Every NHL team has been able to select a player in the mid-to-late draft rounds who panned out to be a quality NHL contributor. Some of the players taken turned out to be real steals. You’ll always have your first overall selections who light up the league, and then your early round busts. When a NHL team can pick a player that was passed over by every team at least once, and that player turns into a bona fide superstar, there is real satisfaction from team management and fans.
You see it in every sport. Tom Brady wasn’t taken until the sixth round by the New England Patriots. Mike Piazza wasn’t drafted until the 62nd round in 1988 by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It’s no different in hockey. Actually, there are quite a few late-round draft picks who developed Hall of Fame careers in the NHL.
It is one of the things about the NHL draft which makes it so fun. Yes, we like to follow along to see which player will go off the board first. Which players and picks might get traded. But we also like to look for those hidden gems. Which player should have been taken earlier (Johnny Gaudreau, anyone?). Who is going to surpass expectations or prove the league wrong for letting them slide so far in the draft.
It will happen this year too. A player will be passed over in multiple rounds who becomes the steal of this year’s NHL draft. We’ll just have to wait and see who that player turns out to be.
Anaheim Ducks – Ryan Getzlaf & Corey Perry – (2003, 19th and 28th overall)
It might be a cop out putting these two together and the fact that they were both first round picks, but this wasn’t an ordinary draft. The 2003 class is unquestionably the best of all time. The Ducks landed Getzlaf and Perry with the 19th and 28th picks overall while names that went before them include Nikolai Zherdev, Andrei Kostitsyn and Hugh Jessiman. A re-draft today would likely have Getzlaf at no.1 and Perry in the top five. Anaheim got two cornerstone players in one draft round, which makes the pair a steal.
Arizona Coyotes – Keith Yandle (2005, 105th overall)
Keith Yandle was selected in the fourth round of the 2005 NHL draft, with the 105th overall pick. The defenseman would reach the NHL during the 2006-07 season, suiting up in 7 games during the regular season for the Coyotes. Yandle’s time on the ice would increase steadily over his first few seasons in the league. By 2009-10, Yandle was scoring at a half-a-point per-game, with 41 total in a full 82 game season. He also registered a plus-16 rating on-ice, demonstrating his contributions to the team’s scoring. Yandle would continue to produce for the Coyotes, earning an All-Star selection in both 2011 and 2012.
Boston Bruins – Don Sweeney (1984, 166th overall)
Don Sweeney was selected by the Boston Bruins with the 166th overall pick, in the eighth round of the 1984 NHL draft. Considering how high this pick was, Sweeney went on to have a very long career as a member of the Boston Bruins. In fact, Sweeney played for fifteen seasons with the Bruins. During that time span, Sweeney racked up 211 regular season assists and 52 goals on the blue line for Boston. He also contributed with 19 points (9 goals, 10 assists) in 103 playoff games with the Bruins.
Buffalo Sabres – Ryan Miller (1999, 138th overall)
Ryan Miller wasn’t taken by the Buffalo Sabres until the fifth round of the 1999 NHL draft, when he was picked up with the 138th overall selection. Sixteen goaltenders were selected ahead of Miller in that draft. Miller proved the Sabres right in their selection of him. In 2001, Miller won the Hobey Baker Award at Michigan State University as the top NCAA men’s ice hockey player. After three seasons with Michigan State, Miller joined the Sabres’ organization in the AHL. He would see some NHL ice-time over the next couple of seasons.
Following the NHL lockout in 2004-05, Miller would get his chance to shine with Buffalo. With 30 wins in 48 games during 2005-06, Miller entrenched himself as Buffalo’s starting netminder. Miller’s performance would peak with the Sabres in the 2009-10 NHL season, when he was awarded the Vezina Trophy.
Calgary Flames – Brett Hull (1984, 117th overall)
The Calgary Flames have actually had quite a few draft picks which could have been mentioned here for the biggest steal. The most notable of these players is Brett Hull. Selected in the sixth round of the 1984 NHL draft, Hull was the 117th overall pick. He played for two seasons with the University of Minnesota-Duluth before joining Calgary for two playoff appearances in 1986. Hull spent most of the 1986-87 season with the Flames’ AHL affiliate in Moncton. The following season would see Brett make his name on the NHL level as he scored 26 goals with 24 assists in just 52 games.
The Flames didn’t see Hull as a long-term part of their organization and traded him to the St. Louis Blues, where he would establish himself as one of the finest snipers in the game of hockey. Still, the Flames got some contributors in the Hull trade that helped them in their 1989 Cup win, so we’ll call it a steal.
