Every playoff season hockey fans worldwide become enamoured with a dialed in goaltender who's displaying championship caliber focus. Roberto Luongo and Marty Turco had an epic goaltending dual in the 2007 playoffs that I'll never forget, and many would have similar feelings regarding Jean Sebastien Giguere in 2003 or Tim Thomas in 2011.
Yet somehow in every single draft, a talent that people dubbed "solid" 18 year old prospects turn out to be 27 year old superstars. They have a trajectory that requires oodles of patience, yet when one of those skinny teenagers turns out to be someone like Henrik Lundqvist or Miikka Kipprusoff, the impact they can have on a franchise make nine years of development well worth the wait.
Carey Price went fifth overall in 2005. Roberto Luongo was fourth in 1998, and Marty Brodeur was 20th in 1990, but there are plenty of star-caliber goalies who were shots in the dark that became examples of pinpoint scouting projections.
In this article we'll take a look at 15 star goalies who were drafted late, where they would have ended up, and the impact they might have had on their "new" franchise. Only 'tenders drafted in the third round or later will be considered.
15 Pekka Rinne: Chicago Blackhawks, 3rd Overall (2004)
Original Pick: 258th, Nashville Predators
The 2004 draft has always been tough on Cam Barker. After complete superstars in Alex Ovechkin and Evegni Malkin went first and second overall, the quality tailed off dramatically once the 'Hawks made him third overall selection.
Alas, gifted with hindsight, we can comfortably tell the Blackhawks they should have gone completely off the board in selecting Pekka Rinne third overall. There were 48 goaltenders ranked for that draft, and the 6'5" Finn was nowhere among them - he was a complete shot in the dark by the Preds.
If he would have become a 'Hawk, he'd likely have three Stanley Cups to his name, as he burst into the league with a .917 save percentage the year before they won the Cup. This missed pick hurts Chicago less because they snagged Corey Crawford in the draft a year prior, but they would have had a real position of strength to work from when it came to bolstering their roster come playoff time.
14 Evgeni Nabokov: Tampa Bay Lightning, 8th Overall (2004)
Original Pick: 219th, San Jose Sharks
The Tampa Bay Lightning could have propelled their franchise in the proper direction just two years after expansion with the correct use of their 8th overall pick in 1994. Goalies always take patience, so it wouldn't have been until 2000-2001 that Nabokov would have impacted the team, but it would have been when they needed it most.
The Lightning used a total of seventeen goaltenders over four seasons from 1996 to 2000, with classic names like Darren Puppa, Rick Tabaracci, and Corey Schwab all battling for ice time. Nabokov would have righted the ship as he posted a .915 save percentage in the 2000-01 season as a rookie, and went on to have a successful 12 year career where he never appeared in less than 40 games.
13 Ryan Miller: New York Rangers, 4th Overall (1999)
Original Pick: 138th, Buffalo Sabres
The Rangers selected Pavel Brendl with their fourth overall selection in 1999, who went on to star in the Swedish Elite League for a few seasons. Unfortunately, the Rangers play in the NHL.
If the Rangers had selected with absolute perfection they would have added a stud American goaltender in Ryan Miller. Miller's first season in the NHL was in 2005-2006, which happens to be when Mister Henrik Lundqvist broke into the league. Could you imagine that? Miller and Lundqvist were the two bright young goaltenders in the league that year (other than rookie Stanley Cup Champion Cam Ward), and if they were competing on the same team it would have been interesting to see who would have broke free and commanded more starts than other.
Alas, since the Rangers did snag Lundqvist late in the 2000 draft, their missed pick ended with minimal consequence.
12 Tomas Vokoun: Edmonton Oilers, 6th Overall (1994)
Original Pick: 226th, Montreal Canadiens
Tomas Vokoun marks another goaltender from the 1994 draft, which features four players on this list. Perhaps Patrick Roy inspired a whole crop of goaltenders who were 10 years old in the mid-80s.
