Most of us start loving sports from a very young age, and it usually starts one of two ways: when we begin playing sports in school, or by viewing teams playing against each other on the television. Everyone has a favorite sport that they love to play and/or watch, whether it be a single player sport like tennis and golf, or team sport like soccer, baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. When someone truly does love a particular team sport though, they often times end up playing that sport all the way through their high school and even college years, and it is usually during that time of adolescence that young athletes develop real dreams of one day playing in either the MLB, NBA, NFL, or NHL.
Of all the major professional sport leagues, the National Hockey League has some of the most passionate fans in the world, with the game of hockey being a sport that is played by many people of all ages throughout most places in the world. Since there are so many young hockey athletes in the world who dream of playing in the NHL, many decide to enter into the league’s draft every year at the age of eighteen, and many of them do end up being drafted by a team. It is up to the scouts of each team to find the best players that they believe have the most potential to help their respective team be successful in the future, and sometimes, a scout’s job is easy, but most of the time drafted players never play a single game in the NHL. More often than not though, scouts and teams get extremely lucky with some of their draft picks, and these lucky picks are usually players who were taken in the late rounds of the respective draft year. These players turn out to be much better than their draft number initially indicated, which is why they are considered by other teams to be “steals”. Here is a list of top players who were drafted late in every draft since 2000.
16 Henrik Lundqvist - 2000: Round 7, 205th Overall
In every NHL draft, there are always around two dozen or so goalies that get taken by teams, but very few of those goalies, including those taken in the first round, are actually able to be impactful players for their team as soon as they debut. After Henrik Lundqvist was drafted by the New York Rangers in 2000, he spent five years in Sweden where he played for the Swedish Elite League which greatly helped him to improve his game for when he finally joined the Rangers in the 2005-06 season. From the moment he joined the team, Lundqvist’s skills became undeniably apparent, and he has been one of the best goalies in the league and the world because of them. “King Henrik” has spent his whole eleven year career with New York, winning nearly 400 games with them, and posting a career .921 save percentage and a 2.28 goals against average with 59 shutouts; not bad for someone taken 205th overall in the seventh round.
15 Kevin Bieksa - 2001: Round 5, 151st Overall
Aside from a coveted centermen or a skilled winger, the main need that NHL teams seem to focus on is defense, which is why at least a third of players taken in the draft in recent years, have been defensemen. Kevin Bieksa was drafted in 2001 by the Vancouver Canucks, but before joining the Canucks in the middle of the 2005-06 season, he continued to play in college before moving on to Vancouver’s minor league affiliate. Overall, Bieksa spent parts of ten straight seasons with Vancouver, where for most of that time he served as one of the team’s top defensemen; but in the 2015 offseason, they were forced to have to trade Bieksa to the Anaheim Ducks where he now serves as one of their top defensemen. Bieksa was taken 151st overall in the fifth round, and in his career, he has played in over 650 games where he has scored 256 points split between 60 goals and 196 assists.
14 Dennis Wideman - 2002: Round 8, 241st Overall
Dennis Wideman can be considered to be a journeyman, someone who has played for multiple teams in their career, and in his eleven year professional career, he has played for five different NHL teams. The St. Louis Blues initially drafted Wideman in 2002, but he did not make his debut with the team until the beginning of the 2005-06 season came around; but he only stayed with the team for about a season and a half before he was traded to the Boston Bruins in 2007. He went on to play for Boston for three more seasons before they traded him to the Florida Panthers where he played most of the 2010-11 season until he was traded to the Washington Capitals. As of now, Wideman plays for the Calgary Flames, the team that he has spent the last four full seasons with, and like with all the other teams he played with, he was used as a top defenseman. He was taken in the eighth round at 241st overall, and despite being taken so low, he has 369 career points split between 275 assists and 94 goals.
13 Joe Pavelski - 2003: Round 7, 205th Overall
The San Jose Sharks franchise has existed in the NHL since the 1991 season, and since their foundation, they have won six division championships, and just this past season, they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final where they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In their 25 years of existence, the Sharks have had some pretty good players, including the likes of Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, but as the last couple of seasons have shown, centerman Joe Pavelski is currently the franchise’s best player. San Jose drafted Pavelski in 2003 and in less than three years he found himself on the main roster, where he made an immediate impact. Pavelski has so far played his entire NHL career with San Jose, and in that ten year span, he has scored nearly 500 points made up of 228 goals and 257 assists. Last offseason, he was also named as the team’s new captain, which is quite the accomplishment considering no other player taken 205th overall in the seventh round has become an NHL captain.
