Inspired by 2019 third-overall NHL Draft selection Kirby Dach, I thought we would take a retrospective look at each of the seven first-round draft selections that the Saskatoon Blades have produced in the new millennium.
Saskatoon has a rich history dating back to the 1960s, so to make this story a bit more manageable in size and to enable us to profile each player with better quality, it is limited to the 2000-present seasons. This means that players like 1985 first-overall pick Wendel Clark will be left for another story on another day.
The Blades are coming off of a 2019-20 season where they handed over the reins to their young group of budding stars in the wake of losing marquee centerman Dach, drafted third overall to Chicago last June, who then remained with the Blackhawks for his entire age-19 season.
It was a “good for you, bad for us” scenario that WHL teams face when their top players are drafted and move on, but it is ultimately perhaps the greatest feather in the cap for a WHL team.
Kirby Dach – No. 3, 2019, Chicago Blackhawks
Dach is one of three players in Blades’ history to be selected third overall. Only two Saskatoon alums have ever been taken higher than the native of Fort Saskatchewan, AB, per Hockey-Reference. That list grows to four if you include the WHA Amateur Draft (1973-77)
Described as a “slick, Joe Nieuwendyk-type of player” by Blades radio play-by-play broadcaster Les Lazaruk, Dach scored 25 goals with 73 points in 62 games as an 18-year old in Saskatoon, prior to being selected by the Blackhawks in that year’s draft.
Though his rookie season in Chicago didn’t blow anybody away, Dach, to his credit, did manage to stay with the big club for his entire age-19 season, contributing eight goals and 23 points in 64 games.
When and if the NHL return to play commences, Chicago is slated to play the Edmonton Oilers in the best-of-five play-in round, which for all intents and purposes, is this year’s first playoff round, meaning that Dach will likely get a chance to experience the postseason as a rookie with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the high-octane Oilers providing the opposition.
Devin Setoguchi – No. 8 , 2005, San Jose Sharks
The high-scoring winger from Taber, AB played three seasons with the Blades from 2003 to 2006, accumulating 82 goals and 178 points, before being traded to the Prince George Cougars for the 2006-07 season. All told, Setoguchi scored 118 goals in his WHL career with 243 points.
Setoguchi cracked the Sharks roster for the first time as a 21-year old and made his name the following season, scoring 31 times with 65 points, both of which would stand up as his career highs. He played three full seasons in San Jose, eclipsing the 20-goal mark each season. San Jose traded Setoguchi to the Minnesota Wild in the summer of 2011 in a deal that sent defenceman Brent Burns to the Bay Area, where he would become a three-time All-Star and 2016-17 Norris Trophy winner.
After netting 32 goals and 63 points over two seasons in Minnesota, Setoguchi was dealt to the Winnipeg Jets, where he spent the 2013-14 season. He then signed with the Calgary Flames and split a season between the Flames and American Hockey League, skating in just 12 NHL contests. Setoguchi played with HC Davos in Switzerland, scoring 11 goals and 24 points in 30 games in 2015-16 before returning for one more go-round in North America, suiting up for 45 games with the Los Angeles Kings. His final season came in 2017-18 with the Mannheim Eagles in Germany.
In all, Setoguchi totaled 131 goals and 261 points in 516 NHL games, and played 11 professional seasons.
Duncan Siemens – No. 11, 2011, Colorado Avalanche
The physical 6-foot-3, 210-pound defenceman played his entire four-year WHL career plus two games as a 15-year old with the Blades. He chipped in 17 goals and 124 points over 256 games and was tremendous in his own end. He also racked up 412 penalty minutes.
The native of Sherwood Park, AB made his NHL debut in his lone appearance with Colorado in 2014-15. The bulk of his six-year professional career was spent with the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate.
Siemens skated in 20 NHL games, 16 of which occurred in 2017-18 when he recorded his first and only NHL goal and two points. He also won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2008 World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.
Colton Gillies – No. 16, 2007, Minnesota Wild
The winger from White Rock, BC was a regular for three seasons with the Blades from 2005 to 2008, and enjoyed his best offensive season with 23 goals and 47 points in 2007-08. Standing 6-foot-3, Gillies brought a physical presence, highlighted by the 148 penalty minutes he accumulated in 2006-07. For his WHL career, all with the Blades, he collected 44 goals and 91 points over 205 games.
Gillies saw his first NHL action with Minnesota in 2008-09 when he skated in 45 games, scoring a pair of goals with seven points. His lone full NHL campaign came in 2011-12 when he played in 75 games between the Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After two more American Hockey League seasons in 2013-14 and 2014-15, Gillies went overseas for the next five seasons of his career, first in Slovakia and then with Riga Dynamo in the KHL, where he played his fourth season in 2019-20.