Regardless, the Oilers actually selected a longtime crease-crashing mullet-sporting winger in Ryan Smyth with this pick, but if this draft were to be redone to perfection, he would have gone earlier. Oil Country would have had a young Czech goalie who would go on to have a long NHL career of 700 games.
Vokoun was claimed by the Predators in the 1998 Expansion Draft, which has to be one of the best expansion picks of all time. Vokoun was a rock for the Predators, and over seven of his last eight NHL seasons he never posted a save percentage of less than .919, with scintillating numbers of .925 and .926 with the Panthers in 2009 and 2010.
If the Czech star would have played for better teams than the Preds and Panthers, he might have some Stanley Cups to his name, and would certainly be higher on this list. He was a model of elite consistency.
11 Marty Turco: Hartford Whalers, 5th Overall (1994)
Original Pick: 124th, Dallas Stars
Marty Turco broke into the NHL in 2002 and promptly began a streak of eight seasons with 30 wins or more. He twice won the Rogier Saving Grace Award for the league's top save percentage, and was a pillar for the Dallas Stars for nearly a decade.
Should the Whalers (who became the Carolina Hurricanes) have selected him fifth, they would have solved years of average goaltending consisting of Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes. The 'Canes did make it to the finals in 2003 with that duo, but with Turco's sublime playoff record, maybe they could have captured their first Stanley Cup prior to Cam Ward's heroics in the 2006 playoffs.
10 Jonathan Quick: Minnesota Wild, 4th Overall (2005)
Original Pick: 72nd, Los Angeles Kings
Jonathan Quick joined the league in 2008-2009 and promptly established himself as the Kings number one netminder over Jonathan Bernier. The Wild were still coached by Jacques Lemaire then, so his addition would have proved vital as Lemaire-led teams require a strong goaltender as a foundation. With two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, Quick brings it when it matters most.
Nicklas Backstrom was the Wild goaltender for a long while and despite the fact he was very good when Quick would have joined the team, he peetered out quickly. The transition to Quick would have been seamless and the Wild would have a goaltender who's athleticism alone has put himself on numerous highlight reels and some nice silverware.
9 Braden Holtby: St. Louis Blues, 4th Overall (2008)
Original Pick: 93rd, Washington Capitals
Amid the recent talk of St. Louis Blues goaltender taking some time off to regroup and not joining his Blues on their road trip to Winnipeg, it seems fitting to fantasize the possibility that their GM would go way off the board in the 2008 and select Braden Holtby fourth overall.
The Blues originally chose Alex Pietrangelo with this pick which of course will suffice, but any time you can add a 27 year old Vezina winning goaltender, you do it. Should Holtby have been a Blue, he would have joined the team right as they had begun a series of consecutive playoff berths starting in 2012. They'd never been bad with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, but could a tender of Holtby's caliber have brought them over the hump? Consecutive 40 win seasons with an extraordinary 48-9-7 record last year makes me think so.
Of course at just 27 years Holtby has plenty of time to climb this list, but as of right now he will (since I'm sure he's reading) have to accept his position at ninth.
8 Chris Osgood: Minnesota North Stars, 8th Overall (1991)
Original Pick: 54th, Detroit Red Wings
Chris Osgood presents an interesting case anytime his name comes up. He's been passed on the Hockey Hall of Fame a few times, and everyone seems unsure of whether it was the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings that carried his numbers and accolades along.
Osgood's number are solid, yet unspectacular. His .905 career save percentage is sound given he played in the '90s, and his 2.45 GAA would be splendid in today's NHL. Yet, should the North Stars (who became the Dallas Stars one year later) have selected him, it's tough to assert any real change in their performance. They weren't very good when he broke into the league in 1996, and it would be on the back of Ed Belfour that they would win their first Stanley Cup three years later in 1999. Would they have won with Osgood instead of Belfour? Personally, I'd bet against it.