12 Pekka Rinne - 2004: Round 8, 258th Overall
In 1997, the Nashville Predators franchise entered the NHL, and even though they do not have a long history like some of the other teams in the league, they have still had their fair share of great players, with Pekka Rinne possibly being the best of them all. Nashville drafted Rinne in 2004, and by the 2005-06 season he was called up to the main roster where he served as a backup goalie for the first 3 years of his NHL career. By 2008-09, Rinne became Nashville’s number one goalie, a position he has held on to despite injuries for the past eight years. He is undoubtedly the best goalie Nashville has ever had, and he has also been one of the best goalies in the entire league the past couple of years. As of now, Rinne has 245 wins with a .917 save percentage, 2.37 goals against average, and 40 shutouts, which is phenomenal considering he was drafted 258th overall in the eighth round.
11 Patric Hornqvist - 2005: Round 7, 230th Overall
In the previous entry, it was mentioned that despite their relatively short amount of time in the NHL, the Nashville Predators franchise has managed to have good players play for them, and Pekka Rinne was one, but so was Patric Hornqvist. The Predators drafted the Swedish right winger in the seventh round with the 230th overall pick, but he continued to play in the Swedish Elite League for three years before joining the team’s roster in the 2008-09 season. Upon joining the Predators’ lineup, Hornqvist became one of the team’s most important offensive threats, a role that he kept for five seasons until he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2014 where his production actually increased. In his now eight year NHL career, Hornqvist, has scored over 300 points between both Nashville and Pittsburgh, made up of 153 goals and 165 assists, and just this past season he became a Stanley Cup champion with his Pittsburgh teammates; not bad for someone who was the very last player taken in the whole 2005 draft.
10 Andrew MacDonald - 2006: Round 6, 160th Overall
As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of defensemen taken by NHL teams, and the 2006 draft was no exception to this trend, as many of the selections made that year were to add possible future depth players to the blue line of each team. Andrew MacDonald was one of the defensemen taken in that year’s draft, and it was the New York Islanders who ended up selecting him. After being drafted, MacDonald spent two years in the minors before finally making his NHL debut during the 2008-09 season, and he would then go on to spend the better part of five seasons playing on the Islander’s roster as a member of their bottom three defensemen. Near the end of the 2013-14 season, MacDonald was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, the team with which he continues to play for today. New York took MacDonald in the sixth round with the 160th overall pick, and between both teams, he has scored 113 points which include 20 goals and 93 assists.
9 Jamie Benn - 2007: Round 5, 129th Overall
The Dallas Stars may have only come to the city of Dallas in 1993, but the actual franchise has existed since 1967, back when the team was located in Minnesota and went by the name North Stars. There have been some pretty good players who have played for the franchise, including the likes of Brenden Morrow, Marty Turco, and Mike Modano; and it is quite possible that Jamie Benn will join them as being one of the franchise’s best players. The Stars drafted Benn in 2007, but by the 2009-10 season, he was a part of Dallas’ lineup, where he became an immediate impact player. Benn has spent the first seven years of his career with Dallas, becoming the team’s captain in the process, and he will continue to play for Dallas for the foreseeable future as he signed a new eight year contract this offseason. He has scored 448 points including 192 goals and 256 assists, not too shabby for someone taken in the fifth round with the 129th overall pick.
8 Braden Holtby - 2008: Round 4, 193rd Overall
The final goalie to appear on this list is Braden Holtby, and no one, probably including the team who drafted him, likely expected him to ever make it on to an NHL roster, but he did, and to many people’s surprise, he has gone on to become one of the top three goalies in the league the past two seasons. It was the Washington Capitals who drafted Holtby with the 93rd overall pick in 2008, but he did not make his debut with the team until the 2010-11 season where he served as a backup goalie, a role which he held for two more seasons. By the 2012-13 season, Holtby was named the team’s number one goalie, and he continues to hold that position today, and in his now six year career with Washington he has almost 150 wins with 23 shutouts, a .921 save percentage and a 2.37 goals against average. Holtby has truly excelled in his role as he has also just won the award for being the league’s best goalie this past offseason, and not many goalies taken in the fourth round have received that honor.
7 Marcus Kruger - 2009: Round 5, 149th Overall
The Chicago Blackhawks have been the most successful NHL franchise for the past six years as they have won three Stanley Cups in that period of time, and the reason for that level of success is partly because of their core group of five players which includes Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but their success is also attributed to the quality of players they have drafted. Marcus Kruger is one of those players, and Chicago took the centerman in the fifth round of the 2009 draft with the 149th overall pick, and it was not until the following year that he made his NHL debut with the team. Kruger has so far played his entire career with Chicago where he functions as an incredibly important depth player for the Blackhawks, and he was very important in the team’s last two championship seasons. In six seasons, he may only have 70 points, but it is the defensive aspect of his game that truly makes him a steal.
