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 first 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 10 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
In this story, we’ll take a look at the last 10 players to get selected seventh overall and see where their careers have taken them since their respective drafts. There has been plenty of star talent available over the past decade, along with a few disappointments in this selection. Alexander Holtz and William Eklund are the only players to have not made their NHL debut yet.
2010 – Jeff Skinner (LW, Carolina Hurricanes)
This list starts strong with the Hurricanes selection of Skinner, who won the Calder Trophy the following season as the NHL’s top rookie. He was viewed as an undersized forward with high speed and skill levels, putting up 50 goals with Kitchener in 2009-10. He also scored 20 goals in 20 games during their playoff run that year, and that success propelled him into the top-10 of the draft.
Skinner has been inconsistent in his NHL career, which ultimately led to him being traded to the Buffalo Sabres in 2018. He scored 40 goals playing next to Jack Eichel in 2018-19, which led to him re-signing in Buffalo to an eight-year worth $72 million. Nowadays, he struggles to get into the lineup and hopes to rejuvenate his career as Buffalo heads towards another rebuild.
2011 – Mark Scheifele (C, Winnipeg Jets)
With their first pick since being relocated from Atlanta, the Jets selected Scheifele in hopes of him becoming their future first-line center. He was considered a reach at the time, as Dougie Hamilton was available. It’s safe to say that was a smart idea, as he’s scored 507 points in 575 games in his NHL career so far. He is among the best players in the past decade to be selected in this position.
Scheifele will be considered to make the Canadian Olympic team in 2022, although it’s no guarantee. He is currently a top-15 centerman in the league, and he has provided excellent value for where he was selected.
2012 – Mathew Dumba (D, Minnesota Wild)
The 2012 NHL Draft was very defense-heavy in the first round, and Dumba was among the better players selected. He has been a strong blueliner on the Wild for the past decade, and the team bought out Ryan Suter’s contract to protect Dumba in the recent Expansion Draft. His impact has been excellent on and off the ice, as he was the first NHL player to kneel during the bubble.
Dumba’s actions resulted in a group of players forming the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA), where he is a key member of the group. Dumba’s career season came during the 2017-18 season, where he scored 50 points in 82 games. His contract is set to expire at the end of the 2022-23 season, where he could potentially embark on a new journey in free agency.
2013 – Darnell Nurse (D, Edmonton Oilers)
Staying with the blueliner theme, Nurse has progressed in every season since entering the league. He was one of the lone bright spots of the Oilers in this decade after the team drafted Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov the three consecutive years. He scored 16 goals and 36 points in 2020-21, which was a personal best.
He has scored 157 points in 406 games in his career, which is fourth among defensemen from this draft. He stacks up to Seth Jones, Rasmus Ristilainen, and Shea Theodore in that category. Nurse is set to sign a long-term contract with the Oilers, which will keep him on the team throughout his best years.
2014 – Haydn Fleury (D, Carolina Hurricanes)
Another defenseman is off the board, but former Hurricanes general manager (GM) Ron Francis didn’t come up with a player the quality of Dumba or Nurse. Fleury spent seven seasons in the Hurricanes organization, and it always felt that he had another level he could reach. He ended his tenure with the team scoring a measly 24 points over the span of four seasons.
Fleury has been a journeyman since his days with the Hurricanes, as he was dealt to the Anaheim Ducks in 2021 for Jani Hakanpaa and a 2022 sixth-round pick. In the Expansion Draft, he was recently selected by the Kraken and is set to play for the team in their inaugural season. The Fleury brothers will be reunited in Seattle, as Cale was selected from the Montreal Canadiens.
2015 – Ivan Provorov (D, Philadelphia Flyers)
For the fourth consecutive year, a defender is taken in this position. The Flyers had plenty of choices with this pick, as this was the loaded 2015 NHL Draft. Provorov has proven to be a work in progress for the team, as he is their best defender, but he still has not hit his ceiling. He gets targeted by the opposition a lot, and his flaws tend to be exposed. Whether he can be the best defenseman on a team remains to be seen.
The 24-year-old blueliner has had a solid start to his career, putting up 159 points in 371 career games. His most productive year came during the 2017-18 season, scoring 41 points in 82 games. He has never missed a game since making the jump into the NHL and has played through some gruesome injuries. Most notably, in the sixth game of the Flyers 2018 series vs. the Washington Capitals, he played through a Grade 3 AC separation, an injury in which the collarbone separates from the shoulder blade.
2016 – Clayton Keller (RW, Arizona Coyotes)
Keller was the first right-winger taken from the past decade, and he’s performed as one would expect. He is a bonafide top-six winger that peaked in his rookie season, putting up 65 points in 82 games during the 2018-18 season. Since then, he has struggled to be as dynamic offensively and has been a liability defensively. Although, there is hope for Keller, as he was above replacement level in terms of his Corsi against per 60 (CA/60) and expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60). That means he provided better defensive results than a replacement-level player, say Greg McKegg as an example.
The Coyotes are banking on Keller to stay consistent, as they gave him an eight-year contract worth $57.2 million with an average annual value of $7.15 million. After trading away Conor Garland to the Vancouver Canucks and rumors that Phil Kessel could be moved, they will be relying on him to produce.
2017 – Lias Andersson (C, New York Rangers)
The team rushed his development, as he immediately came to North America to play for the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL). The Rangers selected Andersson in the hopes of grooming a solid second-line center to play behind Mika Zibanajed down the line. What they got instead was an inconsistent forward that never found his groove in the lineup. Andersson scored nine points in 66 games as a Ranger over the course of three seasons. He never stayed in one league over a long sample size, which led to him returning to the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) in 2019-20.
