Hockey fans might know that there are some great expectations that are placed on players that come out of the first round of the NHL’s Entry Draft. However, the same type of expectations are usually not attached to players that are selected in the later rounds of the NHL Entry Draft.
There might not be a hidden gem for every first round bust, but if the NHL Draft has shown fans anything since 2000, then it is that there could be some pleasant surprises for teams that do their homework. Names such as Henrik Lundqvist, Brooks Laich, Kevin Bieksa, and Mike Smith might have been glossed over during their respective drafts, but there have been many players drafted in the later rounds that have had a significant impact at the professional level.
Here are some of the best hidden gems (Round Five and onward) since 2000:
2000 NHL Entry Draft
Greg Zanon (5th Round, 156th Overall by Ottawa Senators) – Greg Zanon did not turn out to be an offensive dynamo in the NHL, but the native of Burnaby, British Columbia made a name for himself through his shot blocking abilities. Zanon also threw his body around quite a bit as he managed to dole out his fair share of hits over the years, but the defenseman is best known for blocking shots. Some may downplay the value of Zanon as a d-man, but Zanon’s ability to block shots and presence adds some much needed cushion to a team’s lower defensive pairings.
John-Michael Liles (5th Round, 159th Overall by Colorado Avalanche) – John-Michael Liles started his career with the Colorado Avalanche, but the defenseman has registered over 300 points in his career up to this point. Liles excels on the power-play and is not a stranger to putting shots on net as well as getting in front of them on the defensive side of things. Considering that more than half of defenseman’s points have come on the man advantage (162 pts. – 37 Goals, 125 Assists), it is safe to say that the fifth rounder was one of hidden gems of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
Roman Cechmanek (6th Round, 171st Overall by Philadelphia Flyers) – Even though Cechmanek only played four seasons in the NHL, the Czech goalie managed to compile 110 wins between stints with the Flyers and Kings. In his first three seasons with Philadelphia (2000-2003), Cechmanek never had a GAA above 2.05 and only took a statistical hit in 2003-2004 when he went 18-21-6 with a 2.51 GAA and .906 Save Percentage in Los Angeles. Seeing as how Cechmanek was 29 years young when he was drafted in 2000, it was very impressive for the newcomer to have a substantial impact on the Flyers organization and NHL goaltending from the early to mid 2000s.
Paul Gaustad (7th Round, 220th Overall by Buffalo Sabres) – Gaustad may be known as a rugged center that isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty with the opposition, but the pivot can be an important asset to any team. While Gaustad might not rack up points by the bunches, the center’s face-off success has made him invaluable to the Sabres and Predators. Gaustad is no stranger to physical play and the 220th overall pick at the 2000 NHL Entry Draft has turned out to be one of the brighter selections of the seventh round.
Henrik Lundqvist (7th Round, 205th Overall by New York Rangers) – King Henrik was by far the biggest hidden gem of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft as the Swedish goalie has been a rock in goal for the New York Rangers since the 2005-2006 season when he won 30 games for New York. Over the last seven seasons, Lundqvist has played in 468 games for the Rangers and has won more than half of those games (252) in his NHL career thus far. Lundqvist has also won a gold medal at the Olympics with Team Sweden and the netminder’s value to any team cannot be understated as the goalie has consistently proven himself to be among the elite players at his position over the last several years.
2001 NHL Entry Draft
Kevin Bieksa (5th Round, 151st Overall by Vancouver Canucks) – Kevin Bieksa has been a staple in the Vancouver Canucks lineup over the last several seasons as the defenseman has contributed with solid play over the years. Even though Bieksa might be a bit injury prone, the d-man gives it his all when he is healthy and ready to compete. Part of the Vancouver Canucks’ run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010-2011 was due in part to the play of Bieksa who contributed 10 points (5 Goals, 5 Assists) in the 25 post-season games that he played. Bieksa will continue to solidify the defensive core for the Canucks as he is signed through 2015-2016 and fans should expect more stellar play out of the defenseman.