6 Mark Stone - 2010: Round 6, 178th Overall
The Ottawa Senators have been a part of the NHL since 1990, and in their history, they have had some very proficient scorers like Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Marian Hossa; and barring any serious injuries, Mark Stone may also become one of the franchise’s top scorers. Ottawa drafted Stone in the sixth round of the 2010 draft with the 178th overall pick, and his NHL debut came very quickly in the form of a 2011-12 playoff game. After his debut, Stone spent two years between the Senators main roster and their minor league affiliate, but come the 2014-15 season, he became a permanent member of the main roster, and immediately started to show his scoring ability. In only 178 career NHL games, Stone has scored 133 points made up of 80 assists and 53 goals, which are incredible offensive numbers for a 24 year old player who was drafted as late as he was.
5 Andrew Shaw - 2011: Round 5: 139th Overall
As was mentioned earlier, the Chicago Blackhawks have been incredibly successful since 2010, and some of that success is thanks to specific players that they have been able to find and essentially steal in the draft. Andrew Shaw was taken by the Blackhawks in the fifth round of the 2011 draft with the 139th overall pick, and he ultimately went on to make his NHL debut later that same year with the team. Shaw played the first five years of his career in Chicago, where he served primarily as their third-line center, and was a very valuable part of the Blackhawks’ 2013 and 2015 championships. This past offseason though, Chicago traded Shaw to the Montreal Canadiens who quickly signed him to a new six year deal, which makes some sense considering that in 322 games, Shaw has 70 goals and 67 assists, which is quite good for a third-line forward.
4 Andreas Athanasiou - 2012: Round 4, 110th Overall
For the past two decades, the Detroit Red Wings have been one of the most successful teams in the entire NHL, having now made the playoffs 25 straight seasons and winning four Stanley Cups in that time. Detroit has managed to steal some of the best players the NHL has seen, like Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, and Pavel Datsyuk, and they continue to do so with the likes of Dylan Larkin and Petr Mrazek; and it is possible that Andreas Athanasiou will become yet another steal for the Wings. Athanasiou was selected by the Red Wings in the fourth round of the 2012 draft with the 110th overall pick, and for the first three years after he was drafted he played for Detroit’s minor league affiliate. This past season though, Athanasiou was called up to the main roster where his speed and scoring potential became apparent right away. In only 37 games where he played on the third and fourth line, Athanasiou managed to score 14 points including 9 goals, which is a great start for what might be a great career.
3 Jordan Subban - 2013: Round 4, 115th Overall
The Vancouver Canucks have had success with the draft in the past, like when they nabbed players such as Trevor Linden, Kevin Bieksa, Ryan Kesler, and even both Sedin twins, and despite having never won a championship, they have been a successful franchise. Like many teams now, Vancouver focuses heavily on the defensive side of the game, which is why they have been drafting defensemen like Jordan Subban. The Canucks took Subban with the 115th overall pick in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, and despite not having been called up to the main roster yet, Vancouver sees that he will be a good player as they signed him to an entry-level contract in 2015, meaning his NHL debut may be close at hand. While with Vancouver’s minor league affiliate last season, Subban scored 36 points including 11 goals in only 67 games, which is impressive; and if he is anything like his superstar brother P.K. Subban, Jordan will become a good NHL defenseman.
2 Axel Holmstrom - 2014: Round 7, 196th Overall
The Detroit Red Wings have indeed had some superb luck with drafting players, and one of those players which they stole was Tomas Holmstrom, a Swedish left winger who despite not being that gifted skill wise, was still able to earn over 500 points and become an integral part of four Stanley Cup Championship teams. In the 2014 draft, the Red Wings went ahead and drafted another Swedish player with the Holmstrom surname (no relation) with their 196th pick in the seventh round. Axel Holmstrom has not yet been called up to Detroit’s main lineup, in fact he has not even joined the team’s minor league affiliate, as the Red Wings have allowed him to continue playing in his native Sweden. While playing in his homeland, Holmstrom has played in the World Junior Championship and the top tier of the Swedish Hockey League, where in only 48 SHL games he has scored 20 points with 10 goals and assists each. In 2015, Detroit signed him to an entry-level contract, meaning that they believe he may be close to NHL ready.
1 Michael Spacek - 2015: Round 4, 108th Overall
The city of Winnipeg initially had an NHL franchise which was called the Jets, but due to some unfortunate circumstances, the team ended up being relocated in 1996 to Phoenix where the team came to be known as the Coyotes. In 2011 though, Winnipeg got their team back (along with the Jets name) as the Atlanta Thrashers franchise was relocated due to economic troubles. This Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise has landed some very notable draft picks in the past like Dany Heatley, Evander Kane, and Ilya Kovalchuk, and they continue to draft offensive minded players today. In last year’s draft, Winnipeg drafted Czech winger Michael Spacek in the fourth round with the 108th overall pick, and not surprisingly, he has not played a single game for the Jets, but last season he played in the Western Hockey League where he scored 54 points split between 18 goals and 36 assists in only 61 games. Numbers like that are enough to show that Spacek has what it takes to put the puck in the net, which is not something many players drafted after the second round are known for.