Success in today’s NHL has so much to do with drafting and developing. In the salary cap world, filling up your roster with young and effective players on inexpensive entry-level contracts is a great way to build a winner while remaining cap compliant. If you don't believe me, go check out the Chicago Blackhawks.
When it comes to drafting, it’s tough to say just how much luck is involved, and how much of it has to do with the strength of a particular team’s development programs. The fact that Detroit built championship teams using several late-round picks as core pieces suggests that development had just as much to do with it as did deft drafting.
Even so, a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then, and all 30 NHL teams have found gems beyond the first round since 2005 that have ended up contributing to the team in some sort of meaningful way. Today’s list will take a look at what we judge to be the best draft steal for each NHL team since the 2005 lockout.
You’ll notice some of the draft steals on this list have had far more impact on the teams that drafted them than others. You’ll also notice that the teams which drafted the more impact players in the late rounds also tend to be the good teams. The point here is, basically, scoring big late in the draft is essential to success in the NHL.
Here they are, listed alphabetically by team:
29 Anaheim Ducks - Sami Vatanen (2009, 106th overall)
The Ducks have a few other names who were drafted deep to consider—specifically, the current goaltending duo of John Gibson and Frederik Andersen—but, we went with defenseman Sami Vatanen.
Taken 106th overall in 2009, Vatanen plays over 20 minutes a night on a crowded Ducks blue line. The 24-year-old Finn is by far Anaheim’s most potent offensive weapon from the back-end, as his 25 points is 11 more than Hampus Lindholm’s 14, who has the second most among Ducks D-men.
28 Arizona Coyotes - Keith Yandle (2005, 105th overall)
The Arizona Coyotes held the 105th pick in the 2005 draft, and with it they selected Keith Yandle. Yandle is still one of the better offensive defensemen in the NHL today, and although he’s no longer wearing Coyotes colors, he did play 558 regular season games for Phoenix/Arizona before being dealt to the Rangers. He proved to be of huge value in a trade for the Coyotes as they scored Anthony Duclair from New York.
Yandle is top-10 for the franchise in both assists (246) and games played, so his mark has been left on the organization. That’s pretty good bang-for-your-buck from a fourth-round pick.
27 Boston Bruins - Brad Marchand (2006, 71st overall)
Unless you’re a Boston fan, you hate Brad Marchand. But you also can’t deny that he’s the type of player you’d all love to have on your favorite team. In the third round of the 2006 NHL entry draft, the Bruins picked Marchand 71st overall.
Since then, Marchand has hit the 20-goal mark five times (he also scored 18 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season), including 25 in 2015-16. With already one Stanley Cup ring to his name, Marchand’s legacy in Beantown is still being written.
26 Buffalo Sabres - Marcus Foligno (2007, 104th overall)
The Buffalo Sabres haven’t been the most successful of NHL teams since the 2005 lockout, and part of that reason has been that they haven’t scored big in the late rounds at the draft. They do have Marcus Foligno, however, who was drafted in 2009 at 104th overall and has played 239 games with the club.
Foligno is strictly a depth forward for the Sabres these days, hardly seeing any time on special teams and playing just over 12 minutes a game, but that’s still a decent amount of mileage from a fourth round pick.
25 Calgary Flames - Johnny Gaudreau (2011, 104th overall)
This one was a no-brainer, as Johnny Hockey is Calgary’s most dangerous weapon today, and he seems to be only getting better. Sure, the former Hobey Baker winner was just benched by coach Bob Hartley for off-ice irresponsibility, but Gaudreau is still on pace for 79 points.
The pint-sized winger was drafted 104th overall in 2011, perhaps passed over by so many other teams simply because of his stature. It looks as though Gaudreau has a promising career ahead of him, which doesn’t often happen for players picked 104th overall.
24 Carolina Hurricanes - Justin Faulk (2010, 37th overall)
Top-10 defensemen are hard to come by, and I’m not saying Justin Faulk falls into that category quite yet, but he’s getting close. Taken by the Carolina Hurricanes 37th overall in 2010, the 23-year-old rearguard is still getting better and currently leads the Hurricanes in points.
