Following this NHL season's playoff race, the Entry Draft and all of the young prospects involved will come into focus. Young men will have their dreams come true, fans will fill with excitement as their beloved team finds a possible beacon of hope, and team management will be loosening their ties to try to escape the stress.
The hockey world is always eager to see every year's class of talent and looks forward to seeing the young guns tested in battle. A big draft selection can completely turn a franchise around - empty seats will fill, jerseys will sell, and that little boy or girl at the end of your street will find their hero.
Big names always go early on draft day - names like Crosby, McDavid, and Kane. However, sometimes incredible hockey players slip through the cracks and don't get picked up until late. Late picks (like the ones we will be examining) are sometimes the most pivotal and influential to their respective squads. Let's call them sleeper picks - these sleeper picks are usually over looked for dumb reasons and it takes a good scout to really realize a player's potential.
In this list we will be looking at 15 NHL players who were drafted 100th overall or higher in their respective drafts and went on to be great, or even legendary players.
With all of that out of the way, let's get into it!
15 Dustin Byfuglien (245th Overall)
'Big Buff' was selected in the eighth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks - the team he helped win the Stanley Cup in 2010. Standing at 6'5" and 260 lbs, the 31-year-old Dustin Byfuglien is known as one of the biggest physical presences in the league and definitely not somebody you want to make angry. The big American is a two-time NHL All-Star who has proven himself as an elite two-way NHL defender that carries the puck like a freight train and defends his end like a protective, mother grizzly bear.
What I find most impressive about Byfuglien is his versatility - he is capable of playing as both a forward as well as a defenceman. Personally, I prefer him on the blue line and starting the rush for his Winnipeg Jets - he's borderline unstoppable when he gets going at full speed. So far in his career, Byfuglien has notched 164 goals and 444 points in 751 games. With his good speed, massive frame and soft hands, it really is a wonder why he was overlooked at the draft as bad as he was - if I was to guess, I'd say it had something to do with his (at the time) lack of foot speed and endurance.
14 Pekka Rinne (258th Overall)
The 31st pick out of the eighth round in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft was Pekka Rinne. Out of Kempele, Finland, Rinne is a big goalie standing at 6'5", 217 lbs and uses that size to his advantage. The two-time NHL All-Star and three-time Vezina Trophy finalist has certainly proven himself as a huge steal at draft day - considering there were 29 goalies selected before him in '04, it's pretty impressive that he's played more games (501 with 490 starts) and accomplished way more than all of them.
The big Fin has played his entire 11-season NHL career with the Nashville Predators and become an integral member of an infamously defensive squad - illustrated by his 42 shutouts. With a career GAA of 2.39 and Sv% of .917, Rinne's numbers speak for themselves and he's without a doubt an elite NHL tender. Unfortunately, the 'Preds' haven't accomplished too much as a team yet. I'd love to see Rinne take home some hardware before his career ends. Why Rinne was overlooked is beyond me.
13 Andrei Markov (162nd Overall)
In at the lucky #13 spot is Russian born, Andrei Markov who was selected in the sixth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens. The 38-year-old has played his entire career with the 'Habs' and demonstrated his offensive skills throughout the entire run. With 568 points in 982 career games, including 292 PPP, Markov is definitely a guy you want orchestrating your team's power play.
Markov is currently a major part of the Canadiens' lineup where he contributes leadership, production, and reliability. With the 'Habs' ready for the playoffs, I really hope to see Markov helping lead the way to the Canadiens' 25th Stanley Cup. Being 38, the smooth-skating defender's career is definitely coming to a close but he still has some gas left in the tank. Markov has been a consistent point producer since his rookie year, so I'd have to blame a lack of scouting for his late selection in the draft.
12 Joe Pavelski (205th Overall)
Up next is the current San Jose Sharks' captain, Joe Pavelski - the Sharks' seventh round selection of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Pavelski is an incredible hockey player who can fill in any spot, through all four lines, for any team. The four-time 30 goal scorer (one-time 40) is on pace for his fourth consecutive 30+ goal and 70+ point season. Pavelski just has that knack and constantly gets himself into the right spot at the right time - the puck seems to just follow him around sometimes.
The 32-year-old, Wisconsin native has accumulated 294 goals and 627 points through 798 games so far in his fruitful career. The Sharks are definite cup-contenders this season and Pavelski is the perfect captain to lead them all the way. He's a pivotal member of a strong leadership core who all deserve a cup - some of whom I've covered in a previous article. With Pavelski being as offensively gifted as he is, being as diverse as he is and being an excellent leader, one can only wonder why we was scooped up so late in the draft.
