The draft table is the best place for a general manager to change the fortunes of his team. While acquiring valuable assets comes at a cost in every other situation, GMs can nab rights to players for free at the annual draft, which falls in late June a few weeks after the Stanley Cup is awarded.
Needless to say, none of these prospects are ever sure things. First round picks certainly all come with the expectation of somewhat of an NHL career, but beyond that it’s tough to tell how much luck is involved. Sure, scouting plays a huge part, but unless we’re talking about a top-tier prospect, it’s tough to gauge the career trajectories of players.
Every once in a while, a team will nab a gem deep in the draft, well beyond the first round. Just by chance, this happens to every team every now and then, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Today we’re going to dig through the archives to find each NHL team’s biggest draft steal since 2000.
The only rule I had making the list was that no first round picks were permitted; how can they be a huge steal if they were a first round prospect to begin with? Without further ado, here are each team’s biggest draft steal since 2000, listed alphabetically by team:
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30 Anaheim Ducks: Sami Vatanen (106th, 2009)
In 2009 the Anaheim Ducks selected defenseman Sami Vatanen in the 4th round, 106th overall. Today, Vatanen is manning the right side of the top unit in Orange County with partner Cam Fowler. Now 25, Vatanen has established himself as a stellar offensive D-man who can also handle the workload in his own zone—an extremely valuable player type in today’s NHL, a guy every team could use.
Currently playing in his fifth season with the Ducks, Vatanen has already amassed over 100 points in over 200 career games. That’s more than you should reasonably expect from a 4th round pick in any situation, so the Ducks are obviously thrilled with Vatanen’s progression thus far. He’s young enough that it’s possible he takes yet another step as well.
29 Arizona Coyotes: Keith Yandle (105th, 2005)
Since 2008-09, only four defensemen league-wide have recorded more points than Keith Yandle in the NHL. Yandle was the Phoenix Coyotes' fourth round pick back in 2005, and what a fourth round pick it turned out to be. Yandle is no longer plying his trade in Arizona, but they did manage to grab some stellar assets when they sent him to New York as a rental in 2015.
Yandle’s career numbers pretty much speak for themselves. In 690 career games, he’s amassed 382 points, which is very good production for a defenseman of any era, let alone the current low-scoring era in which Yandle has accomplished the feat. He’s still going strong, as he’s put up 13 points in his first 29 games played in Florida.
28 Boston Bruins: Brad Marchand (71st, 2006)
Everybody’s favorite weasel Brad Marchand represents Boston on our list of biggest draft steals since 2000. Marchand was selected in the 3rd round (71st overall) in 2006, and today he’s a legitimate first-line player in Boston. He broke out in a big way in 2015-16, scoring a career-high 37 goals playing on a line with Patrice Bergeron.
He’s turned into a pure goal scorer, and he’s registered at least 20 goals in every season of his career (excluding the lockout-shortened 2012-13, when he scored 18 in 45 games). To get that level of production out of a 3rd round pick must be viewed as a major bonus. Marchand was pretty much the best possible selection for the Bruins to make at that point, so they're happy.
27 Buffalo Sabres: Marcus Foligno (104th, 2009)
In the 4th round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the Buffalo Sabres chose winger Marcus Foligno 104th overall. Today, Foligno plays a regular shift in Buffalo, and role he’s filled for going on six years now. He’ll play his 300th NHL game later this season (barring an injury), which is pretty phenomenal activity for any guy drafted beyond the first round, let alone the 4th.
He’s not an offensive juggernaut, as his 101 career points to date represent a production pace of about 0.33 points per game. He’s primarily a checking winger though, and he’s filled that role adequately, often hovering around the even mark on a perennially cellar-dwelling Buffalo Sabres squad. He’s sometimes, albeit rarely, called upon to spot in in a top-six role, and although he’s not equipped for full time duty there, he manages in the short term.
26 Calgary Flames: Johnny Gaudreau (104th, 2011)
The one they so endearingly refer to as “Johnny Hockey” is Calgary’s representative on this list, as he was a 4th round selection in 2011, 104th overall. Size was the biggest reason Gaudreau fell so far down the draft in 2011, but needless to say I think it’s fair to assume that Calgary is pretty excited about the asset they grabbed here.
