NHL: Best and Worst Draft Picks of the Last Ten Years

From 1998 to 2007, the NHL held ten Entry Drafts, selecting over 2,000 players. Of course, not all of those players made it to the NHL and very few of those draft picks ever made huge impacts on an NHL team. Nonetheless, there are still a few NHL teams that seem to have had more success than others when choosing their future stars.

Though the Detroit Red Wings are consistently looked upon as one of the best-drafting teams, they rarely seem to draft quality players in the first few rounds. However, it is hard to overlook the fact that two of their best players and two of the best players in the world, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, were drafted in the sixth and seventh rounds in the 1998 and 1999 drafts, respectively. In addition, Detroit drafted defenseman Jonathan Ericsson in the ninth round (291st overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. Ericsson, after spending a great amount of time in Grand Rapids in the American League, will most likely be spending the 20010-11 season in the NHL after being given a fair amount of playing time in the big league in both the regular season and the playoffs for the past few seasons. His powerful shot and incredible hockey sense may bring him all the way up to Detroit’s top defensive pairing when he reaches his full potential.

The Nashville Predators, though never having won a Stanley Cup, have had tremendous success drafting new talent into the NHL. Two of their best picks ever came in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, when they selected defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber with the seventh and 49th picks, respectively. Both defensemen played for the United States at the 2010 Winter Olympics and won silver medals for their country. Weber was also recently named the captain of the Predators and will most likely be their top defenseman for the next decade. Suter will also be one of their best players for a while, assuming both can remain on the team’s payroll, with regards to the salary cap. One other player taken by Nashville was Patric Hornqvist, a young center taken with the final pick in the seventh round of the 2005 draft (230th overall). Though Hornqvist will never be a league leader in points, he is a solid forward that could someday wind up on the second line. He is already an NHL regular and will continue to be one.

Lastly, the Washington Capitals have had success drafting, even though most of their star players have been a result of extremely high draft picks. Of course, Alexander Ovechkin is arguably the best player in the world and was drafted first overall in 2004. In addition to Ovie, the Capitals drafted Alexander Semin 13th overall in the 2002 draft. Added to the two great Russians was Nicklas Backstrom, drafted fourth overall in 2006. These three players have become the bedrock of Washington’s offensive juggernaut that has vaulted them into a dominating hockey power (in the regular season, at least). Lately, the Capitals drafted defenseman Karl Alzner (fifth overall in 2007). He played a bit in the NHL recently, but will most likely be a full-time player come the 2010-11 season. Alzner has shown in Hershey (AHL) that he has great hockey sense, speed and both offensive and defensive abilities. He will help a Washington defense corps that has had a fair amount of holes in it.

For this piece, I will judge the best picks from the 1998-2007 drafts, as I believe it is unfair to analyze the quality of the past three drafts for another few years.

Best Picks, 1998-2001

Pavel Datsyuk, Det, 1998, 6(171)
Ryan Miller, Buf, 1999, 5(138)
Henrik Zetterberg, Det, 1999, 7(210)
Dany Heatley, Atl, 2000, 1(2)
Henrik Lundqvist, NYR, 2000, 7(205)
Ilya Kovalchuk, Atl, 2001, 1(1)
Kevin Bieksa, Van, 2001, 5(151)

Datsyuk and Zetterberg have been widely known as two of the greatest draft picks ever, due to their stardom after being drafted late. Heatley and Kovalchuk turned into superstars for Atlanta (regardless of where the players are now), while both Ryan Miller and Henrik Lundqvist are arguably two of the top six goalies in the world, after being draft in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively. Lastly, Kevin Bieksa is a solid defenseman that many teams covet after being a fifth rounder

Worst Picks, 1998-2001

Brian Finley, Nsh, 1999, 1(6)
Mikhail Yakubov, RW/Pavel Vorobiev, LW, Chi, 2000, 1(10/11)
Alexandr Svitov, Tam, 2001, 1(3)
Stanislav Christov, Ana, 2001, 1(5)
Petr Taticek, Fla, 2002, 1(9)

Mikhail Yakubov played just 10 games for Chicago and 23 total NHL games before heading back to Russia, where he is today. Pavel Vorobiev played 57 NHL games for Chicago, but also wound up back in Russia, where he plays now in the KHL. Brian Finley played just four NHL games, split between the Preds and the Bruins. Taticek played there NHL games, but now he can only be found in the Swiss Leage. Svitov had fair success, but played just 179 games before returning to Russia for the 2007-08 season.

