The NHL Entry Draft. A year-long saga in which 17 year old players make their case for being one of 210 selections. Months of jockeying for position on every list from every NHL scout, and months of hyping the league’s next projected first overall pick.
First overall picks, and first round picks in general get all the glamour over the course of the NHL season, and for good reason. The first round is where franchise cornerstones get assigned to their NHL fate. Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Anze Kopitar, Ryan Getzlaf, and Aaron Ekblad have all been through the scrutiny of being a first round pick. And they’re all franchise faces that demand attention.
Every single year, however, after that first day of cameras and TV time, teams end up converting second round picks into key franchise pieces. They take time to develop, of course, but since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, every Cup winning team has had a key contribution from a former second round pick. Beyond the first round is where teams add immense value to their existing cores, and can truly push a team over the proverbial hump.
Here we take a look at the best second round picks current in the NHL and assemble an All-Star roster.
Fourth Line (LW): Loui Eriksson
Loui Eriksson is a member of the outstanding 2003 draft class, selected 33rd overall by the Dallas Stars. A player whose foundation was a strong two-way game, he earned the Swedish Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year award in 2004, setting the scene for an introduction to pro ice hockey in North America.
It took two full seasons before the former Gothenburg resident found his stride in the NHL, but once he did, he was one of the game’s best two way goal scorers. Displaying both durability and consistency, Eriksson averaged around 81 games, 30 goals, and 70 points over a four year span from 2008-2012. Unfortunately, Eriksson will always be linked as the key return in the Tyler Seguin trade back in the summer of 2013, and while he scored a respectable 62 goals over his three seasons in Boston, the team missed the playoffs two of his three years there.
Fourth Line (RW): Tyler Toffoli
Tyler Toffoli tallied an astounding 109 goals in 133 games over his last two seasons of junior hockey with the Ottawa 67’s. A steal with the 47th pick in the 2010 draft, Toffoli has scored more goals in a single NHL season than the 11 lowest performing first round picks combined. The young winger from Scarborough, Ontario earned AHL Rookie of the Year honors in 2012-13, followed it up with 15 goals in his first 18 AHL games in 2013-14, and was permanently summoned to the big leagues that same season. From AHL standout to Stanley Cup Champion in June of 2014, Toffoli’s pin point wrist shot earned him his first 30 goal season last year, and at just 24 years of age, there’s a realistic chance he headlines this depth chart as the years go on.
Fourth Line (C): Paul Stastny
Selected in the middle of the second round with the 44th overall pick in 2005, Paul Stastny’s early hockey career was full of promise. Fresh off an NCAA championship with the Denver Pioneers, his playmaking skills and ability to find the puck took center stage in the NHL’s post-lockout offensive explosion. Stastny burst onto the scene as a rookie putting up an astounding 78 points in 82 games – monstrous numbers. If not for some dude named Evgeni Malkin, he would have walked home with the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year with ease. In Stastny’s first 274 games he earned 264 points, playing at near a point-per-game pace for the better part of four seasons.
Despite his success on the score sheet in Colorado, he only made the playoffs in three of his eight seasons, taking part in a full rebuild that saw the Avs finish in the bottom three over three of five years. Having moved on to the St. Louis Blues in the summer of 2014, Stastny offers veteran playmaking experience to complement the young nucleus the Blues have assembled.
Third Defensive Pairing (L): Marc-Edouard Vlasic
“Pickles” is one of those players that has refused to stop improving. Completely off the radar for Canada’s “Pursuit of Excellence” junior program, he never came close to any international recognition as a teenager. Selected 35th overall in the 2005 draft, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has built his game from a foundation of defensive acumen, with the ability to make a good first pass. In general, Vlasic is a steady, 20-25 point defender who gives the team’s stars room to be creative, to push the envelope, and to make mistakes.
Recently, however, he’s been becoming much more. Many would consider Kris Letang the best defenseman from the 2005 draft – and for good reason – he’s a star offensively and has won two Stanley Cups. But many might consider Canada’s 2014 Sochi team to be the best hockey team ever assembled and would have similar opinions of their recent World Cup squad this past September. And Vlasic was a part of both, whereas Letang wasn’t. Is it because Vlasic is better? I’m not sure, but there’s no denying the value he provides when two years in a row he has been selected for the world’s best hockey team.