In total, Gillies has played professionally for 13 seasons and has six goals and 18 points to his name at the NHL level in 154 games across four seasons.
Nikita Scherbak – No. 26, 2014, Montreal Canadiens
Scherbak played two seasons in the Western Hockey League, coming over from his native Russia to play with the Blades in 2013-14. The winger did not disappoint in his one season in Saskatoon, lighting the lamp 28 times with 78 points. He also played in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game prior to his selection to the Canadiens.
Scherbak played the next season with the Everett Silvertips before turning pro in 2015-16. He reached Montreal for a brief three-game stint in his second professional season, and another 26-game stretch the next season, but never caught on, being placed on waivers in December of 2018. He was picked up by the Los Angeles Kings and played eight games for them in 2018-19 before returning to Russia to play in the KHL, splitting 2019-20 between Omsk and Chelyabinsk.
Adrian Foster – No. 28, 2001, New Jersey Devils
The centerman from Lethbridge, AB, played in 49 games for the Blades spread over three seasons from 1999 to 2002, putting up 15 goals and 35 points.
New Jersey made Foster a late first-round selection in 2001, but things never fully panned out for him as he never reached the NHL. Foster played his first six professional seasons in the AHL before bouncing between overseas leagues and North America for his final six seasons.
Foster now runs Acceleration Hockey by Foster for power skating and hockey development in Calgary, AB.
Mike Green, No. 29, 2004, Washington Capitals
The Capitals made good on their late first-round pick by selecting Calgary’s Green. The offensive defenseman scored 37 goals as a member of the Blades with 170 points in 267 games from 2000 to 2005, including back-to-back seasons with 14 goals to finish his WHL career and 66 points in his final campaign.
Green appeared in 22 games with the Capitals in his first professional season in 2005-06 and became a regular the next year. He became a household name thanks to a tremendous three-season stretch from 2007 to 2010, notching a total of 68 goals and 205 points. In his career-best season, he led all NHL defencemen in goals with 31 and points with 73.
In his 10 seasons in Washington, Green was a two-time All-Star and twice finished second in Norris Trophy voting.
He would move on to play five seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, and, this year, was traded to the Edmonton Oilers and played in two games with the Oilers prior to the COVID-19 pause.
To date, Green has 150 goals and 501 points in his 15-year NHL career. He also scored four goals and 12 points at the 2008 World Championship as Canada fell to Russia in the gold medal game.
Wild Card – Braden Holtby
Although netminder Braden Holtby doesn’t qualify for this list of highest-drafted Saskatoon Blades alumni of the millennium, it would seem to be a disservice to not mention likely the club’s most successful NHL alumni in that timeline, and arguably one of the most successful NHLers to ever come through Saskatoon.
The native of Lloydminster, SK was a three-year starter for the Blades from 2005 to 2009, appearing in 177 games. His numbers improved across the board each season, punctuated by his final junior campaign in 2008-09, when Holtby won 40 of his 61 appearances with a 2.62 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.
Holtby was the 10th goaltender selected in the 2008 NHL Draft, going to the Capitals in the fourth round, but there is no disputing that he will go down as the most accomplished puck stopper in his draft.
Holtby saw NHL action in 2010-11 and 2011-12 before taking over as starter the following season. His best three-season stretch came from 2014 to 2017, when he posted more than 40 wins with a goals-against average of 2.22 or below each season and led the league in wins in consecutive seasons (48 in 2015-16, 42 in 2016-17.) He then reached the pinnacle of the sport, backstopping the Capitals to their 2018 Stanley Cup victory.
To date, Holtby has 282 NHL wins in 468 games with a goals against average of 2.54 and a save percentage of .916 in his 10-year career with 35 shutouts. He is a five-time All-Star, 2015-16 Vezina Trophy winner and a Stanley Cup champion, all with the Capitals.
Now 30 years of age, there has been a downward trend in his numbers over the last three seasons, so it would be fair to wonder if he has reached the back side of his career, especially having played so many games with long playoff runs year in and year out dating back to the WHL.
Scouting has grown by leaps and bounds and continues to make advances. However, as evidenced by the results of top highest-drafted Saskatoon Blades of the new millennium, there is still no question that no matter how much of a “can’t miss” or “sure-fire” prospect a player might be, it remains extremely difficult to prognosticate how a player will adjust from junior to the professional game, and each step up the ladder.
Jonathan covers the Saskatoon Blades and the Victoria Royals of the WHL. He has extensive experience in hockey and sports journalism and broadcasting. This includes bylines at Sports Spectrum, Toronto Blue Jays, Victoria Grizzlies, DUBNetwork as well as a long-time role with the Canadian Baseball Network.