leagues and a regular spot on an NHL roster. His draft year was off the charts as he stood out amongst his peers with 38 goals and 117 points in 90 games split between the USNTDP Juniors and the U.S. National U18 team. He also was one of Team USA’s best players at the 2015 U18 World Juniors, posting 11 points in seven games.
Committed to Miami University (Ohio) for the 2015-16 season, Roslovic continued to produce in his freshman season, finishing with 26 points in 36 games and a spot on the NCAA (NCHC) All-Rookie Team. He signed with the Winnipeg Jets shortly after and turned pro after only one season in the NCAA. His ascent continued in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose where he posted 48 points in 65 games. Unfortunately for the Jets, he became unhappy with his role on the team and demanded a trade after two successful seasons as a regular member of their bottom-six. As an RFA, he held out going into the 2020-21 season and was eventually moved to his hometown Columbus Blue Jackets. He finished the season with an impressive 12 goals and 34 points in 48 games.
2016 – Riley Tufte (LW, Dallas Stars)
USA Hockey must love the 25th overall pick because most of the last decade has seen their fingerprints all over it. Riley Tufte is no exception as he spent 34 career games with the Fargo Force of the USHL and seven career games with the U.S. National U17 Team. He didn’t produce at the same clip as his predecessors but showcased himself well enough in high school to catch the eyes of the Dallas Stars. He was a lethal goal scorer for Blaine High as he finished with an eye-popping 47 goals and 78 points in 25 games. He also was named USHS Minnesota Mr. Hockey.
From there, Tufte continued his hockey journey with the University of Minnesota-Duluth and ended up spending three seasons navigating his way through the college track. His star didn’t shine as bright though, as he struggled to translate his goal-scoring to the next level. Never seeing more than 16 goals in a season, he turned pro with the AHL’s Texas Stars in 2019 and finished the 2019-20 campaign with a disappointing three goals and 15 points in 53 games. He still has time to bounce back at 23-years-old, but considering his sophomore season didn’t see much of an improvement, career-AHLer or occasional call-up is looking like his career path at this point.
2017 – Ryan Poehling (C, Montreal Canadiens)
The third straight USA Hockey product drafted with the 25th overall selection, Ryan Poehling spent his draft year split between the USNTDP and the NCAA. On the older side going into the 2017 Draft, the burgeoning power forward had already finished his freshman season with St. Cloud State University by the time he was drafted by the Canadiens. After three productive years in college, he decided to leave his senior year behind and move forward with his dream of playing in the NHL.
Poehling didn’t have to wait long to realize that dream as he made his debut with the Canadiens almost immediately after signing his entry-level contract. He had a heck of a start to his NHL career too, scoring a hat trick and the shootout winner in his first game and endearing himself to the Canadiens’ faithful in the process. He only played that one game, but it ended up being one of the biggest highlights of the season for the Minnesota native.
Poehling’s first NHL season didn’t see the same fireworks as his first game, but he did get to experience 27 more games in a Canadiens’ uniform as a frequent call-up from the Laval Rocket. The COVID-19 shortened season saw him take another step in his development as his production ramped up to 11 goals and 25 points in 28 games. Once he recovers from the wrist injury he suffered at the end of the season, he should challenge for a spot in the Canadiens’ bottom six in 2021-22.
2018 – Dominik Bokk (RW, St. Louis Blues)
Breaking the trend of USA Hockey dominance, we go overseas to the German-born Dominik Bokk. Drafted by the St. Louis Blues, the elusive winger spent his draft year split between the various levels of the Vaxjo Lakers. Spending most of his time with the J20 team, he scored 14 goals and 41 points in 35 games and led his team to a J20 SM silver medal with five goals and 11 points in the playoffs. He also was a prominent member of Team Germany’s bronze medal team at the Divison 1A World Junior Championship where he put up five points in five games.
After jumping around the Vaxjo Lakers, Rogle BK, and Djurgardens IF for three seasons, Bokk made his way over to North America and the AHL’s Chicago Wolves for the 2020-21 season. Acquired as part of the Joel Edmundson–Justin Faulk deal with the Blues in 2019, he will attempt to make his debut with the Carolina Hurricanes as soon as next season. He had a solid debut on North American soil, recording nine goals and 18 points in 29 games.