Third Defensive Pairing (R): Justin Faulk
This one’s a shout out to the Hurricanes scouting team. In 2010, Erik Gudbranson, Dylan McIlrath, Cam Fowler, Brandon Gormley, Derek Forbort (who?), Jared Tinordi, Mark Pysyk, and Alex Petrovic were all selected before Justin Faulk at 37th overall. Faulk figures to be not only the best defender of that bunch, but the best defenseman from the entire draft – depending on your opinion of John Klingberg in Dallas.
The lockout shortened 2012-13 season was proof that he was ready to take the next step as a defenseman in the National Hockey League. He had already gotten his feet wet, playing parts of two seasons in the NHL, but it was that season where he put up 24 points in 31 games in the AHL, and 15 points in 38 games with the Hurricanes to close the season where it was evident what was possible.
A slick set of hands, hockey sense that’s off the charts, and an average of 16 goals over the past two seasons says it all for the product of South St. Paul, Minnesota. Since 2014 Faulk has the sixth most goals from a defenseman, and as his game continues to improve alongside his young Hurricanes, 15 goals and 55 points might become the norm for the American standout.
Third Line (LW): Mike Cammalleri
Drafted with the 49th pick in 2001, Mike Cammalleri was one of those players considered “too small” his whole life. A short, but compact 5-9, Cammalleri dominated at the college level as a goal scorer with 23 goals in 29 games during his last season with the University of Michigan. After bouncing between the NHL and AHL for a few seasons, Cammalleri took the NHL lockout season in 2004-05 as an opportunity, and figured it would be a good idea to go and score 46 goals and 109 points over 79 games in the AHL.
He was probably right. Since then Cammalleri has excelled in the clutch free era of hockey that was the product of that same lock out. After a promising rookie season in 2005-06 where he put up 26 goals, Cammalleri exploded for 39 goals a few years later, fresh off of a trade to the Calgary Flames where he and Captain Jarome Iginla lit the world on fire.
Unfortunately, that 2008-09 season was the last where he’s played over 70 games. He’s battled hip and knee injuries since, and while still being productive, has failed to stay in the lineup consistently. It’s fascinating to think what could have been, as Cammalleri has multiple seasons of 26 goals or more while playing less than 70 games. Regardless, Cammalleri is still an offensive threat every time he steps on the ice, and should figure to stay that way until he hangs up the skates.
Third Line (RW): Wayne Simmonds
In theory, Wayne Simmonds was a third round pick, going 61st overall in the summer of 2007. For whatever reason, the Los Angeles Kings were awarded a compensatory, and thus it was deemed a “second round pick.”
In hindsight, I’m sure Simmonds would have been chosen as a first round pick. Simmonds never put up great numbers in junior, but played a hard, physical game that earned him a spot as a depth option on Canada’s World Junior squad that won gold in 2008. His first three years in the league with Los Angeles were solid, capping out at 16 goals in his third year with the team. It was when he was moved to Philadelphia for Jeff Carter in 2011 that Simmonds’ value became truly apparent. Excluding 2013’s lockout shortened season, Simmonds has never scored less than 28 goals with the Flyers. His squad has made the playoffs in two of his last three years, and despite first round exits in both appearances, the Flyers are putting together a deep, young squad that figures only to improve over time. As usual, Simmonds will be front and center in all they do, whether it be through scoring goals, crushing body checks, or crashing the goal crease.
Third Line (C): Ryan O’Reilly
Drafted 33rd overall in 2009 by the Colorado Avalanche, Ryan O’Reilly did what almost no one ever does: make an NHL roster as an 18 year old that was not a first round pick. It’s a massive testament to his hockey IQ and understanding of the defensive zone that he was able to stick around the big leagues. With Matt Duchene being selected third overall in that same draft, it looked like the Avs had acquired their top two centermen for years to come, with two efficient draft picks.
Unfortunately, the marriage between the Avalance and the young center from Clinton, Ontario was never smooth. After his three year entry level contract expired, O’Reilly was unable to agree to a contract with the Avs, and only rejoined the team once he agreed to an offer sheet from the Calgary Flames – which the Avs accepted without hesitation.
