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
We’ve taken a look at the last ten 32nd and 31st overall picks, and with today’s topic being the 30th overall pick, we are now looking at a list of exclusive first-round picks. Unlike the 31st overall pick, which only joined the first round following the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights to the NHL, the 30th overall pick has been within the first round over the past ten years and beyond.
Over the last decade, each 30th overall pick was a forward, and for the most part, they’ve all been successful draft picks. All seven picks between 2010 and 2017 have played in the NHL, and the three most recent players drafted there still have solid potential to be full-time NHL players eventually.
2010 – Brock Nelson (C, New York Islanders)
A high school standout in his draft year, Nelson’s 73 points in 25 games for Warroad High earned him a 30th overall selection by the Islanders in 2010. Having committed to the University of North Dakota of the NCAA, he spent two seasons there, taking a massive step forward in his sophomore year with 28 goals and 47 points in 42 games.
The Minneapolis native made his NHL debut for the 2013-14 season and seven full seasons with the Islanders later, I think it’s safe to say that the Islanders got just about everything they could have hoped for out of Nelson. He has 604 NHL games under his belt to date with 328 points in those games, with his career year coming in 2019-20, where he put up 26 goals and 54 points in 68 games.
More than anything, however, Nelson has stepped up and shown the Islanders the type of player he can be during crunch time. He was second in scoring for the Isles during their 2019-20 playoff run, with 18 points in 22 games, and after being awarded the alternate captaincy prior to the season, he currently has six goals and 10 points in 13 games in the 2020-21 playoffs.
2011 – Rickard Rakell (C, Anaheim Ducks)
Ask any Toronto Maple Leafs fan about this pick, and I guarantee you they’ll cringe. That’s because the Leafs originally owned the 30th overall pick and the 39th overall pick, which ended up turning into star goaltender John Gibson. The Leafs used these two picks to trade up in the 2011 draft and select forward Tyler Biggs, who has a grand total of zero NHL games to his name.
Getting back on track here, Rakell earned himself a flyer courtesy of the Ducks after a strong draft year that saw him put up 45 points in 49 games. He hovered around that total in each of his remaining two OHL seasons and also made three appearances at the World Juniors, where he represented Team Sweden, including with the gold-medal winning team in 2012.
Since then, Rakell has 499 NHL games to his name, with 311 points in those games. He’s established himself as a prolific goalscorer during that time, tallying back-to-back 30-goal seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18 with 33 and 34 goals, respectively. Since then, he’s cooled off a little bit, as have the Ducks as a whole, but remains a top-notch pick for 30th overall.
2012 – Tanner Pearson (LW, Los Angeles Kings)
There was a period of time where there really wasn’t much that went wrong for the Kings. After winning their first Stanley Cup in 2012, they used their 30th overall pick to select Pearson. The Kitchener, Ontario native was coming off an electric sophomore season with the Barrie Colts that saw him put up 91 points in 60 games.
Since the Kings drafted Pearson in what would have been his second year of draft eligibility, he was able to join the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs (the Kings’ affiliate at the time) immediately after being drafted. He made his regular-season debut during the 2013-14 season and ended up being a part of the Kings’ Stanley Cup-winning team in 2014, where he put up 12 points in 24 games.
Four seasons later, Pearson got off to a rough start with the Kings in 2018-19 that saw him manage only one assist through 17 games. He ended up getting traded twice that season, first to the Pittsburgh Penguins and then to the Vancouver Canucks. His career season came in 2019-20 when he put up 45 points in 69 games. He remains with the Canucks to this day.
2013 – Ryan Hartman (LW, Chicago Blackhawks)
Known as a hard-working, gritty forward in his draft year, the Blackhawks selected Hartman 30th overall after putting up 60 points in 57 games for the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers. He returned to the OHL for one more season, and after two OHL seasons and two World Junior appearances for Team USA, he joined the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs full time in 2013-14.