If he were indeed a Star, perhaps we all would know how much (or if at all) the Red Wings inflated his numbers. Regardless, he certainly should have gone much higher than the 54th overall pick he was selected with as he enjoyed a long and successful NHL career.
7 Tim Thomas: Edmonton Oilers, 4th Overall (1994)
Original Pick: 217th, Quebec Nordiques
If the Oilers would have made this selection, it would have taken insane patience as it would be over 10 years later that Thomas made his mark, but what a mark it would be. His prime wasn't long - just six years - but if six years gets you two Vezinas, a Stanley Cup, and a Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP, then I think the wait would be worth it.
The Oilers tailed off drastically following their 2006 Cinderella playoff run, but with goaltending beter than an aging Dwayne Roloson and a mediocre Mathieu Garon, maybe they would have had one or two more kicks at the ol' playoff can.
Thomas' career would end amid White House controversies, but given how technical goaltenders are today, he will always be remembered among the more entertaining puck stoppers with his unorthodox style and lack of predictability. His astounding .938 save percentage in 2010 still stands as the highest save percentage of all time for a goaltender with more than 50 starts.
6 Miikka Kiprusoff: New York Islanders, 2nd Overall (1995)
Original Pick: 166th, San Jose Sharks
Two Flames legends would top a re-do of the '95 draft, as Jarome Iginla would go first and his long-time friend and former brick wall Miikka Kiprusoff would go second.
The Islanders had plenty of early first round picks in the mid-90s and generally didn't knock anyone's socks off with them, so there leaves plenty of room for improvement. Kipprusoff somewhat famously joined the Flames in 2003-2004, posting 1.70 GAA and .933 save percentage during the season, then anchoring the Flames to a Game 7 Stanley Cup Final against Tampa Bay. If the Finnish Wall would have been a part of the Islanders, he would have joined some average teams that made the playoffs, but could have used some offensive firepower more than Kipper. Once they found out that DiPietro was a flop, however, he would have proved mighty useful in the late 2000s as their goaltending was a major source of weakness.
Kipper was a workhorse, never playing less than 70 games in his seven seasons with the Flames, and his "worst" season was one with 35 wins. Safe to say he would have made a significant impact no matter where he wound up.
5 Billy Smith: Boston Bruins, 4th Overall (1970)
Original Pick: 59th, Los Angeles Kings
Billy Smith was seemingly the piece of the puzzle that propelled the Islanders from promising young team loaded with superstars to a Stanley Cup dynasty that would stand the test of time. The Islanders first two seasons of existence without him ended lacking playoff hockey, but once Smith joined in 1973 they began a 10 year streak of never exiting the playoffs earlier than the second round. That streak included three defeats in the Conference Finals to the Guy Lafleur-led Montreal Canadiens, four Stanley Cups, and one infamous loss in the Finals where they handed they dynastic torch over to Gretzky and his Oilers.
Needless to say, it was quite a career: his 88 career playoff victories slot him at 4th overall on the all time win list along with four Stanley Cups, a Vezina, and a Conn Smythe Trophy.
Should the Bruins have selected him, he would have gone on to play for the '70s Bruins teams that were led by Don Cherry and defeated by the Canadiens in consecutive Stanley Cup Finals in '77 and '78. Would good ol' Billy have made the difference?
4 Henrik Lundqvist: New York Islanders, 1st Overall (2000)
Original Pick: 2005th, New York Rangers
"With the first overall selection, the New York Islanders are proud to select Henrik Lundqvist."
If the Islanders would have had stones the size of Texas and made that call, it would have been the most controversial first overall pick in history, and perhaps one of the best. Lundqvist was ranked fifth among European goalies for the 2000 draft, which would have made the pick completely ludicrous.