Still, O’Reilly continued to be a defensive stalwart and improved his offensive production simultaneously, scoring 64 and 55 points during his final two seasons with the Avs. In the summer of 2015 the inevitable happened, and O’Reilly was shipped off to Buffalo for young prospects Nikita Zadorov and Mikhael Grigorenko. At 25 years old and with seven years of NHL experience, O’Reilly is considered a veteran on an extremely young Sabres team, and has a chance to be the leader of a squad that is absolutely loaded with potential.
Second Defensive Pairing (L): Roman Josi
Snagged with the 38th pick of the 2008 draft, Roman Josi is co
mfortably the best player the Swiss have ever produced. Josi took the completely unpaved path of growing through the Swiss League with Bern SC, and it’s ended up working rather well.
Busting into the league in 2011-12, Josi took a few seasons learning from Shea Weber before being exactly what the Preds needed: a replacement to Ryan Suter, who was lost to Minnesota that very next summer. Over the past three seasons Josi has scored no less than 13 goals, fantastic production from the backend. He has the seventh most goals by a defenseman in that same time frame and the fourth most points, trailing only Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and his new teammate, P.K. Subban.
Josi won’t go down as the best defenseman in his draft, as Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson are clearly superior, but finding a top pairing defender 38 picks into a draft is a huge success for the Preds, who are generally fantastic at snagging defensive talent later in the draft.
Second Defensive Pairing (R): P.K. Subban
P.K. Subban was the 15th defenseman selected in the 2007 draft, in a class whose top three pre-draft ranked defenders have failed to become anything more than good defensemen. Karl Alzner averages 21 minutes per game on an excellent Capitals squad, but with Thomas Hickey selected at number four and Keaton Ellerby the third defender chosen at 10th overall, the top of the draft has failed to deliver. Subban definitely checks out as the best defenceman in the draft – a steal at 43rd overall – but Ryan McDonagh (12th) and Kevin Shattenkirk (14th) have also outperformed the top of the 2007 defense class.
Montreal saw Subban’s unique ability to take over a hockey game with his flair and confidence in the offensive zone. He’s definitely a risk taker, scoring 278 points in 434 games with the Habs. Subban’s offensive creativity without a doubt does more good than harm.
He was swapped for two-way stalwart Shea Weber in the summer of 2016 in a deal that must have been solely based on preference. It may take a year for Subban to adjust to a differently built Predators team, but I imagine that he will be just fine in maintaining his offensive production amongst the game’s elite.
Second Line (LW): Milan Lucic
Speaking of Milan Lucic, he was part of a golden era of Vancouver Giants that not only filled up the draft boards every year, but won a Memorial Cup in 2007. Plucked toward the end of the second round with the 50th overall pick in 2006, Lucic has exceeded those rankings by scoring the sixth most goals of of anyone from the class, and the fifth most points.
Showing a keenness for crashing the net, playing hard along the wall, and sticking up for his teammates, Lucic graduated immediately from the WHL straight to the big show, and stuck with a Bruins squad that was going to make lifelong memories together. In 2011 Lucic scored 30 goals and was granted that beautiful opportunity to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup. Two seasons after a heartbreaking loss to the Blackhawks in the Cup Final of 2013, Lucic’s time in Boston expired as he was shipped to a similarly built Los Angeles Kings team.
This past summer he signed a seven-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers, riding shotgun to some guy named Connor McDavid. A new contract, and a new role for the Vancouver native as he tries to bring some veteran know-how to an otherwise young Oiler squad.
Second Line (RW): David Backes
Though primarily a center in his career, in order for David Backes to rightfully stake his claim in the top six of our second round all-star team, he needed to shift to the right wing where he’s spent some time recently.
Backes was a late second round pick – 62nd overall – and at 6-3 with incredible lower body strength, it was obvious how he was going to succeed in the NHL. Over his three seasons with Minnesota State, he was a model of consistency scoring 37, 40, and 42 points during his three years. The lack of offensive progress was no concern; this man was very clearly auditioning to be a two-way shutdown center, but one that could contribute on the score sheet as well.
Backes and fellow American T.J. Oshie were long identified as the core of the St. Louis Blues, but ultimately, were both deemed expendable in consecutive years – the latter being moved to Washington in 2015 and Backes having signed with Boston this off-season. Backes fits the mould of the way the Bruins play, and could be the critical ingredient the team parted with when it shipped Milan Lucic off to the Kings two summers ago.
As a part of the outstanding draft class of 2003 it’s unlikely he’ll ever be mentioned among the best, but he was the Blues Captain for a half decade which is incredible value based on where they grabbed him.