After getting into a handful of NHL games in 2014-15 and 2015-16, Hartman became a full-time NHLer in 2016-17, where he put up 19 goals and 31 points in 76 games. The South Carolina native was traded to the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline in 2017-18, and after a brief stint with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2018-19, he was traded once again to the Dallas Stars at the 2019 NHL Draft.
After the Stars elected not to tender him a qualifying offer, he signed a two-year contract with the Minnesota Wild. Taking on the role of a middle-six checking forward, he signed a three-year extension with the Wild in April of 2021.
2014 – John Quenneville (LW, New Jersey Devils)
The Devils got the short end of the stick in multiple ways in 2014. Despite missing the playoffs and finishing 20th in the league, they had to pick 30th overall as a penalty due to cap circumvention when they signed Ilya Kovalchuk. They used this pick to select Quenneville, who was coming off a successful sophomore season with the Brandon Wheat Kings that saw him put up 58 points in 61 games.
Unfortunately for both Quenneville and the Devils, it never really worked out in New Jersey. He spent three years in the Devils’ system, tallying a total of five points through 33 games with the club. He was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks following the 2018-19 season but has still yet to really figure it out at the NHL level. He spent the 2020-21 season as an alternate captain for the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, finishing the campaign with two points in 16 games.
2015 – Nick Merkley (LW, Arizona Coyotes)
The 2015 draft class was so deep at the time, you could get a perennial playmaker like Merkley at 30th overall. And that’s exactly what the Coyotes did. Coming off a stellar season with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets that saw him put up 70 assists and 90 points in 72 games, the Calgary native looked to be a stellar pick for his position.
After spending two more seasons in the AHL, Merkley made the jump to the AHL and didn’t miss a beat, putting up 39 points in 38 games during his rookie season in 2017-18. He spent one more full season with the Tuscon Roadrunners before getting traded to the Devils in a blockbuster trade that brought Taylor Hall to Arizona. He remains a member of the Devils to this day, having put up 10 points in 27 games in 2020-21.
2016 – Sam Steel (C, Anaheim Ducks)
Steel was already looking like a bit of a “steal” (pun intended…it’s funnier when you say it out loud) when the Ducks nabbed him at 30th overall, but if his 2016-17 season with the Regina Pats didn’t get Ducks fans excited, I don’t know what would. Steel absolutely exploded in his first season back after being drafted, scoring 50 goals and putting up 131 points in 66 games.
Steel returned for one final WHL season where he captained the Pats and represented Team Canada at the World Juniors, finishing the tournament with nine points in seven games and a gold medal. It didn’t take Steel long to get a full-time job in the NHL after that. He just finished his third season with the Ducks, putting up 12 points in 42 games, and while these numbers aren’t jaw-dropping, he still easily has top-six potential.
2017 – Eeli Tolvanen (LW, Nashville Predators)
Once a projected top-five pick in 2017, Tolvanen was known as a force offensively with an elite shot. His 30 goals in 52 USHL games with the Sioux City Musketeers in his draft year still earned him a selection in the first round. He further upped his status as a top prospect after an impressive season with Jokerit of the KHL, putting up 36 points in 49 games as a 19-year-old.
After his little stint in the KHL, he spent two seasons in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals, amassing 71 points in 121 total games. The 2020-21 season was his first full dance in the NHL, and he finished the year with 22 points in 40 games. For a Nashville Predators team that’s never really been known for their offense, Tolvanen will look to become a key contributor for them as early as next season.
2018 – Joe Veleno (C, Detroit Red Wings)
Veleno is an interesting case. The Kirkland, Quebec native was granted exceptional player status ahead of the 2015-16 QMJHL season, joining the likes of John Tavares, Connor McDavid, and Aaron Ekblad. He had a great rookie season with 43 points in 62 games but sort of hit a roadblock after that. He didn’t eclipse the point-per-game (PPG) mark until his draft year, where he finished the season with 79 points in 64 games, and his efforts were good enough to catch the Red Wings’ attention at the tail end of the first round.
He absolutely exploded for 104 points in 59 games the year after he was drafted, and after spending the 2019-20 season with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, he elected to spend the majority of the 2020-21 season in Sweden. Playing for the Malmo Redhawks of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), he put up 20 points in 46 games and re-joined the Griffins at the end of the season. Expect him to challenge for a regular NHL roster spot next year.