Best Picks, 2002-2004

Alexander Semin, Wsh, 2002, 1(13)
Duncan Keith, Chi, 2002, 2(54)
Jonathan Ericsson, Det, 2002, 9(291)
Ryan Suter, Nsh, 2003, 1(7)
Shea Weber, Nsh, 2003, 2(49)
Ryan Getzlaf, Ana, 2003, 1(19)
Mike Richards, Phi, 2003, 1(24)
Alexander Ovechkin, Wsh, 2004, 1(1)
Evgeni Malkin, Pit, 2004, 1(2)
Dave Bolland, Chi, 2004, 2(32)
Mark Streit, Mtl, 2004, 7(262)

Semin and Keith are no-brainers, while Jonathan Ericsson is one of the latest draft picks in history to become a regular NHLer – and he hasn’t even reached his full potential yet. The 2003 NHL Draft is widely accepted as one of the best ever, with players like Getzlaf, Parise, Richards, Suter and Weber being drafted in Round 1. Ovechkin and Malkin are no-brainers, while Dave Bolland and Mark Streit are two great post-first round picks that turned into incredible players.

Worst Picks, 2002-2004

Jesse Niinimaki, Edm, 2002, 1(15)
Hugh Jessiman, NYR, 2003, 1(12)
Al Montoya, NYR, 2004, 1(6)
Boris Valabik, Atl, 2004, 1(10)
Lairu Tukonen, LAK, 2004, 1(11)
AJ Thelen, Min, 2004, 1,(12)

Jessiman and Montoya are two of the worst non-first overall picks ever, and of course, they come from the Rangers. Of these players, Valabik probably had the best potential, but played just 80 games. Niinimaki, Jessiman and Thelen never even reached the NHL, while Tukonen maxed out at five games.

Best Picks, 2005-2007

Sidney Crosby, Pit, 2005, 1(1)
Patric Hornqvist, Nsh, 2005, 7(230)
Jonathan Toews, Chi, 2006, 1(3)
Nicklas Backstrom, Wsh, 2006, 1(4)
Patrick Kane, Chi, 2007, 1(1)
Karl Alzner, Wsh, 2007, 1(5)
PK Subban, Mtl, 2007, 2(43)

Crosby, Toews, Backstrom and Kane are also no-brainers as great draft picks, while Patric Hornqvist, the final pick in 2005, turned into a great depth center for the Nashville Predators. Alzer and Subban will also become future star defensemen for Washington and Montreal, respectively, when they each reach their prime.

Worst Picks, 2005-2007

Benoit Pouliot, Min, 2005, 1(4)
Riku Helenius, Tam, 2006, 1(15)
Mark Mitera, Ana, 2006, 1(19)

Pouliot was ranked as the second-best North American prospect by Central Scouting, so dropping to fourth seems lucky for the Wild. However, Pouliot wound up never playing well at all, being sent to Montreal and having little success there. The Wild passed on players like Carey Price, Anze Kopitar and Marc Staal to take Pouliot. Helenius played just one game for the Tampa Bay Lightning before heading back to Sweden, where he played this season. Mitera’s highest level of play was the AHL, but his home is now the ECHL in Bakersfield.

4 Responses to NHL: Best and Worst Draft Picks of the Last Ten Years

  1. kevin says:

    shea weber played fir Canada at the 2010 oylimpics…and won gold

  2. Nathan says:

    shea weber is Canadian.

  3. Aron says:

    Great article! Thanks!

  4. Ryan says:

    Stefan going 1st in ’99 was a brutal pick and I know this was written in 2010 but Giroux, who just had a great run to the finals with Philly, was picked 22nd in ’06. He is now a super star. Those 2 Chicago picks in 2000 really set that franchise back a couple more years. Cool article!

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