A team that drafts within the top 5, or even the top 10 picks of the first round will have the best chances at drafting someone who will make an impact on the team either immediately or within only a few years. importance of draft seen with salary caps. A team usually doesn't have picks that high in the first round unless they're consistently bad. Most teams end up picking in the bottom half of the first round, and picks at that point or after comes down to key scouting.
The amount of parity we see now in the NHL brings with it a lot of "win now" attitudes as well. With that, teams are willing to trade away their best chance at drafting a good player (i.e. their first round picks) in order to acquire a player that fits their team and can help them reach the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup. A chance to do well in the playoffs thanks to a key addition far outweighs the value of late first round picks, and any pick thereafter, since the player drafted isn't guaranteed to contribute to the team. And if he does, it may not be until further down the road.
The salary cap also plays a huge role in being able to find value later in the draft. With 7 rounds to choose from, there's a chance at a player that can help the team for free. Not only will he be signed to a cheaper contract, but it also didn't cost any trade capital to acquire him. With a team that has a core that takes up quite a bit of their salary cap, like Chicago, utilizing young players on cheap contracts has become key to having a good team.
So dating back to the 2007 draft, we'll be looking at every team's biggest steal of the past decade (excluding Vegas, as we don't know who will pan out from their 2017 draft).
30 Anaheim Ducks: John Gibson
Goalies hardly go in the first round anymore and the Ducks couldn't be happier. Up until last year, they had two draft steals minding the net for them. Andersen, before being traded to Toronto was originally drafted at 187th in 2010 but re-entered the draft in 2012 and was taken 87th by the Ducks. He was good for Anaheim, especially in the playoffs, and now has established himself as the number one for the Leafs. The other goalie is the borderline elite 23-year-old John Gibson.
He was drafted 39th overall just a year after Andersen was drafted, in 2011. His past two seasons have had him in the low 2.00 goals against average and no less than .920 save percentage. The best is still to come.
29 Arizona Coyotes: Christian Dvorak
Not much has come from the Coyotes later round picks, and they tend to pick pretty high in the first round as well. Their best bet at value so far this past decade might be Dvorak. Dvorak had two monster seasons in the OHL with the London Knights. He had 230 points in 125 games, and was a force playing both seasons with Mitch Marner of the Leafs . He was drafted 58th overall by Arizona in 2014 and looks like he'll be a solid second line center behind the newly acquired Derek Stepan. In his first full season and on a very young team that is still missing a lot of pieces, Dvorak did decent with 15 goals and 18 assists in 78 games.
28 Boston Bruins: David Pastrnak
Probably for the first time ever, lacking toughness ended up helping the Bruins. Pastrnak was a gem for Boston at 25th overall in 2014. His scrawniness (weighing only 168 lbs in his draft year) and preference for style over brawn didn't end up hurting him at all once he transitioned to the NHL. The first two years of his NHL career saw him post only 53 points in 97 games before exploding offensively this past season.
Having turned only 21 this past May, Pastrnak had 34 goals and 70 points in just 75 games. It's scary to think what he'll do when he really hits his prime in his mid 20s. He has a lot of talent around him in Boston among the Bruins' group of forwards, but make no mistake about it; plenty of teams are kicking themselves today.
27 Buffalo Sabres: Tyler Ennis
Going back through a decade of drafting and it's pretty easy to see why Buffalo is where they've been for years. Apart from Jack Eichel, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Tyler Myers (before the injuries) Buffalo hasn't really drafted well with any of their picks. The only decent player they've drafted later was Tyler Ennis at 26th overall in 2008. He had been decent for them, with about mid 40s point potential. But the past two seasons have been marred by injuries for him. Just this season he played 51 games with only 13 points.
Now playing with the Wild, we'll see if he can at least be healthy before thinking of his production again. It remains to be seen if the more recent years have brought the Sabres more success in later round picks.