Gaudreau is currently an elite offensive threat in the NHL, as he’s put up 162 points in 181 career games so far. He’s playing in just his third season in the league, and is already relied upon to supply the lion’s share of the offense in Southern Alberta. His production has leveled off to an approximate point-per-game pace, which means Gaudreau will potentially be a top-10 scorer in the league for years to come.
25 Carolina Hurricanes: Justin Faulk (37th, 2010)
There aren’t even enough top-pairing defensemen to go around the league; so many teams make do with just one (or in really tough scenarios, zero) legit top-pairing defenders. Carolina grabbed Justin Faulk in the 2nd round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft (37th overall), and he’s been a staple on the top-pairing in Raleigh for several years now.
Faulk’s game doesn’t come without bruises, as he’s sometimes accused of being an offense-first type of defenseman, which can be an issue with some talented D-men. Nonetheless, he’s one of the league’s better producers from the blue line. He’s played with the Hurricanes for his whole career so far, currently playing his sixth year in Raleigh. Faulk has yet to play a playoff game, which is probably frustrating for the 24-year-old. Perhaps he'll taste the postseason soon?
24 Chicago Blackhawks: Dustin Byfuglien (245th, 2003)
Dustin Byfuglien is an absolute beast, so it’s crazy to think that he was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks 245th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. That was in the 8th round, and they don’t even hold eight rounds of the draft any more so that gives you an idea of just how big of a steal Big Buff was that late.
Byfuglien has proven to be a versatile player so far in his career. Currently an elite offensive defenseman, Byfuglien helped the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup Championship as a forward. That campaign earned him a raise that was too hefty for the ‘Hawks to deal with in the cap world, so they were forced to deal him in the offseason. Nonetheless, it was a steal and helped the team to their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
23 Colorado Avalanche: Tyson Barrie (64th, 2009)
The Colorado Avalanche recently locked up their biggest draft steal since the year 2000, Tyson Barrie. The offensive defenseman has recently established himself as one of the league’s premier offensive threats from the back end and he currently mans the top unit in Denver, logging well over 20 minutes a night. He has the skills to score over 50 points from the blu line on a consistent basis, which is rare today.
Now 25 years old, Barrie has a chance to quarterback the power play in Colorado for the foreseeable future, and since the defenseman has put up 102 points over the past two seasons, he’s a safe bet to continue to produce in that role. Last season he had 21 power play points, and the season prior he registered 16.
22 Columbus Blue Jackets: Cam Atkinson (157th, 2008)
In 2008 the Columbus Blue Jackets found the player who has turned into their biggest draft steal since 2000, Cam Atkinson. Atkinson was picked 157th overall in the sixth round, and his game has taken yet another step forward this season, scoring at a point-per-game pace thus far in 2016-17. The Jackets are one of the best teams in the league right now, and Atkinson is being leaned on heavily.
He was a slow burn, as he never fully established himself as an everyday NHLer until 2013-14. Since then, he’s made improvements every step of the way, notching at least 20 goals each year and reaching an impressive 27 goals last season. With 10 already in 2016-17, it’s entirely possible Atkinson gets to the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career.
21 Dallas Stars: Jamie Benn (129th, 2007)
Obviously, when you have a 5th round draft pick on your roster who wins the Art Ross Trophy, he’s going to qualify as your biggest draft steal. The Dallas Stars actually had another pretty big steal in John Klingberg, another 5th round pick. Jamie Benn has been too productive to ignore though, so the 2007 129th overall pick represents Dallas on the list.
The Stars forward finished 1st in scoring in 2014-15, and he finished 2nd overall in 2015-16. Those are numbers that you simply cannot argue with. The big winger has proven that he can produce no matter where he is in the lineup and who he is playing with. It’s not very often you find an offensive driver like Benn in the 5th round.
20 Detroit Red Wings: Johan Franzen (97th, 2004)
The Red Wings are the kings of draft steals. Given the fact that they're riding a 25-year playoff streak, that means they haven't picked early in the draft in a long time. Going back since 2000, there are still several steals, but the biggest one might be Johan Franzen. While Franzen's career is now likely over due to concussion issues and he was a declining player in recent years, we can't forget how productive he once was.
Franzen was a key piece to the Red Wings' Stanley Cup championship in the 2007-08 season. During that playoff run, he recorded 18 points in the Wings' run to the Cup. He scored a team-leading 13 goals. Overall, he's scored 81 points in 107 career playoff games. Clutch playoff performers in the third round? I think any team would take that.