Faulk plays over two minutes more, per game, than the second-most used skater on Carolina, which is usually a good indicator of just how valuable a player is to his team.
23 Chicago Blackhawks - Niklas Hjalmarsson (2005, 108th overall)
A lot is made of the high picks Chicago has made since the 2005 lockout—namely, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews—but they’ve definitely found a few stellar gems in the later rounds, including three-time Cup champion Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Hjalmarsson was selected 108th overall in 2005, and has played 526 regular season games with the ‘Hawks, in addition to the 117 games of postseason work he’s skated in since 2009.
22 Colorado Avalanche - Tyson Barrie (2009, 64th overall)
In 2009, the Colorado Avalanche held the 64th overall pick in the third round, and with it they called defenseman Tyson Barrie’s name. Many GMs were wary to call his name because he stands at just 5-foot-10 and the league seemed to only be getting bigger, but the Avs are currently reaping the benefits of this risk.
Barrie is Colorado’s best offensive defensemen, notching 33 points so far this season and 137 in his 238 career games so far. Barrie looks to have a promising career, whether it be with the Avs or elsewhere (his name has been in trade rumors this season).
21 Columbus Blue Jackets - Cam Atkinson (2008, 157th overall)
The Columbus Blue Jackets haven’t been very good at the draft table since they came into the league in the year 2000, and that’s probably a big reason why the franchise is still searching for its first ever postseason series win. They’ve still found a few gems in the later rounds though, and in 2008 they picked Cam Atkinson in the 6th round, 157th overall.
Atkinson was a bit of a late bloomer, but he scored 40 points in each of the last two seasons, and is well on his way to eclipsing that total for the first time in his career, as he's well ahead of that pace in 2015-16.
20 Dallas Stars - Jamie Benn (2007, 129th overall)
I was tempted to put John Klingberg here, but I’ve got to go with the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner Jamie Benn. Benn was selected 128th overall in 2007, and he is the first-ever fifth round pick to win the NHL scoring race.
With an Olympic Gold Medal under his belt as well, Benn is slowly but surely building what looks to be a Hall of Fame career. Benn and Tyler Seguin are the most dynamic scoring duo in the league, and they could hold that crown for the next five years.
19 Edmonton Oilers - Brandon Davidson (2010, 162nd overall)
Edmonton has certainly had its fair share of failures at the draft table since the 2005 lockout. They’ve hardly had anyone who was selected past the first round and contributed in a meaningful way. Recently, however, 2010's 162nd overall pick Brandon Davidson has made his presence felt in Edmonton.
The Oilers are in dire need of useful defensemen, and it just so happens that Davidson has emerged as just that in 2015-16. He averages over 18 minutes a game, and coach Todd McLellan is leaning on him more than most of the team's veterans in key situations.
18 Florida Panthers - Vincent Trocheck (2011, 64th overall)
The Panthers have been one of those teams, along with the Oilers and Blue Jackets, who always seem to have high picks in every draft. Unfortunately for them, one of the reasons they’re always picking so high is because they often have struck out on their deeper picks.
American Vincent Trocheck was the Panthers’ 64th overall selection in 2011, and he’s beginning to pay dividends. He’s already put up 17 goals and 35 points in 2015-16, surpassing career highs in both categories by a country mile.
17 L.A. Kings - Jonathan Quick (2005, 72nd overall)
All teams dream of finding their next franchise goaltender in the NHL draft, but since goalies are so hard to judge when they’re 18, hitting a homer is pretty rare. However, the Kings struck gold in 2005 by calling out Jonathan Quick’s name 72nd overall that year.
Quick has already cemented his legacy in hockey’s history books, helping the Kings to two Stanley Cups (2012 and 2014), winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP the first time around. After a tough 2014-15 season, Quick and the Kings have turned things around this year and seem poised for a return to the playoffs.