26 Calgary Flames: Johnny Gaudreau
The theme of skilled players going later regardless of their offensive talent will continue to reward teams until general managers realize that the league is totally different now. Calgary won't complain though, since they drafted their superstar 104th overall because of his 5'9", 157 lbs stature. Drafted out of the USHL, Gaudreau then went on to dominate Hockey East with Boston College, ending his college career with a mighty 2 point per game average. His first full year with Calgary really made a statement, with 24 goals and 40 assists in 80 games. The season after was even better with 78 points in 79 games.
He cooled off a bit with 61 points in only 72 games this past season, but at only 23 and playing with an equally impressive Sean Monahan, it doesn't look like many bad seasons are ahead for Gaudreau.
25 Carolina Hurricanes: Justin Faulk
Carolina has had two stellar second round picks these past few years with Sebastien Aho (35th overall in 2015) and Justin Faulk (37th overall in 2010). Though Aho had 49 points in 82 games in his first season, the draft steal will have to go to their main man on defense. Faulk is still only 25 but it feels like he's been the leader of that blue line for ages now. Injuries have probably kept him from already meeting his full potential, but that doesn't diminish how good he's been for them. In 2014-15, at only 22, Faulk played his first 82 game season and had an incredible 49 points. He's also scored 15 or more goals these past three season. Faulk, having missed 23 games these past two seasons, will make that Hurricanes offense even more dangerous when he's healthy again.
24 Chicago Blackhawks: Brandon Saad
With the cap crunch always haunting the Hawks, the drafting of a good player like Saad at 43rd overall in 2011 was huge. He's already won two cups with the Hawks: in 2013 and 2015. He played on a checking line in 2013 and was very effective, even at 20 years old. Two years later he saw his role expanded, playing and succeeding on a line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. He's turned into a consistent 50 point player with a potential for 30 goals, as seen in his 31 goals in 2015-16 in his first season with Columbus.
Now back with Chicago after the Hawks traded their dynamic forward Artemi Panarin for him, Saad will probably end up back with Toews to form a skilled yet defensive duo.
23 Colorado Avalanche: Tyson Barrie
It's easy to forget just how good offensively Barrie is because of how bad Colorado is overall. He was drafted 64th overall in 2009, after having dominated in the WHL for the Kelowna Rockets as a defenseman with 72 points in 63 games. A great passer with a good shot as well, Barrie's first good season in 2013-14 came after only playing 6 AHL games. He showed he was ready for top 4 minutes with 38 points in 64 games and improved it the following season, with his career high of 53 points in 80 games. His 49 points the season after really got hopes high for Barrie as a consistent 45-55 point defenseman, but he's since regressed to only 38 points in 74 games.
22 Columbus Blue Jackets: Cam Atkinson
Drafted all the way away in at 157th overall in 2008, it took Atkinson a while to reach his full potential. At 5'8" and 182 pounds, he's by no means intimidating. But he has an extremely good shot and it was put on display this season under John Tortorella. He was always good for 20+ goals, as was seen by his three consecutive seasons of posting at least that many goals until the 2016-17 season. This past year though saw him finally break the 30 goal mark, with 35 goals and 27 points in 82 games. Thanks to Torterella's meticulous power play, it was clockwork seeing Atkinson on the power play. He doubled his previous career high of power play points, finishing with 10 goals and 21 points on the man advantage. He also showed off his speed on the penalty kill, with three shorthanded goals last season.
21 Dallas Stars: Jamie Benn
The scouting team in Dallas for the 2007 draft must get a good night's sleep every night. They drafted their franchise player all the way in the 5th round. Going 129th overall, Jamie Benn really is one of the best draft steals of all time. He was drafted so late due in part to the fact he was playing for the Victoria Grizzlies in the BCHL at the time, which isn't quite as reputable as the leagues under the CHL banner. Dallas took no risk drafting him at 129th overall since players drafted after the second round usually don't make it. From his second NHL season onwards, Benn hasn't posted fewer than 0.8 points per game and did nothing but improve, ultimately winning the Art Ross trophy (thanks to a four point final game of the season) during the 2014-15 season.