19 Edmonton Oilers: Brandon Davidson (162nd, 2010)
The Edmonton Oilers have struggled at the draft table beyond round one since 2000, which is only part of the reason they have been so bad for most of that stretch. Today, however, they are starting to feel the positive effects that Brandon Davidson is having on their blue line. Davidson was a 6th round selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, going 162nd overall.
Like many defensemen, his development was gradual, but he’s now at a point where (when healthy) he can slot into the top four in Edmonton. Some pundits are expecting the Oilers to lose Davidson at the expansion draft next June, which would be a shame for the Oilers, as he’s turning into the only legitimate draft steal the club has had this millennium.
18 Florida Panthers: Vincent Trocheck (64th, 2011)
American Vincent Trocheck is the Florida Panthers' representative on the list of every team’s biggest draft steals since 2000. Trochek was a 3rd round selection in 2011, as his name was called 64th overall. He will reach the 200 game plateau this season barring injury, and he’s just a few points shy of the 100 career point marker.
Although the Panthers have struggled a little bit so far in 2016-17, Trochek has still started off fairly well, putting up 15 points in his first 29 games. He’ll have to pick it up a notch to reach last season’s totals of 25 goals and 53 points, but that’s doable for the 23-year-old center. If the NHL allows its players to participate in the Olympics in 2018, expect Trochek to be on the American roster.
17 Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Quick (72nd, 2005)
Goaltenders are very difficult to scout, as they often don’t come into their own until they're well into their pro careers. As such, teams have gotten extremely lucky with goalies late in the draft, much like the L.A. Kings did in 2005 when they took franchise goalie Jonathan Quick in the 3rd round of the draft, 72nd overall. Since then he has amassed over 250 wins.
It’s no secret just how successful Quick has been with the Kings during his career, leading the franchise to its first Stanley Cup championship in 2012 with a Conn Smythe-winning performance. He helped the club win a second championship in 2014, so I think it’s fair to say that Quick is the biggest steal the Kings have nabbed at the draft table since 2000.
16 Minnesota Wild: Erik Haula (182nd, 2009)
The deeper we go into the NHL Entry Draft, the rarer it is that a team will find an impact player. The Minnesota Wild have to be happy then with Erik Haula, the Finnish center who is currently pivoting the 3rd line in Minnesota. His name was called in the 7th round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, 182nd overall. It’s tough to believe that GMs found 181 players they wanted more than they wanted Haula, but here we are.
Haula often plays on a line with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle these days, usually drawing tough assignments while still winning the Corsi battle on a regular basis. He can chip in 3rd-line level offense as well, as he has 71 points in his 214 career games to date. Haula is a keeper, and at 182nd overall the Wild must be stoked on him.
15 Montreal Canadiens: P.K. Subban (43rd, 2007)
Even though P.K. Subban is no longer with the Canadiens, grabbing a Norris Trophy winning defenceman in the second round is a steal, no matter which way you look at it. Subban was Montreal's most popular player in the city, as he was the most exciting player fans had seen don a Habs uniform in quite some time.
In his career as a Hab, Subban recorded 278 points in 434 games and was a plus-35. He also added 38 points in 55 playoff games, as he always played his best when the stakes were the highest.
Unfortunately, during the Habs' collapse last season following Carey Price's injury, issues surfaced between Subban and the team. With his no movement clause set to kick in on July 1st, the Habs traded him to Nashville for Shea Weber in the blockbuster of the summer.
14 Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne (258th, 2004)
Back to another franchise goalie here, Pekka Rinne is the biggest draft steal for the Nashville Predators since 2000 (and for their entire team history, to be honest). Rinne was taken 258th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. That makes him an 8th round pick, and they don’t even do 8 rounds of the draft any more so obviously Rinne was nothing short of a miracle.
Rinne has racked up 249 wins in the first 458 starts of his career. He is now playing in his ninth straight season as the starter of the Preds, and although he’s lost a bit of his mojo over the past few seasons, he’s still a solid goalie who can be relied upon most nights in the world’s toughest league.
13 New Jersey Devils: Adam Henrique (82nd, 2008)
The former Windsor Spitfire Adam Henrique is our New Jersey Devil representative, as he was selected deep in the 3rd round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, 82nd overall. Henrique played with Taylor Hall for the final two years of his junior career, so teams weren’t sure if Henrique was actually as good as his numbers said, or if he was just the passenger to Hall.