16 Minnesota Wild - Marco Scandella (2008, 55th overall)
The Minnesota Wild currently employ a few defensemen they were able to find beyond the first round in the draft, the most useful of which being Marco Scandella. Scandella has developed into a solid shutdown defenseman in Minny, logging over 20 minutes a night and getting a lot of PK time.
At 25 years old he’s already played 275 games for the Wild, which is more than your money’s worth when talking about a deep second round pick in an NHL draft.
15 Montreal Canadiens - P.K. Subban (2007, 43rd overall)
Franchise defensemen only come along every so often—just ask the 20 or so teams that don’t currently have one—but Montreal grabbed theirs in the second round in 2007 by calling out P.K. Subban’s name 43rd overall that year.
Subban is already a Norris Trophy winner and an Olympic Gold medalist, and he’s only 26 years old. Subban has turned into a great role model and community leader in Montreal as well, pledging to donate a staggering $10 million to the local children’s hospital.
14 Nashville Predators - Roman Josi (2008, 38th overall)
The Nashville Predators have what is considered to be one of the best defense pairings in the league in Shea Weber and Roman Josi, and they were both snagged in the second round in 2003 and 2008, respectively.
The Preds used the 38th overall pick on Josi, and today that pairing drives everything in Nashville, including the offense. Having debuted in 2011-12, Josi has already racked up over 300 games of NHL experience and currently leads the Preds in points.
13 New Jersey Devils - Adam Henrique (2008, 82nd overall)
Deep in the third round of the 2008 entry draft, the Devils called out Adam Henrique’s name. A little over three years later he would establish himself as one of New Jersey’s most relied upon offensive weapons, and he still holds that distinction today.
With 18 goals and 36 points already, Henrique is pacing to eclipse the 20-goal and 50-point markerseach for the second time in his career. He also wears an “A” on his jersey for half of the team's games, which adds to his importance to the current Devils squad.
12 New York Islanders - Travis Hamonic (2008, 53rd overall)
It’s common knowledge that Travis Hamonic has asked the NYI to find a trade for him to a Western Canadian team, and that’s really too bad because Hamonic has been the Islanders best defenseman for a few seasons now, and he’s definitely their biggest draft steal since the 2005 lockout.
Hamonic, selected 53rd overall in the 2008 entry draft, logs nearly 24 minutes a night on the Islanders blue line, a full minute more than the second-highest Islanders skater. He’ll be missed in Brooklyn when he does eventually get dealt.
11 New York Rangers - Derek Stepan (2008, 51st overall)
Another second round gem in the 2008 draft was Derek Stepan. Stepan was selected 51st overall in2008, and has since established himself as one of the mainstays on New York’s top offensive units.
Stepan is already a veteran of over 400 NHL games, all with the Rangers. He’s battled injuries for the past few season now, which has slowed him down a bit, but New York’s already got a lot of mileage out of their second round pick.
10 Ottawa Senators - Mark Stone (2010, 178th overall)
It took him a few years to break out after the Senators drafted him 178th overall in 2010, but Mark Stone is Ottawa’s representative on our draft steals list. Stone burst onto the scene in 2014-15 by leading the Senators' late-season charge to the playoffs as a 22-year-old rookie.
Stone finished the season with 64 points, and he’s pacing to finish with something around that this season as well, successfully avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump. Stone could be a key part of Ottawa’s offense for years—not a bad deal for a sixth round draft pick.
9 Philadelphia Flyers - Shayne Gostisbehere (2012, 78th overall)
Much like John Klingberg emerged as an elite offensive defenseman last season for the Dallas Stars, it looks like Philly’s Shayne Gostisbehere is doing the same thing this year. The Flyers’ 78th overall pick in the 2012 draft is scoring points at a torrid pace so far, notching 28 points in 34 games.