2019 – John Beecher (C, Boston Bruins)
Heading into his draft with a reputation as a physical, hard-working forward, it only made sense that the Bruins drafted him. The 6-foot-3 center finished his draft season with a combined 63 points in 90 games between the U.S. National U18 team and the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP).
Having committed to the University of Michigan, he finished his freshman season strong with 16 points in 31 games. His sophomore season was slightly disappointing, finishing with eight points in 16 games, but given the circumstances of the season, it’s hard to use that as an adequate measuring stick. He will likely return to Michigan next season.
2020 – Mavrik Bourque (C, Dallas Stars)
Bourque came in flying in his first QMJHL season and didn’t slow down in time for his draft year. He finished the 2019-20 season with 71 points in 49 games for the Shawinigan Cataractes, enough for the Stars to call his name on draft day.
Known as an elite two-way forward with top-notch hockey IQ, Bourque kept his offense going in 2020-21 with 43 points in 28 games. After a short-lived playoff run with the Cataractes, he joined the AHL’s Texas Stars and, albeit a small sample size, impressed with five points in six games. Expect him to return to the QMJHL for one final season before making the jump to the pros.
Players Who Could Be Drafted 30th Overall in 2021
ALL TIME PLAYERS TAKEN 30TH OVERALL
1969 – Bernie Gagnon (C, St. Louis Blues)
1970 – Ed Dyck (G, Vancouver Canucks)
1971 – Ralph Hopiavuori (D, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1972 – Bernie Lukowich (RW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1973 – Pat Hickey (LW, New York Rangers)
1974 – Gary MacGregor (C, Montreal Canadiens)
1975 – Doug Soetart (G, New York Rangers)
1976 – Randy Carlyle (D, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1977 – Jim Hamilton (RW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1978 – Dale Yakiwchuk (C, Montreal Canadiens)
1979 – Mark Hardy (D, Los Angeles Kings)
1980 – Ken Solheim (LW, Chicago Blackhawks)
1981 – Jan Erixon (LW, New York Rangers)
1982 – Jens Johansson (D, Buffalo Sabres)
1983 – David Bruce (RW, Vancouver Canucks)
1984 – Peter Douris (C, Winnipeg Jets)
1985 – Par Edlund (LW, Los Angeles Kings)
1986 – Neil Wilkinson (D, Minnesota North Stars)
1987 – Jeff Harding (RW, Philadelhia Flyers)
1988 – Adrien Plavsic (D, St. Louis Blues)
1989 – Patrice Brisebois (D, Montreal Canadiens)
1990 – Rod Pasma (D, Washington Capitals)
1991 – Sandis Ozolinsh (D, San Jose Sharks)
1992 – Chris O’Sullivan (D, Calgary Flames)
1993 – Nikolai Tsulygin (D, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim)
1994 – Deron Quint (D, Winnipeg Jets)
1995 – Mike McBain (D, Tampa Bay Lightning)
1996 – Josh Green (C, Los Angeles Kings)
1997 – Jean-Marc Pelletier (G, Philadelphia Flyers)
1998 – Kyle Rossiter (D, Florida Panthers)
1999 – Luke Sellars (D, Atlanta Thrashers)
2000 – Jeff Taffe (C, St. Louis Blues)
2001 – David Steckel (C, Los Angeles Kings)
2002 – Jim Slater (C, Atlanta Thrashers)
2003 – Shawn Belle (D, St. Louis Blues)
2004 – Andy Rogers (D, Tampa Bay Lightning)
2005 – Vladimir Mihalik (D, Tampa Bay Lightning)
2006 – Matt Corrente (D, New Jersey Devils)
2007 – Nick Ross (D, Phoenix Coyotes)
2008 – Tom McCollum (G, Detroit Red Wings)
2009 – Simon Despres (D, Pittsburgh Penguins)
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2005 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Maple Leafs Lounge Podcast, presented by THW. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.