Of course, they made Rick DiPietro the first goaltender to be selected 1st overall in the modern NHL draft, and have likely regretted it ever since, passing on former stars such as Marian Gaborik and Dany Heatley. With Lundqvist, the Islanders would have been set in goal for the next decade, and probably would have avoided their five year playoff drought from 2008-2012.
On the flip side of things, if they had Lundqvist they probably wouldn't have used the dynamic duo of Joey MacDonald and Yann Danis to man their crease in 2008-09, which means they probably wouldn't have current superstar John Tavares.
Take your pick, I guess.
3 Ken Dryden: Detroit Red Wings, 1st Overall (1964)
Original Pick: 14th, Boston Bruins (3rd round)
Well folks, here I am wishing I was good at one thing, and Mister Ken Dryden over there threw away his seven year NHL career to become an author, a lawyer, the president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a member of Canada's parliament.
And what a seven years they were. His whole career made him a part of one of the greatest dynasties of all-time with the 1971-79 Canadiens, earning him five Vezina trophies and six Stanley Cups - monstrous accolades.
If he would have been a Red Wing, however, he would have joined an absolute mess of a franchise. The Wings made the playoffs just once over Dryden's career, and had 6 different coaches during that time. If he would have been a part of that team, I'm certain he would have added a couple more playoff seasons, but the 6 Stanley Cups would have been zero, maybe one.
2 Dominik Hasek: Hartford Whalers, 2nd Overall (1983)
Original Pick: 199th, Chicago Blackhawks
It seems as though the Chicago Blackhawks had no idea who they were trading when they sent a 27 year old Hasek to the Buffalo Sabres for Stephane Beauregard and future considerations. Yes indeed, The Dominator was once traded for future considerations - a complex way of effectively trading someone for next to nothing. Chicago did have Ed Belfour at the time of casting Hasek away, but Hasek single-handedly carried the Buffalo Sabres in 1999 to the Final, a team that scored just 207 goals during the season (2.52 per game), the lowest of any playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
Suffice to say, if the Hartford Whalers would have done the unthinkable and selected him 197 spots sooner than in reality, they would have made the playoffs at least a couple of times. Hasek brought playoff hockey to the Sabres in spite of an offense that had one 60 point player in five years, and he didn't stop with just playoff hockey, but brought them to the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final in '98 and '99. Hartford had similar levels of offense during Hasek's three years of .930+ save percentages from 1997-1998, with one player hitting 60 points. If it was enough for Buffalo, it very well could have been enough for Hartford/Carolina.
With six Vezina trophies as the league's top goaltender sitting on his mantle, no one, maybe not even Hasek himself knew how good he was until he popped on that Sabres sweater. If he would have gotten a chance in the '90s with a team that had any semblance of a decent offense, who knows what other accolades The Dominator would have amassed.
1 Patrick Roy: Chicago Blackhawks, 3rd Overall (1984)
Original Pick: 51st, Montreal Canadiens
Three Vezina trophies, three Conn Smythe trophies, and four Stanley Cups were passed on by every team twice in the 1984 draft until Montreal snagged Roy in the third round.
Looking at Chicago's teams when Roy bursted into the league in 1985 (he won the Stanley Cup and playoff MVP before he was 22 years old), it looks like an addition of his caliber would have been a key ingredient to their trials and tribulations in the late '80s and early '90s. Chicago made the Conference Finals three times over Roy's career, and if they had the Canadian puck stopper that number could realistically be five or six. They had Ed Belfour for one run so that wouldn't have made a ton of difference, but for the other two it may have resulted in Stanley Cup glory. Warren Skorodenski, Murray Bannerman, Alain Chevrier, Darren Pang, and Jacques Cloutier were among the carousel of goaltenders they had defending the net, so it's simple to see the impact a series-stealing goalie like Patrick Roy could have had.
Assuming they wouldn't have kept him in the net for nine goals against the Detroit Red Wings in 1995, they would've had over a decade of opportunity to cash in on one of the game's greatest goaltenders.