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 2021.
Now that the 2021 NHL Draft is in the books, we will continue this series in the same format, except instead of looking forward to who might be selected, we will shed a light on who was selected.
After recapping picks 32 to 9, the series continues with a deep dive into the entire history of the 8th overall pick. The players taken with the eighth overall pick between 2010 and 2021 resulted in an equal split of six forwards and six defensemen. While some players have already carved out impressive NHL careers, some didn’t meet the hype surrounding them at the time.
2010 – Alexander Burmistrov, C, Atlanta Thrashers
Speaking of players that didn’t meet the hype, Alexander Burmistrov is one example of that. While he didn’t necessarily flop like other notorious draft busts have, he certainly didn’t become the player the Atlanta Thrashers (now Jets) were hoping for when he was drafted. After spending his draft year with the OHL’s Barrie Colts, Burmistrov wasted no time getting his feet wet in the NHL, making his debut the following season where he finished with 20 points in 74 games.
The Kazan, Russia native spent two seasons with the Winnipeg Jets following the name change prior to the 2011-12 season. He never really found his footing with the team and left to play for Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL. After two KHL seasons, he returned to the NHL in an attempt to revive his career in North America but didn’t see any more success than his first NHL stint. He spent parts of two seasons with the Jets, the Arizona Coyotes, and the Vancouver Canucks before returning to the KHL, where he remains today.
2011 – Sean Couturier, C, Philadlephia Flyers
Now that we’ve covered a player that didn’t live up to his potential, let’s talk about one that did. The selection of Sean Couturier in 2011 really couldn’t have gone any better for the Philadelphia Flyers. While he didn’t necessarily come flying out of the gates offensively, the Phoenix native quickly established himself as a premier two-way forward for the Flyers.
Fast forward 10 years and Couturier is a bonafide 30-goal, 70-point scorer while serving as an alternate captain for the Flyers. His career highs in points came in the form of a pair of 76-point seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19, and to this day, he has 493 points in 692 career NHL games. And quite frankly, it’s hard to picture him playing anywhere else.
2012 – Derrick Pouliot, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
If Jets fans feel bad about the Burmistrov pick in 2010, they can look to the Pittsburgh Penguins for support, as they had a similar experience in 2012. Derrick Pouliot was a staple for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks during his junior career and capped it off with a career-high 70 points in 58 games in 2013-14, with hopes of eventually becoming a high-end offensive defenseman at the NHL level.
But for some players, it just isn’t meant to be. Pouliot quickly proved that he could translate his game to the AHL, but he never found his footing in the NHL. He was traded to the Canucks after three seasons with the Penguins’ organization and has since been on a number of different AHL teams. He’s set to suit up for the Henderson Silver Knights, AHL affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2021-22.
2013 – Rasmus Ristolainen, D, Buffalo Sabres
If you’re a 6-foot-4, right-handed defenseman, there’s a good chance you’re going to catch some teams’ eyes at the draft. And after a 15 point campaign in the SM-Liiga and a point-per-game performance at the World Juniors, the Sabres emerged as that team. After splitting time between the NHL and the AHL in 2013-14, Ristolainen became a full-time NHLer in 2014-15 and quickly started eating up crucial minutes on the Sabres’ back end.
Unfortunately for the Turku native, he hasn’t had much success to show for his career to date. Much of this is because he plays for the Sabres, who have had nine straight picks in the top ten since 2013. His career season came in the form of a 45-point campaign in 2016-17, and was just recently traded to the Flyers for a package that included the 14th overall pick. This trade further proves the amount of value that big, right-handed defensemen have in the NHL.
2014 – William Nylander, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs had a very murky track record at the draft from the mid-2000s up until 2014, and I would argue that the selection of William Nylander marked a turn of the tide on the Maple Leafs’ drafting front. While most expected the Leafs to draft power forward Nick Ritchie, they opted to go for the small, skilled forward in Nylander instead. And so far, it’s paying off.
While he made his NHL debut during the 2015-16 season, Nylander’s true rookie season came the following year when he broke out for 61 points in 81 games. While he left a sour taste in the mouths of Maple Leafs’ fans after a contract dispute caused him to hold out of the first two months of the 2018-19 season, he’s since rebounded and come back stronger than ever. He had 41 points in 52 games to finish the 2020-21 season and has bloomed as a true top-line winger in the NHL.