During the second day of the 2020 NHL Draft, Andersson was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for the 60th overall pick. He has yet to break through as a full-time team member, but he is excelling at the AHL level. With the Ontario Reign last season, he produced 17 points in 15 games. He has about one or two more years to prove if he can be an everyday player in the NHL.
2018 – Quinn Hughes (D, Vancouver Canucks)
Arguably the best player selected in this position, Hughes dropping to the Canucks changed the structure of their defensive core forever. The team had relied on Alex Edler for the past decade, and they weren’t able to find a player that looked poised to take on his minutes. Oli Juolevi, their fifth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, has yet to establish himself as an everyday player. Drafting Hughes meant the Canucks gained their power-play quarterback for the next 15 years and could build around one of the most dynamic skaters in the league.
Since entering the league, Hughes has produced 97 points in 129 career games. He was nominated for the Calder Trophy in 2020, but Cale Makar was too electric to be stooped and won the award. It seemed possible for him to challenge for the Norris Trophy heading into the 2020-21 season, but he ultimately took a step backward. The specific term for it is a sophomore slump. His production was still terrific, scoring 41 points in 56 games, but his defensive metrics paint a poor picture. Hughes’ on-ice even-strength goal differential of -22 was also second-worst among NHL defenders. He will need to improve in that category.
2019 – Dylan Cozens (C, Buffalo Sabres)
Cozens played as a rookie during the 2020-21 season, proving that he has the skillset to be an everyday NHL player. He scored four goals and 13 points in 41 games and proved to be a fighter, matching up against Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren. It is far too early to judge this pick, but it looks promising so far.
Sabres GM Kevyn Adams indicated that Cozens is a part of the young core moving forwards, joining Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt. Early signs indicate that he was a good selection and can play at center or wing down the line.
2020 – Alexander Holtz (RW, New Jersey Devils)
The Devils added a scoring winger to play with their young centers in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. Holtz played for multiple leagues in the 2020-21 season, primarily suiting up for Djurgårdens IF of the SHL. He scored 18 points in 41 games playing against professionals and came to North America to play for the Devils AHL affiliate, Binghampton, for a 10-game stint.
Holtz is known for having one of the strongest releases from this draft class, arguably the best. His shot is deceptive, and it makes him a threat to score anywhere in the offensive zone. He is looking to crack the Devils lineup for next season.
2021 – William Eklund (C/LW, San Jose Sharks)
Eklund is the most recent draftee is a fellow Swedish forward who played with Holtz for Djurgårdens IF in the SHL. He outproduced Holtz, scoring 23 points in 41 games in 2020-21, and looks to be a stellar selection for the Sharks. The Sabres were very high on him, and some believed he could have been the first overall pick.
There are question marks as to whether he can be a center at the NHL level, meaning he could play as a winger. He is known for his work ethic, is dynamic in transition, and creates the space to become a pass or shoot option.
ALL-TIME PLAYERS TAKEN 7TH OVERALL
1968 – Jim McInally (D, Hamilton Red Wings)
1969 – Tony Featherstone (RW, Oakland Seals)
1970 – Greg Polis (LW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1971 – Chuck Arnason (RW, Montreal Canadiens)
1972 – Bill Barber (F, Philadelphia Flyers)
1973 – Blaine Stoughton (F, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1974 – Doug Risebrough (F, Montreal Canadiens)
1975 – Rick Lapointe (D, Detroit Red Wings)
1976 – Bernie Federko (C, St. Louis Blues)
1977 – Brad Maxwell (D, Minnesota North Stars)
1978 – Ken Linseman (F, Philadelphia Flyers)
1979 – Keith Brown (D, Chicago Blackhawks)
1980 – Rick Lanz (D, Vancouver Canucks)
1981 – Mark Hunter (F, Montreal Canadiens)
1982 – Ken Yaremchuk (C, Chicago Blackhawks)
1983 – Russ Courtnall (RW, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1984 – Shawn Burr (LW, Detroit Red Wings)
1985 – Ulf Dahlen (RW, New York Rangers)
1986 – Dan Woodley (C, Vancouver Canucks)
1987 – Luke Richardson (D, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1988 – Martin Gelinas (LW, Los Angeles Kings)
1989 – Doug Zmolek (D, Minnesota North Stars)
1990 – Darryl Sydor (D, Los Angeles Kings)
1991 – Alek Stojanov (RW, Vancouver Canucks)
1992 – Ryan Sittler (LW, Philadelphia Flyers)
1993 – Jason Arnott (C, Edmonton Oilers)
1994 – Jamie Storr (G, Los Angeles Kings)
1995 – Shane Doan (C, Winnipeg Jets)
1996 – Erik Rasmussen (C, Buffalo Sabres)
1997 – Paul Mara (D, Tampa Bay Lightning)
1998 – Manny Malhotra (C, New York Rangers)
1999 – Kris Beech (C, Washington Capitals)
2000 – Lars Jonsson (D, Boston Bruins)
2001 – Mike Komisarek (D, Montreal Canadiens)
2002 – Joffrey Lupul (RW, Anaheim Ducks)
2003 – Ryan Suter (D, Nashville Predators)
2004 – Rostislav Olesz – (C, Florida Panthers)
2005 – Jack Skille (RW, Chicago Blackhawks)
2006 – Kyle Okposo (RW, New York Islanders)
2007 – Jakub Voracek (RW, Columbus Blue Jackets)
2008 – Colin Wilson (C, Nashville Predators)
2009 – Nazem Kadri (C, Toronto Maple Leafs)
Jordan Jacklin is a freelance writer who covers the Buffalo Sabres here at The Hockey Writers. Jordan is a student at Ryerson’s Sport Media program and uses analytics and video scouting to evaluate your favourite players in the game.