Second Line (C): David Krejci
From Bruin to Bruin. Boston feasted on the second round in the mid-2000s, scooping up a 30 goal scorer in Lucic, and a player in David Krejci who has regularly topped 60 points. Also a part of the Stanley Cup squad in 2011, Krejci was a snag with the 63rd overall pick in 2004. The top of that draft was outstanding – two guys named Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin – but after combing through the draft list, Krejci is easily a top-five player from the entire group.
Krejci tore it up in Gatineau of the QMJHL, he tore it up in Providence of the AHL, and after scoring 27 points in his rookie season, he fully arrived the following year with a 73 point campaign. The shifty Czech forward has topped 60 points five times, and is renowned league wide for his ability to dish the puck to his teammates.
Most impressively though, are his playoff statistics. In Boston’s two runs to the Cup Final, winning it in 2011 and falling short in 2013, Krejci has amassed a remarkable 49 points in 47 games – a true testament to his ability to raise his game when all the marbles are on the table.
First Defensive Pairing (L): Duncan Keith
Duncan Keith took a weird path to the NHL. Selected 54th overall in 2002, he played two seasons of college hockey with Michigan State, then played his last year of WHL eligibility – a combination not seen too often.
Regardless, it worked. Keith is among the most beautiful skaters in the league, possesses a great first pass, plenty of offensive instinct, and a tremendous ability to slow the play down and execute a perfect break out.
The numbers say it all: since Keith joined the league in 2005-06 and defenseman has more than his 469 points in 847 games. How about trophies? Well, they kind of say it all too: three Stanley Cups, two Olympic Golds, two James Norris Trophies, and a Conn Smythe as the MVP of the playoffs.
First Defensive Pairing (R): Shea Weber
Shea Weber has become a household name despite playing out of the spotlight in Nashville for a number of reasons, but one stands out in particular: his booming slap shot. Weber is regularly the star of the NHL’s All-Star weekend, competing for the prestigious award of NHL’s hardest shot, and in general, winning.
Weber also joined the league at the same time as his defense partner on this team, Duncan Keith, and has the third most points of any defender since that 2005-06 season. He doesn’t play a sexy offensive game like some of today’s younger defensemen, but he crushes the opposition into the boards, is known for his famous cross-check before entering a battle in the corner, makes a great pass out of his own zone, and is impossible to knock off the puck.
In any season the Sicamous, B.C. native has played over 75 games, he’s never scored less than 15 goals. I mean, forwards scoring 20 goals consistently is impressive. A defenseman scoring 15 consistently? Insane. Weber’s 171 goals (and counting) since he joined the league is the most by a longshot, with Brent Burns sitting second with 146 (and counting).
Weber was swapped for P.K. Subban this past summer in one of the most fascinating trades of the decade, and despite being four years older, brings to the Canadiens an incredible package as an all-around defender that you hate to play against, which should fit well with Carey Price manning the net.
First Line (LW): James Neal
Eight seasons in the NHL, eight seasons of 20 goals or more. James Neal doesn’t quite have the prolonged level of eliteness that other players players on this squad does, but it is downright irresponsible to forget that for three seasons from 2011-12 to 2013-14 Neal was third amongst all players with 0.49 goals per game, only trailing two dudes named Steve Stamkos (0.68) and Alex Ovechkin (0.59) – the former plopping a 60 goal season down in the process. It’s a shame one of Neal’s elite seasons was cut down by the 2012 lockout, as he might have added another 35 or 40 goal season to his resume.
Neal was deemed expendable by the Pens in the summer of 2014, swapped for Nic Spaling and Patric Hornqvist. He’s unlikely to ever score 40 again absent of Evgeni Malkin, but Neal did pop in 31 last year, doing so for the first time without the Russian star. The Preds play a very different style from the Penguins, but Neal’s eight season streak of 20 goal seasons shouldn’t be coming to an end anytime soon, as the Whitby, Ontario native is still just 29 years old, and the Preds have plenty of offensive weapons.