2015 – Zach Werenski, D, Columbus Blue Jackets
In another draft, Zach Werenski may have been a top-five pick. But because his draft class happened to be one of the deeper ones in recent memory, the Columbus Blue Jackets made out like gangbusters drafting him at eighth overall. After recording 36 points in 36 games with the University of Michigan in his sophomore year, Werenski made his NHL debut in 2016-17 and notched his career-high in points to date with 47 in 78 games.
Since then, while he hasn’t been able to meet that mark offensively, Werenski has become a reliable, all-situations defenseman who’s capable of 40 points. He was rewarded for his efforts in Columbus with a monster six-year contract extension, with an average annual value (AAV) of $9.5 million. It’s safe to say the Jackets are happy with their pick and plan on keeping him around for a long time.
2016 – Alexander Nylander, LW, Buffalo Sabres
Following in the footsteps of his older brother William, Alex was selected eighth overall only two years after the elder Nylander. While William was playing in Sweden at the time of his selection, Alex spent his draft year playing for the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads. He also led Team Sweden in scoring at the 2016 World Juniors, finishing the tournament with nine points in seven games.
Unfortunately, Nylander’s career hasn’t quite taken off like his brother’s has. He took a couple of years to get it going in the AHL and saw limited time in the NHL as a result. He was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks ahead of the 2019-20 season, and got his first full NHL season under his belt, posting 26 points in 65 games. Although he missed the entirety of the 2020-21 season after undergoing knee surgery, he’s set to return for the Blackhawks in 2021-22.
2017 – Casey Mittelstadt, C, Buffalo Sabres
Selecting eighth overall for the second year in a row, the Sabres opted to use their 2017 pick on Casey Mittelstadt. The Minnesota native split his draft year between the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers and Eden Prairie High, where he attended high school. He had an impressive freshman season at the University of Minnesota, finishing the season with 30 points in 34 games, and earned himself his first taste of NHL action where he registered five points in six games for the Sabres.
While Mittelstadt hasn’t necessarily hit the ground running in his NHL career, all signs point towards him becoming a high-end, second-line centre in his prime. The Sabres haven’t made any strides forward since he joined the team, but he’s continued to improve each year nonetheless. Fresh after signing a one-year extension with the team, he finished the 2021-22 season with 22 points in 41 games, a career-best point pace.
2018 – Adam Boqvist, D, Chicago Blackhawks
After scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace in Sweden’s junior league, Adam Boqvist earned himself a selection in the top ten of the 2018 draft. The slick-moving Swedish defenseman made his way to play for the London Knights the following year, where he finished his first (and only) OHL season with 60 points in 54 games along with a whopping ten goals in 11 playoff games.
Boqvist spent the last two seasons playing for the Blackhawks and took a major step forward in 2020-21 with 16 points in 35 games. Granted, his time with the Blackhawks was short-lived as he was dealt to the Blue Jackets in a monster package that brought defenseman Seth Jones back the other way. With a new team and likely more of an opportunity to eat up more ice time, look for Boqvist to take another step forward in 2021-22.
2019 – Philip Broberg, D, Edmonton Oilers
The selection of Philip Broberg marked the second year in a row, and the third time in four years, a Swede was picked eighth overall. Unlike his counterpart in 2018, Broberg has spent the entirety of his post-draft career in Sweden. He recorded nine points in 41 games for AIK of the Allsvenskan league, along with eight points in eight games for AIK’s junior team.
Selecting Evan Bouchard tenth overall in 2018, the Edmonton Oilers had their sights set on improving their defensive corps, and Broberg is a worthy addition to the pool. Standing at 6-foot-3 and 203 pounds, he’s a prototypical two-way defenseman and will likely be another year or two before the Oilers see him in the NHL. He spent the 2020-21 season with Skelleftea AIK of the SHL, putting up 13 points in 44 games.
2020 – Jack Quinn, LW, Buffalo Sabres
Selecting eighth overall for the fourth time since 2013, the Sabres opted to go with a goal-scoring forward this time around. While Jack Quinn was drafted slightly higher than where he was projected to go, his ability to put the puck in the net was well worth the reach. He scored 52 goals and recorded 89 points in 62 games in 2019-20.