Surely his numbers were slightly inflated during his time with Hall, but there’s no question that the guy can play. Henrique has now played 377 games with the Devils and has put up a respectable 217 points in the process. He’s developed into a leader on New Jersey, and his 30 goals from 2015-16 prove that he is a pretty damn fine talent in this league.
12 New York Islanders: Anders Lee (152nd, 2009)
The New York Islanders are pretty deep up front these days, and part of the reason for that is that they’ve drafted fairly well beyond the first round. In 2009 they called winger Anders Lee’s name in the 6th round, 152nd overall. Lee recently played his 200th game with the franchise, and he’s currently used in a third-line role in Brooklyn.
To grab any sort of NHL player in the 3rd round of the draft is a steal, so the fact that Lee is playing a regular shift in New York these days is pretty impressive. The Isles will have some tough decisions to make come June when it comes to who to protect in expansion, because it looks like they will have to leave at least one regular forward exposed. Could it be Lee?
11 New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist (205th, 2000)
Today he’s commonly referred to as “The King,” but that was not yet the case back in 2000 when 204 other hockey players heard their name called before Swedish netminder Henrik Lundqvist did in the 7th round, 205th overall. As I said before, a goalie’s development is hard to predict, but it’s nonetheless shocking to think of how many times each team passed up on Lundqvist back in '00.
To put it in perspective, Lundqvist is the Rangers franchise leader in wins. That’s a big deal on any team, let alone an original six franchise that has nearly 100 years’ worth of history to compete with. Hank leads all Swedish goaltenders in games played, wins, shutouts, and career save percentage. If you ask me, he’s a Hall-of-Fame shoo-in, despite having yet to win a Stanley Cup.
10 Philadelphia Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere (78th, 2012)
The one they call Ghost Bear is Philadelphia’s representative on our list of every team’s biggest draft steal since 2000. Storming onto the scene as a 22-year-old rookie in 2015-16, Shane Gostisbehere put up 46 points in 64 games of work, earning him a Calder Trophy nomination as rookie of the year. He lost the award to KHL vet Artemi Panarin, but it was an extremely impressive debut nonetheless.
Gostisbehere was selected by the Flyers in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, going 78th overall (round 3). He played two more years of college puck before turning pro in 2014-15. Ghost Bear graduated quickly from the AHL, as to this day the rearguard has only played 21 games in the league, and it would be very surprising if he ever played a 22nd (barring a conditioning stint).
9 Pittsburgh Penguins: Kris Letang (62nd, 2005)
Kris Letang is one of the league’s premier offensive defensemen, so the Pittsburgh Penguins got away with something when they selected him in the 3rd round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, 62nd overall. This draft steal is often overlooked as 2005 was of course the year the Pens nabbed a guy named Sidney Crosby first overall, but Letang is a heckuva pick for the Pens here.
Letang is a point machine, ranking second in points per game among defensemen since 2010 (only bested by Erik Karlsson). He’s struggled to stay healthy for the past few seasons, but whenever he finds himself in the lineup, he finds a way to contribute on the score sheet. That’s an extremely valuable player type, and it’s insane to think the Pens got him in the 3rd round.
8 Ottawa Senators: Mark Stone (178th, 2010)
We all remember back in 2014-15 when the Ottawa Senators went on that incredible late-season run on the back of goalie Andrew Hammond to squeak into the playoffs. Well, we all probably also remember Mark Stone being an absolute killer during that stretch, posting an impressive 64 points in his rookie campaign. He was near a point per game over the final 50 games of the year.
Stone was an incredible steal for the Sens at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, as he was picked in the 6th round, 178th overall. Today it’s tough to name 10 players from the class of 2010 who are better than Stone, let alone the 177 who were picked before him. At just 24 years old, the Senators could enjoy the fruits of this steal for many years to come.
7 San Jose Sharks: Joe Pavelski (205th, 2003)
Since the 2011-12 season, there are two players who have scored more goals than San Jose’s Joe Pavelski, and their names are Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos. Needless to say, Pavelski has developed into one of the league’s premier goal scorers, and judging by where he was selected in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, he wasn’t a premier prospect to begin with.
Sure, the class of 2003 is known as one of the most legendary in history, but even so there weren’t close to 204 players who are better than Pavelski, obviously. If the 2003 draft were held again today, it’s entirely possible that Pavelski would be a top-10 pick that year, and that’s saying something when you look at the depth of that draft class.