20 Detroit Red Wings: Gustav Nyquist
Detroit making draft steals is nothing new considering how far in the draft their star players like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were taken. Though not even close to the offensive production as those two, Nyquist was still great value at 121st overall in 2008. He was dominating the AHL while getting some playing time in the NHL up until the 2013-14 season. That season he scored 28 goals and had 48 points in the 57 games he played with Detroit, easily promoting himself to a permanent in the NHL. His first 82 game season saw him score 27 goals and 27 assists (24 points on the power play). Since then, his offense has dipped a bit but he's still a quality top 6 forward.
19 Edmonton Oilers: Jordan Eberle
It's about time Eberle gets out of Edmonton and he will now probably thrive with the Islanders next to John Tavares. His bad play and $6M per year contract were greatly exaggerated as he was always a good point producer for the Oilers. He was a great pick for them at 22nd overall in 2008. A bit of hype was built around him too, because who can forget how amazing he was in both world junior finals for Canada? His international success continued with the Oilers as well, with 43 points in 69 games in his first season. He was even better the next year, with 76 points in 78 games. He was consistent until these two quieter seasons by his standards, but will bring skill at right wing for the Islanders that hasn't been seen since Kyle Okposo left.
18 Florida Panthers: Vincent Trocheck
The extensive injuries for the Panthers this past season saw a jump in time on ice for Trocheck and he made the most of it. Not much of an improvement in terms of points (probably due to playing in tougher on ice matchups), Trocheck still took full advantage of his minutes by taking a good volume of shots with 230 of them. He was also given the bulk of his team's faceoffs and took about 500 more than last year. Drafted 64th overall in 2011, the 24 year old has now comfortably taken over the second line center role. His wicked shot has been on display the past two seasons with 48 goals over that span to go along with two seasons of 50+ points.
17 Los Angeles Kings: Wayne Simmonds
Simmonds was drafted 61st overall in 2007 and played only three seasons before being traded with Brayden Schenn for Mike Richards of the Flyers. Once in Philly, Simmonds' career really took off. In all the non lockout shortened seasons since he got there, Simmonds hasn't scored fewer than 28 goals. He's fantastic on the power play because of how good he is at crashing the net and scoring goals close to the crease, as well as with deflections. He's now had four seasons in a row with over 21 power play points and helps Philly's first unit consistently be one of the best in the league. Simmonds is also just overall terrifying to play against, with several seasons of 100+ PIMs as well as well over 100 hits per season.
16 Minnesota Wild: Jason Zucker
Nothing really special has happened in the draft for Minnesota this past decade, so their draft steal is probably Zucker. Zucker was drafted 59th overall in 2010 out of the USHL. He had a breakout year this past season, with 22 goals and 47 points in 79 games. He is a very good two way forward for the Wild's top 6, usually playing alongside center Mikko Koivu and talented winger Mikael Granlund in a shutdown role that can still contribute offensively.
Though not much merit should be given to a stat like plus/minus, Zucker still had an impressive +34 considering he started most his shifts in the defensive zone. The Wild are happy to have him at a bargain, especially considering what they pay Parise and Suter.
15 Montreal Canadiens: P.K. Subban
The 2007 draft class really shines for the Habs. At 12th overall was Ryan McDonaugh and 22nd overall was Max Pacioretty and both are in the midst of successful careers. But in the 2nd round, at 43rd overall, was one of the real steals of this draft: P.K. Subban. Subban is a great all around defender, with wonderful skating, passing, and shot. His almost point per game pace (38 points in 42 games) helped him win the Norris in 2012-13. He followed that up with a 53 point, 60 point, and 51 point seasons before being traded to Nasvhille. He's also a playoff performer with 38 points in 55 games for the Habs, and made Nashville's top four even more terrifying in their Cup run.
14 Nasvhille Predators: Viktor Arvidsson
Rounding out that first line of Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg is Arvidsson. The lesser known sniper on that line after Forsberg, Arvidsson had the best goal scoring season on the Preds with 31 goals and 61 points in 80 games. Being on the small side at 5'9" and 180 lbs doesn't stop Arvidsson from flying down the wing and taking a bunch of shots, as seen with his 246 shots this past season. Drafted 112th overall in 2014, he was quickly added to a line of later round picks that have become integral parts to the team for Nashville. With James Neal now lost to the expansion draft, the Preds are going to be relying on Arvidsson to build off of his 2016-17 season.