It’s too early to call “Ghost Bear” the next franchise defenseman for Philly, but he’s off to a great start to his NHL career and Philadelphia fans are justifiably pretty excited about the high-end offensive instincts he’s shown from the blue line so far.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins - Kris Letang (2005, 62nd overall)
Out of all defensemen with over 100 games played since 2010-11, only Erik Karlsson has scored more points per game from the blue line than Pittsburgh’s 62nd overall pick from the 2005 draft, Kris Letang.
The Penguins really filled out their roster with that draft, as it was also the year they called out Sidney Crosby’s name first overall. Over 10 years after they drafted him, Letang continues to be a premier offensive defenseman in the NHL.
7 San Jose Sharks - Tommy Wingels (2008, 177th overall)
The Sharks currently employ a handful of players who they selected very deep in various NHL drafts since the 2005 lockout, and one of the better scores for San Jose has been 2008's 177th overall pick, Tommy Wingels.
Wingels isn’t having the best season in 2015-16, but in the previous two seasons he’s shown he can be a solid secondary scorer, putting up 74 points in 152 games over that span. Pretty good dividends for a sixth round pick.
6 St. Louis Blues - Jori Lehtera (2008, 65th overall)
For a while it looked like 2008 third round pick Jori Lehtera wasn’t going to ever make the move to North America, but he finally donned the Blues colors for the first time last season, and has since shown he can contribute in the world’s best hockey league.
He enjoyed a stellar rookie season, tallying 44 points in 75 games. He’s slowed that pace a little bit this year, but you still have to consider him a steal for a third round pick.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning - Nikita Kucherov (2011, 58th overall)
When you have a deep second round pick from the 2011 NHL entry draft step up and start scoring points more frequently than Steven Stamkos; that is considered a huge draft steal. Nikita Kucherov, selected 58th overall in 2011, has so far in 2015-16, outscored Stamkos.
Kucherov is building on what was an impressive sophomore season that saw him score 65 points. With 45 already this season, the Russian is pacing to eclipse that total. He’s been so good that he almost—almost—makes letting Stamkos walk a legitimate option in a cap world.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs - James Reimer (2006, 99th overall)
I flip-flopped on this one, as 2016 NHL All-Star Leo Komarov was also a deep pick for the Leafs, but James Reimer has been a staple in the Leafs crease for more than five seasons now, at least sharing the ‘tending duties in Toronto since 2010-11.
Reimer was a fourth round pick way back in 2006, 99th overall. It took him over four years to actually play for the Leafs in a regular season game, but he’s proven capable of at least a 1A/1B role as an NHL starter since then.
3 Vancouver Canucks - Ben Hutton (2012, 147th overall)
The Vancouver Canucks have been notoriously bad at the draft table since 2005, but it looks like they’ve started to buck that trend. Defenseman Ben Hutton is one of the earliest items of proof of this, as he’s emerged as a stellar, stay-at-home defenseman so far in his rookie campaign, and has even shown capable puck-moving abilities.
Hutton, selected 147th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, has put up a respectable 15 points in 47 games so far, good for second most on the Canucks among defensemen.
2 Washington Capitals - Braden Holtby (2008, 93rd overall)
Even if we were making this list prior to 2015-16, Braden Holtby was likely to be Washington’s representative. Now that he’s almost on pace to reach the 50-win mark this season—something no goalie has ever done in NHL history—he is unquestionably their biggest draft steal since 2006.
Selected 93rd overall in 2008, Holtby didn’t establish himself as Washington’s undisputed starter until 2012-13, and even then he was more or less splitting duties until firmly taking the reins last season. He’s the odds-on favorite to take home the Vezina this season; they might as well start engraving his name now.
1 Winnipeg Jets - Connor Helleybuyck (2012, 130th overall)
In the fifth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the Winnipeg Jets took American goaltender Connor Helleybuyck. I’ve got to be honest, before this season I hadn’t heard the name before, but an injury to Ondrej Pavelec has opened the door for the 22-year-old netminder, and he’s looked solid so far.
Selected 130th overall, Helleybuyck has been so solid, in fact, that it’s possible that the Winnipeg crease is now his to lose, regardless of when Pavelec makes his return to the lineup.