6 St. Louis Blues: Lee Stempniak (148th, 2003)
Back in the incredibly deep and talented 2003 NHL Entry Draft, teams not only found gems in the first round but some were lucky enough to find contributors well beyond round 1. For the St. Louis Blues, they found Lee Stempniak in the 5th round of that legendary draft, picking the right winger 148th overall that year.
Stempniak didn’t get a taste of the NHL until 2005-06, but since then he has been a regular in the league. He’s definitely been prone to having seasons of wildly varying success. He posted a career-high 51 points last season at the age of 32, which is a little old to be breaking personal bests. Nonetheless, the Blues found a guy who could play 1,000 games in this league in the 5th round, and that’s pretty impressive.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning: Ondrej Palat (208th, 2011)
Steve Yzerman has proven to be a pretty effective NHL general manager in his six years on the job. One year after taking over as GM in 2010, Yzerman drafted a guy who’s turned into the best Lightning draft steal since 2000, and possibly of the entire franchise’s history, Ondrej Palat. Drafted 208th overall in the 7th round in 2011, Palat plays a key role in Tampa’s offense.
Although Palat is off to a bit of a slow start in 2016-17 (at least by the recent standards he has set for himself), there’s no question that he is an extremely valuable piece for the Lightning. He’s registered 179 points in 261 career games so far, and he’s only 25. That type of production out of a 7th rounder is unheard of, so the Lightning are obviously feeling pretty fortunate with how this pick turned out.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs: Anton Stralman (216th, 2005)
Although most of the players never ended up contributing to the Toronto Maple Leafs in any meaningful way, that club has found a few gems late in the NHL draft since 2000. Their biggest steal came back in 2005 when they chose Swedish defenseman Anton Stralman in the 7th round, 216th overall. The 30-year-old will play his 600th NHL game this season.
Only 88 of those were spent in a Toronto sweater, and Stralman really never established himself as a top-four defender until going to Tampa in 2014-15. He helped GM Yzerman look like a genius though, as he’s logging over 20 minutes most nights patrolling the Tampa blue line this season. As one of the last players to hear his name called in 2005, that’s incredible usage for the defenseman.
3 Vancouver Canucks: Kevin Bieksa (151st, 2001)
Back in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, the Vancouver Canucks called Kevin Bieksa’s name in the 5th round. One hundred fifty other players heard their names called prior to the ‘Nucks summoning Bieksa, but nonetheless the 35-year-old defenseman is about to play his 700th game in the world’s best hockey league—more than your average 5th round pick, to say the least.
Not one to produce much offense these days, Bieksa has been a steady, reliable defender for the entirety of his career. He has a bit of a mean streak in him too, a skillset that likely helped the rearguard overcome his underdog status to become an NHL regular. Today he is the veteran presence on an otherwise young Anaheim blue line.
The Canucks definitely got a ton of mileage out of this late round pick.
2 Washington Capitals: Braden Holtby (93rd, 2008)
Nobody ever knows if a goalie prospect will turn out to be good, and that’s probably why the Washington Captals were able to snag Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby in the 4th round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, 93rd overall. It’s unlikely that the Caps thought they’d get a goaltender who would go on to tie the record for most wins in a single season by a goalie, but that’s just what Holtby did last season.
He tied Martin Brodeur’s single-season win record of 48 in 2015-16, but Holtby accomplished the feat playing in just 66 games, whereas Brodeur saw action in a whopping 78 matches when he set his record in 2006-07. Holtby has been Washington’s number one since the lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign, and he’s really stabilized a crease that, before, was a bit of a question mark in the nation’s capital until his arrival.
1 Winnipeg Jets: Tobias Enstrom (239th, 2003)
There’s something about Swedish defensemen these days. Call it the Nick Lidstrom syndrome—perhaps they’re all so good because these guys grew up idolizing the Red Wings legend—but for whatever reason the Swedes produce a disproportionate amount of talent on D these days. In 2003, the Atlanta Thrashers picked Tobias Enstrom in the 8th round, 239th overall, and he’s the franchise’s biggest draft steal to date.
Enstrom has lost a bit of a step from an offensive standpoint, but he’s still a stellar NHL option and a veteran of nearly 650 games. He made the move to North America in 2007-08 after five seasons in the Swedish Elite League, and he hasn’t looked back since, putting up 296 points in 645 games to date - impressive for an 8th rounder to say the least.
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