Carolina Hurricanes – Erik Cole (1998, 71st overall)
Erik Cole is one of the most prolific scorers in Carolina Hurricanes history. Having played 557 games for the Hurricanes, he notched 363 total points. Carolina acquired Cole in the third round of the 1998 NHL draft, with the 71st overall selection. Cole finished up his third season at Clarkson University before joining the Cincinnati Cyclones of the IHL. He played part of the 1999-00 season and all of the 2000-01 season with the Cyclones, before making the jump to the Hurricanes for the 2001-02 season.
In that rookie campaign, Cole would put up a very respectable 40 points in 81 games. He would become a fixture with the Hurricanes for several seasons, prior to oddly being traded to the Edmonton Oilers in 2008 and then back to the Hurricanes in 2009.
Chicago Blackhawks – Dominik Hasek (1983, 199th overall)
Many fans won’t recall that Dominik Hasek was once a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. Not only did the Blackhawks get Hasek in the NHL draft, but they stole him in the 10th round. In 1983, Hasek was taken with pick no. 199. Hasek, who some consider the greatest goaltender ever, saw 25 regular season and six playoff games of action for Chicago between the 1990-91 and 1991-92 NHL seasons.
In August of 1992, the Blackhawks traded Dominik Hasek to the Buffalo Sabres for goalie Stephane Beauregard and future considerations. With Buffalo, Hasek displayed the skill in net which earned him a whopping six Vezina Trophies. It’s unfortunate the Hawks never reaped the benefits of this steal.
Colorado Avalanche – Radim Vrbata (1999, 212th overall)
Radim Vrbata wasn’t selected by the Colorado Avalanche until the seventh-round, with the 212th overall draft pick in 1999. Although he played just two seasons with the Avalanche, Vrbata did blossom into a goal-scoring winger at the NHL level. In Colorado history, only Alex Tanguay has scored more points than Vrbata’s 554 at the NHL level. Vrbata has had a lengthy career, most recently putting up 27 points in 63 games for the Vancouver Canucks. His finest season, statistically, came in 2011-12, when he notched 62 points (35 goals, 27 assists), in 77 games for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Cam Atkinson (2008, 157th overall)
In 2008, the Columbus Blue Jackets selected forward Cam Atkinson in the sixth round with pick number 157. Atkinson would play three seasons for the college hockey powerhouse, Boston College. He would split the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons between the Springfield Falcons of the AHL and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Beginning with the 2013-14 NHL season, Atkinson has been a mainstay with Columbus. In each of his three full seasons with the team he has not scored less than 40 points. In 2015-16, Atkinson set a career-high with 53 points (27 goals, 26 assists).
Dallas Stars – Jamie Benn (2007, 129th overall)
Looking at the production from Jamie Benn over the past few seasons, it’s really hard to believe that he wasn’t selected until the fifth round, with the 129th overall draft pick in 2007. That is the case however. His skating ability as a younger player may have caused some teams to overlook Benn. He has come a long way in that department though, as the Stars can attest. Benn played two seasons in the WHL for the Kelowna Rockets, the last of which he scored 46 goals in 56 games. After that performance, Benn made the jump right to the NHL with Dallas.
As a rookie, Benn notched half-a-point per-game, with 41 in a full 82 contests. He has since upped his goal totals in each of the past four seasons, most recently setting a mark of 41 in 2015-16. Benn has also now scored more than a point-per-game in each of the past two seasons.
Detroit Red Wings – Pavel Datsyuk (1998, 171st overall)
The Detroit Red Wings have had several mid-to-late round draft picks who turned out to be successful with the team. We’re only picking one here though, so let’s go with Pavel Datsyuk. The production of Datsyuk over the years seems even more impressive when you consider that he wasn’t picked until the sixth-round of the 1998 NHL draft, with the 171st overall selection. The Russian-born center sits sixth all-time on the Detroit Red Wings points-scored list, having amassed 918 regular season points (314 goals, 604 assists).
Edmonton Oilers – Mark Messier (1979, 48th overall)
Considering the Oilers didn’t select Mark Messier, one of the greatest players to ever play the game, until the third-round of the 1979 NHL draft, you could certainly call the pick a steal. Taken with pick number 48, Messier joined the Oilers for the 1979-80 NHL season and there was no looking back. He notched 33 points in 75 games as a rookie, and showed how feisty he could be with 120 penalty minutes. Messier’s point total would go up over the next few seasons, reaching 106 in 1982-83.