13 New Jersey Devils: Adam Henrique
The Devils' lackluster drafting this past decade sees their draft classes filled with busts. The one decent player was their supposed first line center in Henrique. He was drafted 82nd overall in 2008 out of the OHL. He centered a line with Taylor Hall in juniors, so everyone thought they'd be reunited in the NHL and Henrique would become more productive. That wasn't the case though, since Travis Zajac ended up centering Hall for most of the season. Henrique did have 30 goals (50 points) in 2015-16, but overall is decent and good for 20+ goals and 40-45 points. The Devils landed a big break this summer when they won the lottery for the first overall pick, so perhaps Jersey's fortunes will soon change.
12 New York Islanders: Anders Lee
If John Tavares ends up staying with the Islanders, at least the player who'll play on his left wing is set. Lee was drafted 152nd overall in 2009 and had a career year playing alongside the franchise center. The intimidating power forward with a good shot had good chemistry with Tavares which resulted in 34 goals and 52 points. With the addition of Jordan Eberle as well, it looks like he'll be able to keep up the point production. The Islanders are in a make or break year as far as their future with Tavares is concerned. If they don't show signs of improvement as an organization, Tavares, no matter how loyal he may be, will have trouble staying in Brooklyn.
11 New York Rangers: Derek Stepan
Stepan was the Rangers mainstay at center for the past few seasons, and for good reasons. Practically from the get-go, Stepan was a consistent 50+ point producer for New York. The only times he hasn't posted more than 50 points was his rookie season (understandable) and the lockout shortened season, where he was even better with 44 points in 48 games. He was drafted 51st overall in 2008 out of the University of Wisconsin. Now with Arizona via offseason trade, he'll look to continue his consistency in the desert and bring together a young group of players even though he's still only 27.
10 Ottawa Senators: Erik Karlsson
Karlsson may have been drafted midway through the first round at 15th overall in 2008, but he's still considered a steal compared to some of the players that went ahead of him. Everyone drafted ahead of him except maybe Steven Stamkos (1st overall) did not belong there. He's easily been the most productive defenseman these past few years, especially his 82 point season in 2015-16. He carries Ottawa's offense every game, and the numbers have shown just how ineffective they are without him. He's a fantastic skater and passer, as well as having the ability to rove around the ice just like a forward. His defensive game, which people always accuse him of lacking, has also improved immensely over the years. He went from the best offensive defenseman to the best defenseman in the NHL, and only just turned 27.
9 Philadelphia Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere
The exciting defenseman for the Flyers Gostisbehere played in the ECAC conference of the NCAA for Union college. Not much was known about him since he had just played in one season before being drafted by Philly 75th overall in 2012. He wasn't anything spectacular that season but continued to develop and eventually won Frozen Four MVP after helping Union college win the Division 1 championship in his final year. Not much seasoning in the AHL either due to injuries, his main breakout was at the NHL. In his first season with the Flyers, he had 17 goals and 46 points in only 64 games. His second season saw him cool off a bit, but still had 39 points in 76 games. He also mans the already amazing first power play unit for Philly, where he's 23 and 22 power play points his first two seasons.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins: Matt Murray
Murray still has his perfect win rate in the Stanley Cup playoffs after the Pens won their second cup in two years in June. So that's two cups in the two years Murray has been in the NHL. What makes this all the more amazing is the fact he was drafted 83rd overall in 2012. Pittsburgh scouts deserve all the praise for this one, since they drafted a goalie that not only developed into one of the best in the league for years to come, but also at a time that coincided perfectly with the eventual departure of their trusted, but aging, netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. Just goes to show the importance of drafting the right players, usually outside the first round, if a team wants to remain competitive for extended periods of time.
7 San Jose Sharks: Charlie Coyle
Coyle was drafted with the 28th overall pick in 2010 and has turned into a pivotal piece on the Wild's top nine. He's done nothing but improve these past three seasons, going from 35, to 42, to an impressive 56 points this past season. What benefited the Sharks the most out of drafting the big power forward was the fact they used him as a trade piece to get their now elite defenseman and Norris Trophy winner, Brent Burns.