Because there was no OHL season in 2020-21, the Ottawa native spent the year with the AHL’s Rochester Americans despite only being 19 years old. He impressed, albeit in a small sample size with nine points in 15 games. He also represented Team Canada at the 2021 World Juniors, finishing with five points in seven games at the tournament. He will turn 20 in September and thus will be eligible to play in the AHL full time and could even see an NHL call-up this year.
2021 – Brandt Clarke, D, Los Angeles Kings
I drafted for the Long Angeles Kings in the annual THW Writers’ Mock Draft and used my pick to select Clarke. I knew I was onto something. For real, though, considering we are only two weeks removed from the draft, it’s hard to really analyze this pick. Based on my own judgements, however, I think they may have a steal on their hands. He had the talent to be selected in the top-five but slipped to eighth overall, where the Kings were ready to pounce.
Because the pandemic resulted in no OHL season in 2020-21, Clarke took an unconventional route in his draft year to play in Slovakia. He tallied 15 points in 26 games playing for HC Nove Zamky of Slovakia’s top pro league. With the OHL set to return for the 2021-22 season, he will return to play for the Barrie Colts. Again, while it’s far too early to deem steals and busts from the 2021 draft, Clarke is looking like a very good pick so far.
ALL-TIME PLAYERS TAKEN 8TH OVERALL
1963 – Bill Cosburn (C, Detroit Red Wings)
1964 – Jim Booth (LW, Boston Bruins)
1965 – Bob Birdsell (RW, Detroit Red Wings)
1966 – Joey Johnston (LW, New York Rangers)
1967 – Elgin McCann (RW, Montreal Canadiens)
1968 – Lew Morrison (RW, Philadelphia Flyers)
1969 – Andre Dupont (D, New York Rangers)
1970 – Darryl Sittler (C, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1971 – Larry Wright (C, Philadelphia Flyers)
1972 – Dave Gardner (C, Montreal Canadiens)
1973 – Bob Gainey (LW, Montreal Canadiens)
1974 – Pierre Larouche (C, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1975 – Richard Mulhern (D, Atlanta Flames)
1976 – David Shand (D, Atlanta Flames)
1977 – Lucien DeBlois (RW, New York Rangers)
1978 – Dan Geoffrion (RW, Montreal Canadiens)
1979 – Ray Bourque (D, Boston Bruins)
1980 – Fred Arthur (D, Hartford Whalers)
1981 – Grant Fuhr (G, Edmonton Oilers)
1982 – Rocky Trottier (C, New Jersey Devils)
1983 – Andrew McBain (RW, Winnipeg Jets)
1984 – Shayne Corson (C, Montreal Canadiens)
1985 – Brent Fedyk (RW, Detroit Red Wings)
1986 – Pat Elynuik (RW, Winnipeg Jets)
1987 – Jimmy Waite (G, Chicago Blackhawks)
1988 – Jeremy Roenick (C, Chicago Blackhawks)
1989 – Jason Herter (D, Vancouver Canucks)
1990 – Derian Hatcher (D, Minnesota North Stars)
1991 – Richard Matvichuk (D, Minnesota North Stars)
1992 – Brandon Convery (C, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1993 – Niklas Sundstrom (RW, New York Rangers)
1994 – Jason Weimer (C, Tampa Bay Lightning)
1995 – Terry Ryan (LW, Montreal Canadiens)
1996 – Johnathan Aitken (D, Boston Bruins)
1997 – Sergei Samsonov (LW, Boston Bruins)
1998 – Mark Bell (C, Chicago Blackhawks)
1999 – Taylor Pyatt (LW, New York Islanders)
2000 – Nikita Alexeev (RW, Tampa Bay Lightning)
2001 – Pascal Leclaire (G, Columbus Blue Jackets)
2002 – Pierre-Marc Bouchard (C, Minnesota Wild)
2003 – Braydon Coburn (D, Atlanta Thrashers)
2004 – Alexandre Picard (LW, Columbus Blue Jackets)
2005 – Devin Setoguchi (RW, San Jose Sharks)
2006 – Peter Mueller (C, Phoenix Coyotes)
2007 – Zach Hamill (C, Boston Bruins)
2008 – Mikkel Boedker (LW, Phoenix Coyotes)
2009 – Scott Glennie (RW, Dallas Stars)
Alex Hobson is a writer and a radio producer for 610 CKTB. He has been writing about sports since 2015 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 Sticks in the 6ix Podcast, presented by THW. He also makes weekly appearances on THW’s Maple Leafs Lounge Roundtable. 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.