This former third-round draft pick would guide the Edmonton Oilers to five Stanley Cups, followed by one with the New York Rangers.
Florida Panthers – Filip Kuba (1995, 192nd overall)
The Panthers really didn’t draft that well for the better part of their existence, which it probably why they failed to make the playoffs in 13 of the last 15 seasons.
Filip Kuba didn’t quite make his name with the Florida Panthers, but his production and longevity prove that he was a steal of a draft pick for the team. Selected with the 192nd pick in the eighth round of the 1995 draft, Kuba played in just 18 games over his first two seasons with Florida.
In March of 2000, the Panthers traded Kuba to the Calgary Flames. The Minnesota Wild would claim Kuba in the expansion draft later that year. He found his footing in Minnesota, playing there for five seasons. Over a 14 season NHL career, which he finished with one season in Florida, Kuba racked up 333 points (70 goals, 263 assists).
Los Angeles Kings – Luc Robitaille (1984, 171st overall)
Selecting a Hall of Fame player in the ninth round of the draft is impressive. That’s what the Los Angeles Kings did when they picked Luc Robitaille with the 171st pick of the 1984 NHL draft. Robitaille played a few seasons with the Hull Olympiques of the QMJHL before making the jump to the Kings. Robitaille’s skill was clearly evident as a rookie when he earned more than a point-per-game. For his encore performance, in his second NHL season, Robitaille broke the 100 point mark, notching 111 points in 80 games.
Over his career, Robitaille would spend some time with the Penguins, Rangers and Red Wings. He’ll always be associated with the Los Angeles Kings though, as one of the biggest draft steals of all-time.
Minnesota Wild – Cal Clutterbuck (2006, 72nd overall)
In the relatively short existence of the Minnesota Wild, their biggest draft steal has been Cal Clutterbuck. Cal was selected with the 72nd overall pick in the third round of the 2006 NHL draft. He played three seasons with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL, before joining the Houston Aeros of the AHL. The winger saw two games of action with the Wild in 2007-08, before becoming a regular with Minnesota in 2008-09. In that rookie campaign, Clutterbuck put up 18 points in 78 games. He would then increase that point total over the next couple of seasons, notching 34 points in 2010-11.
Clutterbuck was traded to the New York Islanders during the 2013 NHL draft. Over his nine-year career to-date, Clutterbuck has put up 168 points in 572 regular season games.
Montreal Canadiens – Patrick Roy (1984, 51st overall)
Have the Montreal Canadiens had higher draft picks who have had success at the NHL level? Sure. But picking one of the greatest goaltenders ever, if not the greatest goaltender ever, in the third round is definitely a huge steal. Patrick Roy wasn’t taken until pick number 51 in the 1984 NHL entry draft. Roy would spend 12 years with Montreal and another eight in Colorado, establishing a Hall of Fame career in nets. He won two Conn Smythe trophies, three Vezina trophies, four Jennings trophies, and led the league in save percentage four times while a member of the Canadiens.
After he was headed to Colorado, he would pick up another Conn Smythe and Jennings trophy for his mantle. He also brought two Stanley Cups each to Montreal and Colorado. Not bad for a third round draft pick.
Nashville Predators – Pekka Rinne (2004, 258th overall)
Here, we have another goaltender taken in a late round of the draft who blossomed into a pure puck stopper. Pekka Rinne was selected by the Nashville Predators with the 258th overall pick in the eighth round of the 2004 NHL draft. At the time, Rinne was playing with Karpat of the SM-liiga. His first few seasons in North America would be spent with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL. Rinne became an established NHL netminder in 2008-09, playing in 52 games for Nashville, and putting up a 2.38 GAA.
Since that time, Rinne has become one of the finest netminders in the league. He led the league in wins for the 2011-12 season with 43 and has twice been the runner-up for the Vezina.
New Jersey Devils – Brian Gionta (1998, 82nd overall)
Gionta fits into the mold of player who some teams think might be too small. Not the New Jersey Devils though. That’s why they were able to steal him with the 82nd overall pick in the third round of the 1998 NHL draft. Gionta was in college playing for Boston College and contributing more than a point-per-game when the Devils selected him. After graduating, Gionta split time with Albany of the AHL and New Jersey, seeing some success at the NHL level.