First Line (RW): Nikita Kucherov
Nikita Kucherov has garnered some negative attention lately after holding out from training camp before accepting his fate and signing an incredibly team friendly three-year deal worth $14.3 million. Training camp or not, Kucherov hasn’t missed a beat since his incredible 2016 playoffs that saw him score 11 goals in 17 games. The shifty winger has averaged around 30 goals in his first two NHL campaigns, and after a red hot start with 15 points in his first 11 games, Kucherov is a primary reason the Lightning are looking like such an incredible threat. Throw his name into the mix with the likes of Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Jonathan Drouin, and Andrei Vasilevksiy, and it’s clear this Lightning core will be strong contenders out of the East for years to come.
Incredible stickhandling, a deceptive wrist shot, a strong two way game, and a sparkling post season career (45GP, 22G, 42PTS), and the 23 year old Russian shows real possibility of becoming the best player not only of his 2011 draft, but of every player in this entire team. The Moscow native is still improving, and with Jonathan Drouin still only 21 years old, the Lightning are set on the wings for years to come. Not bad for a 58th pick.
First Line (C): Patrice Bergeron (Captain)
As of right now, Patrice Bergeron holds the distinct privilege of being the best second round pick this century. The Bruins absolutely dominated the second round in the mid-2000s, grabbing Bergeron 45th in 2003, Krejci in 2004, and then Lucic in 2006. All three players crack the top-six of this All-Star team, and all three were instrumental to the Bruins’ Stanley Cup victory in 2011.
Patrice Bergeron has never blown anyone out of the water offensively with career highs of 32 goals and 73 points, but with three Selke Trophies as the league’s best defensive forward and a key component of their 2011 Cup victory, it’s clear Bergeron does many things that don’t show up in goals and assists. Since the league started tracking shots for percentages in the 2010-11 season, Bergeron is second in the entire league with an astounding 58% of all shot attempts. No matter who he plays against, the opposition is consistently generating roughly 40% of the shots, troubling numbers for success.
Bergeron’s quick release, outstanding defensive stick, great vision, and sound two way play makes him the type of center that teams build around. Internationally, Bergeron has won two Olympic gold medals, a World Cup of Hockey, and a World Junior Championship. There is nothing Bergeron has not done at the highest level of hockey which makes him an obvious choice for Captain of this All-Star team.
Backup Goaltender: Robin Lehner
A mid second round pick at 46th overall, Robin Lehner was the second goalie selected in the 2009 NHL draft, behind Mikko Koskanen (NYI) at 31st overall. Lehner became a young professional, starting 22 games as a 20 year old in the 2010-2011 AHL season. Two years later the ‘tender from Gotehnburg, Sweden would truly show his first blast of promise – a 31 game AHL season where he posted a sparkling .938 save percentage.
After a hot first two years in Ottawa, Lehner then posted consecutive seasons of mediocrity, unable to keep a save percentage above .913. With Craig Anderson performing admirably and Andrew Hammond deciding to start his career on a 13 game winning streak, Lehner was offered to the rest of the NHL. Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray had been assembling a young core for quite some time now – with Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen beginning to impress – and pulled the trigger on a goaltender he would envision growing alongside his young nucleus.
So far, the returns look promising. He was impeded by a knee injury suffered in his first game as a Sabre back in October 2015, but since then he’s posted a .926 save percentage for a young team that desperately needs a reliable tender. It’s only been 29 games, but Lehner will easily be the best goaltender taken in his draft, and should be the cornerstone ‘tender that the Sabres were hoping for when they acquired him.
Starting Goaltender: Corey Crawford
Corey Crawford might be the most underappreciated ‘tender in the league. Always considered to be riding the coattails of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith, Crawford has backstopped the Blackhawks to two of their three Cup victories in the last six years.
The 2003 NHL Draft saw a number of starting goalies selected: Fleury at number one overall, Jaroslav Halak, Jimmy Howard, Brian Elliott, and of course, Crawford who was selected 52nd overall. Fleury and Crawford both have two Stanley Cups so they’ve certainly been the most successful, but it’s hard to separate the two as far as who the “best goalie” in the 2003 draft is. Despite popular opinion, my vote goes to Crawford.
Crawford no longer can be considered just a piece to the Blackhawks Cup puzzle. He has been just as important as some of their marquee names. There was a reason Crawford was named to Canada’s World Cup team this past September, and despite never seeing game action behind the Vezina-caliber talent of Carey Price and Braden Holtby, Crawford edged out plenty of “elite” goalies for the opportunity to wear that Maple Leaf.
Locked up until the summer of 2020, the Blackhawks have zero concern over who will be manning the net over the next four years.
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