11 Henrik Lundqvist (205th Overall)
Henrik Lundqvist, more commonly known as 'King Henrik' was selected in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers. Since his rookie season in 2005, Henrik Lundqvist has demonstrated his skill and proven himself as one of the best net-minders in the NHL. The Vezina Trophy winner and four-time nominee has a career Sv% of .920, a GAA of 2.31 and 61 shutouts.
In his 11 NHL seasons, the King has only dipped below 30+ wins once where he still won 24 out of 43 games and posted a Sv% of .926 and a GAA of 2.05. The good looking Swede has had an even better looking career and I can't wait to see what else he has in store for us. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Rangers deep in the playoffs this season and possibly even competing for the cup. Why Lundqvist was overlooked so heavily is a complete mystery to me and I can guarantee countless teams are kicking themselves for not stealing him at the draft.
10 Jamie Benn (129th Overall)
In at the #10 spot is the current Dallas Stars' captain, Jamie Benn - the Stars' fifth round selection of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. The Victoria, BC native is an absolute offensive weapon who won the Art Ross Trophy in the 2014-15 season - he racked up 35 goals and 87 points in 82 games. His career best season was the following one where he trumped himself slightly with 41 goals and 89 points in 82 games. So far in his short career, Benn has marked down 216 goals and 511 points in 575 games.
Being only 27-years-old, the young star (pun intended) has only up to go and will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with for many, many years to come. The first overall pick in 2007 grew up a ferry ride and short car ride away from Benn and his name is Kyle Turris, who has only managed to notch 131 goals and 304 points in 524 games. Yikes. Benn is the perfect example of a sleeper pick and I have no idea why he was taken so late.
9 Rick Tocchet (121st Overall)
Out of Scarborough, Ontario is Rick Tocchet - the Philadelphia Flyers' sixth round pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. Tocchet played 18 NHL seasons for six different teams but started and finished his career draped in orange with the Flyers. In 1,144 games Tocchet recorded 440 goals (130 PPG), 952 points, and 2,972 PIMS. Tocchet was a four-time NHL All-Star and even won the Stanley Cup.
Tocchet was known as an enforcer and to play with an edge - during his first stint with the Flyers in the 80's, he was known as one of the 'Bruise Brothers' alongside teammate, Dave Brown. After his impressive playing career, Tocchet went on to try out coaching - he is currently the assistant coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who he raised another cup with. Chippy, talented and reliable, it's a mystery as to why this bruiser fell through the cracks.
8 Peter Bondra (156th Overall)
Next up is the Washington Capitals' eighth round selection of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, Peter Bondra. It didn't take long for the Ukrainian, Bondra to display his offensive prowess and ability to ripple the mesh. Bondra played 16 NHL seasons, 14 of which were with his draft team, the 'Caps' - this is where he found his success. Bondra racked up over 50 goals twice and had nine seasons with 30 or more goals.
In his 1,081 career games, Bondra tallied 503 goals and 892 points - he only dipped below 20 goals three times (broken seasons). He could skate with the best of them and holds the Capitals' franchise records in short-handed goals (32) and also hat tricks (19). He retired in 2007 with the Chicago Blackhawks. If I could attribute his late draft selection to anything, it would have to be due to him playing in the Czech league where scouting was limited.
7 Dave Taylor (210th Overall)
Lucky #7 is Dave Taylor (Pictured Left), the Los Angeles Kings' 15th round selection of the 1975 NHL Entry Draft. The Levack, Ontario product notched 431 goals, 1,069 points, and 1,589 PIMS in 1,111 career NHL games. In just his second professional season, Taylor marked down an impressive 43 goals and 91 points in 78 games. It became very clear that Taylor was an offensive powerhouse and he was put on the infamous 'Triple Crown Line' with Marcel Dionne and Charlie Simmer.
Playing for the Clarkson University Knights in the ECAC, Taylor was largely flying under the radar of scouts and wasn't exactly impressing anybody with his numbers. That changed in the 1976-77 season where he tore up the league with 41 goals and 108 points in a mere 34 games (a record that still hasn't been beaten)! A definite NHL legend, Taylor should have been selected in the first round but hey, I'm glad the 'Triple Crown Line' was formed.
6 Pavel Bure (113th Overall)
Up next is the 'Russian Rocket', Pavel Bure - the Vancouver Canucks' sixth round selection back at the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. The Moscow product, Bure was known for incredible speed and goal scoring ability - in 702 NHL games he racked up 437 goals and 779 points. Much like a rocket, Bure came out of the gate hot and scored 34 goals and 60 points in 64 games during his rookie season, earning him the Calder Memorial Trophy. Bure also won the Maurice Richard Trophy twice - he won them in back-to-back seasons (1999-2000/2000-2001) where he tallied 58 goals (94 points) and then 59 goals (92 points).