2019 – Connor McMichael (C, Washington Capitals)
Another potential steal in the realm of Pastrnak, Connor McMichael has all the tools to become a prominent top-line forward in the NHL. With the rumblings of Evgeni Kuznetsov’s imminent departure, he could be in line to be one of the Washington Capitals’ top two centers as soon as next season. A superstar with the London Knights, he dominated the OHL with 36 goals and 72 points in 67 games in his draft year, then followed that up with an even more impressive 47 goals and 102 points in 52 games.
McMichael also was a star for Team Canada at both the 2020 and 2021 World Junior Championships where his team walked away with gold and silver medals, finishing with a combined nine goals and 15 points in 14 games. He just recently made his debut in the NHL with the Capitals where he only played one game and went pointless. He did, however, have a solid season in the AHL with the Hershey Bears finishing the 2020-21 season with 14 goals and 27 points in 33 games.
2020 – Justin Barron (D, Colorado Avalanche)
Adding to the Colorado Avalanche’s embarrassment of riches on defense, the smooth-skating Justin Barron will eventually join Cale Makar, Samuel Girard, Ryan Graves, Conor Timmins, and Bowen Byram on a talented blueline that is all under 25-years-old. The former Halifax Mooseheads standout spent four seasons honing his craft in the QMJHL where he accumulated 23 goals and 112 points in 186 games and is now on the cusp of making it to the NHL.
Thanks to the pandemic, Barron made his pro debut in the AHL at 19-years-old instead of 20. He was also coming off a career season in the QMJHL that saw him record eight goals and 31 points in 33 games. When he made it to the AHL’s Colorado Eagles, he didn’t miss a beat, posting four points in seven regular season games and three points in two playoff games. I think it’s safe to say that his star is almost ready to shine in the NHL as a part of the Avalanche’s young and lethal backend.
Players Who Could Be Drafted 26th Overall in 2021
ALL TIME PLAYERS TAKEN 25TH OVERALL
1969 – Gilles Gilbert (G, Minnesota North Stars)
1970 – Mike Murphy (RW, New York Rangers)
1971 – Terry French (Montreal Canadiens)
1972 – Larry Carriere (D, Buffalo Sabres)
1973 – John Rogers (RW, Minnesota North Stars)
1974 – Mark Howe (D, Boston Bruins)
1975 – Daniel Arndt (Chicago Blackhawks)
1976 – John Smrke (LW, St. Louis Blues)
1977 – Dave Semenko (LW, Minnesota North Stars)
1978 – Mike Meeker (RW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1979 – Tomas Jonsson (D, New York Islanders)
1980 – Craig Muni (D, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1981 – Kevin Griffin (Chicago Blackhawks)
1982 – Peter Ihnacak (C, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1983 – Lane Lambert (RW, Detroit Red Wings)
1984 – Todd Gill (D, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1985 – Troy Gamble (G, Vancouver Canucks)
1986 – Dave Capuano (LW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1987 – Stephane Matteau (LW, Calgary Flames)
1988 – Mark Major (LW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1989 – Dan Ratushny (D, Winnipeg Jets)
1990 – Chris Simon (LW, Philadelphia Flyers)
1991 – Eric Lavigne (D, Washington Capitals)
1992 – Chad Penney (LW, Ottawa Senators)
1993 – Kevyn Adams (C, Boston Bruins)
1994 – Vadim Sharifijanov (LW, New Jersey Devils)
1995 – Marc Denis (G, Colorado Avalanche)
1996 – Peter Ratchuk (D, Colorado Avalanche)
1997 – Brenden Morrow (LW, Dallas Stars)
1998 – Jiri Fischer (D, Detroit Red Wings)
1999 – Mikhail Kuleshov (LW, Colorado Avalanche)
2000 – Steve Ott (C, Dallas Stars)
2001 – Alexander Perezhogin (LW, Montreal Canadiens)
2002 – Cam Ward (G, Carolina Hurricanes)
2003 – Anthony Stewart (RW, Florida Panthers)
2004 – Rob Schremp (C, Edmonton Oilers)
2005 – Andrew Cogliano (LW, Edmonton Oilers)
2006 – Patrik Berglund (C, St. Louis Blues)
2007 – Patrick White (C, Vancouver Canucks)
2008 – Greg Nemisz (RW, Calgary Flames)
2009 – Jordan Caron (RW, Boston Bruins)
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.