Mike Smith (5th Round, 161st Overall by Dallas Stars) – Hockey fans might not have heard of Mike Smith before the goalie put together a great performance during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Tampa Bay Lightning. While Smith might have been passed over by some teams during the free agency period in 2011, the goalie was given an opportunity to sign with the Phoenix Coyotes and he took it. With the help of goaltending coach Sean Burke, Smith elevated his game to an extraordinary level during the 2011-2012 regular season and playoffs. Smith’s name was constantly mentioned when it came to Vezina Trophy nominations and the goalie should continue his strong play into the 2012-2013 NHL season.
Dennis Seidenberg (6th Round, 172nd Overall by Philadelphia Flyers) – After bouncing around between five different teams, Dennis Seidenberg has seemingly found a home with the Boston Bruins. The defenseman has recorded 30 or more points in three of his nine seasons in the NHL, but Seidenberg has also contributed some physical play as well. The d-man is used to throwing his body around and blocking shots as he hasn’t recorded less than 150 blocked shots and hits in the last three seasons while playing for the Bruins and Panthers. For a sixth rounder, Seidenberg has definitely made enough strides in the NHL to be considered a late round NHL Draft gem.
Ryane Clowe (6th Round, 175th Overall by San Jose Sharks) – Ryan Clowe has been one of the late round surprises for the San Jose Sharks as the left winger has turned into a formidable offensive option and physical presence. Clowe has tallied at least 45 points in each of his last four seasons and isn’t afraid to hit the opposition or drop the gloves with a second party that is willing to tango. Clowe is also talented when it comes to playing on San Jose’s man-advantage as he has recorded 76 points on the power-play in parts of seven seasons with the Sharks. The left winger continues to be an integral part of San Jose’s offensive attack and the forward’s 844 total shots on goal since the 2005-2006 season have shown hockey fans that the Sharks’ sixth round pick from the 2001 NHL Draft has really paid off.
Marek Zidlicky (6th Round, 176th Overall by New York Rangers) – While Marek Zidlicky never played a minute for the team that drafted him, the defenseman made his mark in a big way during the 2003-2004 season when he scored 53 points for the Nashville Predators in his first season with the team. The Czech defenseman has scored over 300 points in the NHL and has broken the 40 point mark on five separate occasions in his career. Zidlicky might not be known for his defensive play, but the d-man’s 165 points on the power-play definitely made him worth the gamble with the 176th overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
Jussi Jokinen (6th Round, 192nd Overall by Dallas Stars) – Jussi Jokinen came into his own with the Dallas Stars during the 2005-2006 season when he put up 55 points (17 Goals, 38 Assists) in 81 games played. The Finnish forward has put up 45 or more points in five out of seven seasons in the NHL and has also shown to have some prowess on the power-play. Jokinen has bounced around a bit as he has played for the Stars, Lightning, and Hurricanes, but the forward seems to have found his home in Carolina after enjoying three seasons where he compiled 61 goals and 102 assists. Even though the left winger’s goal totals have slipped over the last three seasons, the forward has still managed to put shots on goal and contribute on the offensive side of
things as he settles in in Carolina.
Brooks Laich (6th Round, 193rd Overall by Ottawa Senators) – Laich played all of one game with the team that drafted him, but he has enjoyed quite a bit of success with the Washington Capitals. Over the last four seasons, Laich has registered at least 40 or more points and has shown that he is adept at playing a physical game as well. Shooting the puck has also been one of the center’s strong points as he has put nearly 200 shots on goal every season for the last three years. Laich has been comfortably centering the Capitals’ second line and the pivot continues to be one of the better late selections of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
Cristobal Huet (7th Round, 214th Overall by Los Angeles Kings) – Cristobal Huet turned into one of the finer choices of the seventh round as the goalie managed to win a Stanley Cup with the 2009-2010 Chicago Blackhawks. Huet managed to record 126 wins in part of seven seasons with the Blackhawks, Canadiens, Capitals, and Kings and enjoyed a very good career in the NHL. While Huet never turned into a solid number one goaltender, he was always a serviceable backup that helped out the teams that showed confidence in him. Huet hasn’t played in the NHL in the last two seasons, but the goalie definitely made the most of his stay after being drafted in the seventh round of the NHL Draft.