It was after the lockout of 2004-05 that Gionta really busted onto the scene. In 2005-06, Gionta scored a whopping 48 goals, with 41 assists, scoring over a point-per-game. At that time, the Devils knew they had a draft steal. Gionta had a few more productive seasons with New Jersey, before heading to Montreal, where he would captain the Canadiens. Over his 14-year NHL career, Gionta has put up 553 points in 924 games.
New York Islanders – Marty McInnis (1988, 163rd overall)
The New York Islanders have seen much of their top producers come from early draft picks. One player who scored quite a bit for not only the Islanders but a few other teams, who wasn’t selected early is Marty McInnis. Taken by the Islanders with the 163rd pick, in the eighth round of the 1988 NHL draft, McInnis joined the team for 15 games in 1991-92, putting up eight points. He would become a regular point producer for New York over the next few seasons. In six seasons with the Islanders, McInnis notched 198 regular season points. He’d go on to play with the Ducks, Flames and Bruins as well, over a 15-year NHL career.
New York Rangers – Henrik Lundqvist – (2000, 205th overall)
Although he was a top-rated European prospect, Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t selected until the seventh round, with the 205th overall pick in 2000. And what a steal that pick has turned out to be. Every other Swedish prospect who made the trip to the Saddledome in Calgary for the draft was selected before Henrik Lundqvist. His own brother was taken in the third round by the Dallas Stars. Crister Rockstrom, the European scout for the Rangers wanted Henrik though and eventually he got him.
So, how has the pick turned out for New York? King Henrik was third in the Vezina trophy voting as a rookie. He has finished in the top three for the Vezina trophy candidates five times, and taken the trophy home once. Lundqvist has guided his team to the Stanley Cup Final and has earned 55 victories in 103 playoff starts. Those are quite some accomplishments for a seventh round pick.
Philadelphia Flyers – Rick Tocchet – (1983, 121st overall)
Rick Tocchet was selected in the sixth round of the 1983 NHL draft with the 121st overall pick. Tocchet finished up one more season after his selection, with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL before he joined the Philadelphia Flyers for the full 1984-85 NHL season. He had quite a good rookie season with the Flyers. Tocchet put up 39 points (14 goals, 25 assists) in 75 games for that first campaign. Over several seasons, Tocchet continued to excel with the Flyers, reaching his statistical peak with the team in 1989-90, when he notched 96 points (37 goals, 59 assists).
He was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992, where he’d continue to perform. Tocchet’s career would take him to the Kings, Bruins, Capitals and Coyotes before coming back to where it all started in Philadelphia for his final three seasons. All told, Tocchet racked up 952 points in 1,144 regular season games.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Mark Recchi
Mark Recchi was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins with the 67th overall pick in the fourth round of the 1988 NHL draft. He saw action in that first season after being drafted, getting into 15 games for the Penguins. The following campaign, 1989-90, Recchi would spend the majority of his playing days with Pittsburgh in the NHL. He really showed his skill that season, and it wasn’t what you might expect from a fourth-round pick. In 74 games, Recchi scored 67 points (30 goals, 37 assists). To top that, Recchi exploded for 113 points (40 goals, 73 assists) in the following season. Although he was performing, the Penguins traded Recchi to the Philadelphia Flyers in February of 1992, in a deal that brought Rick Tocchet to Pittsburgh.
Ottawa Senators – Daniel Alfredsson (1994, 133rd overall)
It was quickly clear that the Senators got a steal in drafting Daniel Alfredsson with the 133rd overall pick in the 1994 NHL draft. Joining the Ottawa Senators for the 1995-96 season, Alfredsson scored 61 points (26 goals, 35 assists) in a full 82 games. That performance earned him the Calder trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year. Alfredsson would continue to produce for the Senators, peaking with 103 points in the 2005-06 season. This former sixth round draft selection would wind up scoring more points than any other player in Ottawa Senators’ history. Over 17 seasons in Ottawa, Alfredsson scored 1,108 points in 1,178 games.
San Jose Sharks – Evgeni Nabokov (1994, 219th overall)
Any player taken in the ninth round of the NHL draft, particularly in the post-expansion era, can be considered a longshot. Evgeni Nabokov was just such a player. The goaltender was taken by the San Jose Sharks with the 219th overall pick in the 1994 draft. It was reported that the San Jose Sharks had never seen Nabokov play prior to his selection. Paying them back in spades for their pick, Nabokov became one of the finest goaltenders in the NHL. It wasn’t until the 1999-00 season that Nabokov reached the NHL however.