If you blinked, you'd miss him and you'd most likely be fishing the puck out of the net shortly after. The 'Russian Rocket' managed five seasons with 50+ goals including two back-to-back 60 goal seasons in just his second and third NHL seasons (1992-1993/1993-1994). He remained productive until his retirement with the New York Rangers in 2003. I have no idea how a player of this calibre went as late as 113th but I'm sure the folks of Vancouver are glad that he did.
5 Theo Fleury (166th Overall)
Coming in at the #5 spot is name most hockey fans are familiar with, Theo Fleury - the eighth round selection by the Calgary Flames in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. Fleury was an incredible hockey player whose personal struggles unfortunately took over his life. However, his career was still very impressive - he recorded 455 goals, 1,088 points, and 1,840 PIMS in 1,084 NHL games. Perhaps what's most impressive about Fleury is his 5'6" and 182 lb frame and how he was still able to be a dominant player in the NHL.
With tremendous speed, skill and an unmatched work ethic, Fleury proved himself worthy of the big leagues and quickly developed into the leader of the Calgary Flames. With the Flames, Fleury notched 364 goals and 830 points in 791 games. On top of his point production he also won a cup with the Flames and even wore the 'C' for a time. Fleury was definitely held back in the draft rankings due to his size, but he also definitely proved everyone wrong and showcased the play of a first-rounder.
4 Henrik ZetterberG (210th Overall)
The Detroit Red Wings, with GM Ken Holland and European scout Hakan Andersson, were light-years ahead of the competition in terms of finding hidden gems. One of these pickups was Henrik Zetterberg - Detroit's current captain and also their seventh round selection in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. Zetterberg has played his entire 14-season NHL career in the 'Motor City' and chalked up 324 goals and 896 points in 990 games so far, all while sitting on a +159 rating.
Since Zetterberg joined the Red Wings in 2002, he's been a staple in the team's offence. He hoisted a cup with the Wings in the 2007-08 season - a season that saw to him winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and contributing 43 goals and 92 points in 75 games to the campaign. Zetterberg is easily one of the best Swedes to ever play the game and has done nothing but illustrate why he should have been a first round selection at the draft.
3 Pavel Datsyuk (171st Overall)
Up next is another Detroit selection, Pavel Datsyuk who was selected one year prior to Zetterberg in the sixth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. Datsyuk played his entire 14-season NHL career with the Wings before he left to play in Russia - he raised two cups and marked down 314 goals and 918 points in 953 games all while being an impressive +249. Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and NHL legend, Nicklas Lidstrom were the face of the Wings for many years during their league dominance - all three were late selections (Lidstrom went 53rd Overall).
Nicknamed 'The Magician', Datsyuk's offensive abilities are borderline terrifying - he could dangle two defenders inside of a phone booth. During his time in the show, it was safe to say that he probably had the softest hands in the league. What makes 'The Magician' truly magic though, is his defensive game. Datsyuk was a three-time Frank J. Selke Trophy winner (awarded to league's top defensive forward) in three consecutive years (2007-2010) - these seasons included two 97-point seasons and one 70 point season! Datsyuk easily should have went top three at the draft, possibly even first.
2 Daniel Alfredsson (133rd Overall)
Out of Gothenburg, Sweden is Daniel Alfredsson - the Ottawa Senators' sixth round selection in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. The long time 'Sens' captain played his entire 18-season career in Canada's capital and is the greatest player to ever play for them. In 1,246 games, 'Alfy' tallied 444 goals and 713 assists accumulating to 1,157 points - all of which are Franchise records.
'Alfy' started his career out hot and didn't cool off until his retirement in 2014 - in his 1995-96 rookie season, he took home the Calder Memorial Trophy with 26 goals and 61 points in 82 games. Alfredsson was consistently among the top scorers for the 'Sens' but his best season by far was definitely the 2005-06 season that saw to the Swede etching in 43 goals and 103 points in 77 games. On top of his point production, 'Alfy' also displayed incredible leadership qualities and will leave an impression on the Senators organization until the end of time.
1 Luc Robitaille (171st Overall)
In at the coveted #1 spot is Luc Robitaille, the French-Canadian sniper - the Los Angeles Kings' ninth round selection in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. Robitaille played 19 NHL seasons for four different teams but finished where he started, with a crown on his sweater. In 1,431 career games, Robitaille sniped 668 goals and put up 1,394 points - Robitaille is currently 12th on the NHL's all-time goal scorers list.
The eight-time 40 goal scorer was largely considered a poor skater which earned him his late selection at the draft - what makes him so good was his ability to snipe corners on goalies. His best season was in the 1992-93 season where he chalked up an impressive 63 goals and 125 points in 84 games - a stat that only earned him fourth in the goal scoring race and ninth in the point scoring race. If Robitaille skated a bit better he would have easily went top five in the '84 draft.
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