Johnny Oduya (7th Round, 221st Overall by Washington Capitals) – Many might remember Oduya for his time with the New Jersey Devils, but the defenseman has turned into a steadying force for any team’s defensive pairings. While Oduya won’t throw his body around a ton or block a plethora of shots, he has provided solid two-way play for the teams that he has played for. Some may say that the defenseman has lost a step in his game recently, but the defender managed to play 81 games last season and still has some gas left in the tank to keep playing at the professional level.
Martin Gerber (8th Round, 232nd Overall by Anaheim Mighty Ducks) –Much like Cristobal Huet, Gerber also managed to break into the NHL and win a Stanley Cup. Gerber’s Stanley Cup came with the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2005-2006 NHL season, but the goalie did not play in the NHL during the 2011-2012 regular season. For an eighth round draft
pick, Gerber turned out to be an able-bodied backup and a good starter when relied upon. After 113 career wins, Gerber’s time in the NHL might have come to a close, but the 232nd overall pick of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft definitely proved to be worth the gamble as he helped the Hurricanes, Ducks, Senators, Maple Leafs, and Oilers over parts of eight NHL seasons.
P.A Parenteau (9th Round, 264th Overall by Anaheim Mighty Ducks) – P.A Parenteau was one of the late bloomers ofthe 2001 NHL Entry Draft as he was given a chance to showcase his talents with the New York Islanders a couple of years ago. Up until the 2010-2011 regular season, Parenteau was considered to simply be a New York Rangers castoff, but he disproved that notion when he notched 53 and 67 points during the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons, respectively. Parenteau was definitely a solid find for a ninth rounder and his performance over the last two seasons has helped the forward for the 2011 off-season as the winger might be one of the most sought after free agents if the Islanders do not resign him before July 1st. The 264th overall pick might not always pan out for a given team, but Parenteau was definitely a pleasant surprise for the Isles as the forward has helped the young team in its development over the last several seasons while making himself an attractive option for any NHL team.
2002 NHL Entry Draft
James Wisniewski (5th Round, 156th Overall by Chicago Blackhawks) – James Wisniewski has turned into one of the NHL’s better offensive defensemen and has seen a good amount of success on power-play units. The Wiz has recorded 25 or more points during four separate campaigns and even had a 51 point season in 2009-2010 when he split time between the Islanders and Canadiens. Even though Wisniewski might not be known for his defensive presence, the d-man is quite adept at moving the puck and quarterbacking any given team’s power-play unit.
Dennis Wideman (8th Round, 241st Overall by Buffalo Sabres) – Dennis Wideman could be the 2002 NHL Entry Draft’s version of Kevin Bieksa as the former player has developed into a very good offensive defenseman. Wideman has put up 30 or more points in the last five seasons, but he has also hit hit a good amount of opponents and blocked enough shots to earn some defensive accolades. The native of Kitchener, Ontario will undoubtedly command a significant amount of interest and money during the 2012 free agency period, but whoever indulges in the puck-moving defenseman will receive a player that is more than capable of fitting into any team’s defensive core.
Honorable Mentions/Up and Coming?
- Maxime Talbot (8th Round, 234th Overall by Pittsburgh Penguins) – Max Talbot seems to love playing in Pennsylvania as he has gone from playing with the Pittsburgh Penguins to playing with the Philadelphia Flyers. Talbot has scored 20 or more points in five of his seven seasons as an NHL forward, but he also has a physical side to his game as he has thrown 150 hits in the last two seasons. Talbot will probably be a nice fit on the Flyers’ second line and has definitely put in a considerable amount of work to earn his minutes in the NHL.
- Jonathan Ericsson (9th Round, 291st Overall by Detroit Red Wings) – Ericsson has only put up 26 points in the last two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, but the defenseman might be counted upon for bigger minutes after the retirement of long-time Red Wings d-man Nicklas Lidstrom. Ericsson signed a three year deal with the Wings back in the summer of 2011 and the ninth round draft pick might prove to be another steal for Detroit in the late rounds of the NHL Entry Draft (cough, Henrik Zetterberg, cough).
In his third year with The Hockey Writers, Toli covers all things related to the New York Islanders. Focusing on the Islanders, the NHL Draft & draft-eligible prospect goalies, and hockey history, Toli can be contacted on Facebook by searching/messaging Toli Metter and on twitter by searching @ToliMetterTHW.