In his second season with the Sharks, Nabokov was getting the lion’s share of time in the net. His play was outstanding as he earned the Calder trophy for the rookie of the year. He would become a fixture with San Jose, playing ten years for them. During that span, Nabokov would win 209 games with a .912 save percentage and 2.39 GAA. Five times during his tenure in San Jose, Nabokov would be in the top five for the Vezina trophy voting.
St. Louis Blues – Doug Gilmour (1982, 134th overall)
Doug Gilmour was eligible for the NHL draft in 1981, however he was not selected. The following year, the St. Louis Blues took a flyer on Gilmour with the 134th overall pick in round seven of the 1982 NHL draft. Gilmour would play in the OHL after he was drafted, remaining with the Cornwall Royals, while scoring a hefty 177 points. The following season, Gilmour would make the Blues’ team and stick in the NHL for the rest of his career.
Recognized for defensive skill as a forward, he received votes for the Selke trophy in three of his five seasons with the Blues. During his time in St. Louis, Gilmour would also rack up 354 points in 384 regular season games.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Brad Richards (1998, 64th overall)
Brad Richards was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third round of the 1998 NHL draft with the 64th overall pick. Having been selected while playing for the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL, Richards would spend two more seasons with that team prior to joining the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 2000-01 season. Contributing immediately at the NHL level, Richards put up 62 points in his rookie season, playing in a full 82 games. He was second in the Calder trophy voting for the rookie of the year. Richards also came in fourth in the Selke trophy voting, showing his skill on both offense and defense.
In his sophomore campaign with the Lightning, Richards equaled his point total from his rookie season. Just two years later, Richards would help guide Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup Championship, and in the process, he’d earn the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Tomas Kaberle (1996, 204th overall)
The Toronto Maple Leafs selected Tomas Kaberle with the 204th pick in the eighth round of the 1996 NHL draft. Kaberle was playing for KIadno in the Czech League when he was taken by the Maple Leafs, and he wasn’t putting many points on the board. That would change when he began playing for Toronto in 1998. As a rookie, the defenseman managed to notch 22 points in 57 games. In each of the next two seasons, Kaberle would increase his points total. His production for Toronto peaked in 2005-06 when he accumulated 67 points. A four-time All-Star selection, Kaberle spent 12 seasons with Toronto, notching 520 points.
Vancouver Canucks – Pavel Bure (1989, 113th overall)
This draft pick by the Canucks was a pure steal. Pavel Bure, also known as “The Russian Rocket”, was only supposed to be available to be drafted in the first three rounds as an 18 year-old. To be selected later than that, he should have played in at least two seasons for his elite-level European club. Through investigation by Vancouver’s head scout, Mike Penny, it was determined that Bure played in additional exhibition and international games which made Bure eligible as a late-round draft pick. And so the Canucks selected Bure with the 113th pick, in the sixth round of the 1989 NHL draft.
Reaching the NHL with Vancouver in 1991, it was immediately clear that they had a future superstar on their hands. Bure put up 60 points as a rookie and won the Calder trophy. He would spend seven years with Vancouver and in that time he averaged more than a point-per-game with 478 points in 428 games.
Washington Capitals – Peter Bondra (1990, 156th overall)
One of the greatest players in Washington Capitals’ history wasn’t selected until the eighth round of the 1990 NHL draft. The Capitals took Peter Bondra with the 156th overall pick in that year’s draft, and it would turn out to be one of the best selections the team has ever made. Bondra made the jump from his Czech League team to the Capitals in the season following the draft. His impact was immediate as the winger put up 28 points in 54 games as a rookie. Points would continue to accumulate for Bondra, as he reached more than a point-per-game during the 1992-93 NHL season. Over a 14-year career with Washington, Bondra became synonymous with the Capitals. In the team’s history, only Alexander Ovechkin has more goals and points than Bondra does.
Winnipeg Jets – Toby Enstrom (2003, 239th overall)
Toby Enstrom was selected when the organization was called the Atlanta Thrashers rather than the Winnipeg Jets. Nevertheless, he was a late-round steal, getting picked in the eighth round of the 2003 NHL draft, with pick number 239. The Swedish defenseman played for four seasons with MODO Hockey Ornskoldsvik, prior to joining the Thrashers for the 2007-08 season. Once Enstrom was with the team, he contributed quite nicely, from an offensive standpoint. As a rookie, Toby notched 38 points in a full season and came in sixth-place for Calder trophy voting.
Enstrom has remained with the organization in the move from Atlanta to Winnipeg and has become a cornerstone of their defensive corps. Over his nine seasons with the organization, Enstrom has accumulated 288 points.
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