Coyle now fits the Minnesota Wild mold perfectly though, being a forward who's good defensively but just as capable offensively. Just a hunch, but as good as Coyle is, we still get the feeling the Wild would have rather kept Burns.
6 St. Louis Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko
If the 2010 draft were to go over again, Tarasenko would probably go 3rd overall behind Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall, meaning Florida wouldn't have made the terrible pick of Erik Gudbranson. Heck, some may even argue Tarasenko would have gone ahead of Seguin or Hall. Either way, he was definitely the steal of the draft.
Luckily for St. Louis though, Tarasenko would be available for both their first round picks, ironically taking his linemate Jaden Schwartz 14th overall before taking him 16th overall. You really can't ask for anything more from the Russian sniper who was taken in the bottom half of the first round. He's had three consecutive seasons of 37 or more goals, and 73 or more points. The St. Louis offense revolves around him.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning: Nikita Kucherov
It's pretty incredible the numbers Kucherov has put up, especially this past season. Before amassing an incredible 85 points (40 goals) in 74 games and carrying Tampa offensively with Steven Stamkos injured, Kucherov had two seasons of 65 and 66 points (29 and 30 goals too). Drafted at the end of the 2nd round, at 58th overall in 2011, Kucherov hasn't just been good in the regular season.
He's been a great playoff performer for Tampa as well, with 41 points in 43 games. His shot is out of this world and at only 24, he and Stamkos should make an incredible one-two punch for years to come. The Lightning had to make some sacrifices on their salary cap to keep Kucherov in town, but it's been worth it.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs: Connor Brown
The Leafs have had quite a few good early first round picks these past few years, and they all luckily panned out. Not much of their rebuild has been based in the later rounds, especially with guys like Morgan Reilly, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews all going 8th or better. The only late round pick that seems to be doing anything effective would be Connor Brown. Drafted 156th overall in 2012, Brown had his first full season this past year. He ended with 20 goals and 36 points, and so far has 52 points in 89 games. The Leafs haven't always "missed" outside the top half of the first round though, since they did draft Tuukka Rask 21st overall in 2005.
3 Vancouver Canucks: Ben Hutton
Like New Jersey and Buffalo, you know your team has been drafting badly when there's barely a good pick in the past decade. For Vancouver, one of their better draft picks was Ben Hutton, and it was in the later rounds no less. Hutton was taken 147th overall in 2012 out of the CCHL. He looked promising with 25 points in 75 games in his first season, but the team is just so bad it wasn't surprising to see him regress to 19 points in 71 games this past season. He'd be on most teams top 6 though because of his offensive upside, so he is a decent pick for them nevertheless.
Still, this just shows Vancouver really has to step up their game on draft day if they want to crawl out of the basement.
2 Washington Capitals: Evgeny Kuznetsov
Washington drafted Kuznetsov with the 26th overall pick in 2010. Though he took a step back this past season with only 59 points in 82 games (still had 40 assists), his 77 points in 82 games in 2015-16 showed how Washington is now set with two elite centers under 30 years old. Kuznetsov would easily be the best center on a lot of other teams, but he'll have to settle for being a more than proficient "second line" center behind Nicklas Backstrom.
Playmaking centers are few and far between in today's NHL, and the Capitals are lucky enough to have two of the best. Still, with the talent Kuznetsov has around him, he's in a great spot to succeed.
1 Winnipeg Jets: Connor Hellebuyck
Hellebuyck looks to be Winnipeg's goalie of the future and was taken all the way in the 5th round, at 130th overall in 2012. This draft was good for Winnipeg's core, since Jacob Trouba was taken in the first round. Hellebuyck had a good rookie season with a 2.34 GAA and .918 save percentage in 26 games. The following year and first season as the number one goalie saw a bit of a setback with 2.89 GAA and a .907 save percentage in 56 games.
He's had success at every level, including internationally, so his young age and playing for a team not exactly coveted for its defense may have had a lot to do with the sophomore slump. The Jets will definitely need him to steal some games next year.