Although it wasn’t the most star-studded draft year, the 2007 NHL Entry Draft was still a very interesting one none-the-less. It was a draft class extremely lacking in between the pipes but filled with snipers and backed with great defencemen.
With names such as Patrick Kane, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Max Pacioretty being called in the first round, it’s safe to say that the United States dominated the talent pool in 2007 – ironically though, it was the Canadiens of Montreal who really cleaned up.
The Montreal Canadiens drafted incredibly in 2007, selecting their future captain – Max Pacioretty, a future James Norris Memorial Trophy winner – P.K. Subban, and one of the best D-men in the league – Ryan McDonagh. Pacioretty and McDonagh went in the first round (as they should have) but Subban would not be selected until just about halfway through the second round at 43rd overall. It really makes you wonder how such an all-star, like Subban, could slip through the cracks like that.
There were 16 defensemen drafted ahead of Subban in this draft class – some were arguably worthy of their draft placement, but most were undoubtedly selected at the wrong times. In this list we will be ranking those 16 D-men from worst to best, looking at their skill sets, and examining their NHL careers (if any). With most players in this list right on the fringe of their primes, this is the perfect time to take a look.
With all that out of the way, let’s get into!
16 Taylor Ellington
Drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, Taylor Ellington is one of three defencemen drafted ahead of Subban who never played in the NHL. A product of Victoria, British Columbia, it must have been a dream come true for Ellington to be drafted by his hometown team. Standing at 6’2” and 209 lbs, Ellington was a big defensive defenceman known for his safe plays and good first pass. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the best skater and only played physical occasionally.
Prior to being drafted, Ellington played his junior career in the WHL for the Everett Silvertips – he recorded only 66 points in 287 games but again, he was known for his defensive play. It was after being drafted when his skating ability, or lack-there-of, really started to become evident – he played only 21 games in the AHL before moving on to the ECHL and later Denmark.
15 Josh Godfrey
Drafted one spot after the previous entry, Josh Godfrey is the second of three players in this list who never skated in the big leagues. Godfrey was practically a polar opposite of Ellington in terms of play style – he was an offensive defenceman known for his great skating ability, powerful shot, and skill with the puck. Godfrey was a weapon in the offensive end – especially on the power play, but was largely a liability in the defensive end which ultimately prevented him from playing in the show.
The Collingwood, Ontario native played well in the OHL for the Greyhounds and contributed 24 goals and 57 points over 68 games during the 2006/7 season. He proved his offensive abilities in junior, but much like the previous entry, really fell off following his draft year. Godfrey played 64 AHL games, contributing a mere two goals and 15 points while clinging onto a -6 rating.
14 Nick Ross
The third and final player on this list to not play in the NHL is Nick Ross, the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes draft pick. Ross was considered a smooth skating, playmaking defenceman who could read the ice better than most and join in on the rush. He wasn’t the biggest defenceman ever, standing at 6’0” and 188 lbs, but was known for being able to deliver massive hits. Perhaps what prevented him from a birth into the show was his apparent lack of urgency and mediocre point production.
Following his draft year, Ross played 115 games in the AHL and recorded 27 points while supporting a decent +6 rating. His play was never bad but he never elevated his play to a level necessary for the NHL. If he had played with more urgency and maybe contributed a little more on the score sheet, Ross could have made a steady NHL career and played a second or third pairing role for the ‘Yotes.
13 Nick Petrecki
Moving onto the 10-games or under club, Nick Petrecki is one of four players in this list whose big league appearances are countable on your hands. Standing at 6’3” and 227 lbs, Petrecki was usually among the bigger players on the ice and he wasn’t afraid to use that size. He was known for throwing his weight around and being a smart shut-down defender. On top of his physicality, Petrecki was also equipped with a heavy shot – unfortunately, he didn’t use that shot enough.
At the time, the Sharks already had a big blue line but could have used a d-man who could chalk up points. This was a problem for Petrecki, seeing as how his best two seasons in the AHL only saw him recording 14 points. He ended up playing one game for the Sharks during the 2012-13 season but that was it for the big man. Petrecki was no doubt a good shut-down defenceman, but he simply just didn’t have enough versatility in his game to crack a roster spot.
12 Tommy Cross
Boston Bruins’ selection, Tommy Cross, is the next member in the 10-games or under club. Cross was another big defenceman at 6’3” and over 200 lbs who liked to bang bodies and work along the boards. He had good vision, adequate hockey sense, and a strong shot which probably had the Bruins’ brass thinking they had selected a well-rounded defender.
Cross would only go on to play three games in the NHL where he managed to record one shorthanded assist – unfortunately, he was also a -1 during his short stint. With the Bruins so deep on the blue line, Cross really had to show an impressive well-rounded game in order to make it but he just didn’t have it. His come-up was hindered by untimely injuries and a very successful Bruins defensive core, so Cross simply missed his prime window – but the big man is still with the Providence Bruins so who knows, maybe a late shot is pending with the Bruins’ back end starting to deteriorate.
11 Kevin Marshall
Kevin Marshall, the Philadelphia Flyers’ selection, takes the third spot in the 10-games or under club. Marshall was largely regarded as a very hard-working player who took care of his own end first. He was very efficient with the puck, making him a defenceman you wanted handling your team’s breakouts. Despite only being 6’1” and under 200 lbs, Marshall was also known for playing with a physical edge.
Marshall only played 10 games for the Flyers where he recorded zero points, eight PIMS, and managed a -1 rating. He showed a complete game during his time in the QMJHL where he recorded over 30 points in three out of four seasons but just couldn’t do it anywhere else. His time in the AHL was very lackluster and he ended being moved to Toronto to play for the Marlies. After a two-season ride with the Marlies, Marshall moved on to the SweHL where he currently resides.
10 Alex Plante
The Brandon, Manitoba product, Alex Plante, is the last player in this list to play 10 games or less. Selected 15th overall in the draft, it’s safe to say Plante was the biggest disappointment in this list. Standing at 6’4” and 230 lbs, Plante was a monster on the blueline mostly known for his shutdown abilities and corner dominance.
The big blue-liner played a grand total of 10 NHL games for the Oilers and marked down two assists and 15 PIMS while nurturing a -1 rating. Plante was essentially an injury replacement for the Oil and struggled to compete for opportunities with the constant young additions to the organization. In the 2011-12 season, Plante played three games, tallied one assist and had an even rating – unfortunately, a concussion from a hit delivered by (at the time) Vancouver’s Dale Weise sidelined him, effectively ruining what quite possibly could have been his last shot.
9 T.J. Brennan
Out of Moorestown, New Jersey, T.J. Brennan is our next entry. He’s a very offensively talented D-man known for his good skating, reliable passing skills, and an absolute cannon of a shot. Brennan is the type of defenceman you want quarterbacking your power play and starting your breakout. What you don’t want from him however, is having him matched up against the opposing team’s first line – Brennan’s defensive game is seriously lacking and ultimately that is mostly likely why he hasn’t had a very long-standing NHL career.
Brennan has played 53 NHL games and notched five goals, 13 points, 29 PIMS, and dragged along an unattractive -22 rating. Brennan has proved his offensive abilities numerous times, especially during his time with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL – in 2013-14, he recorded 25 goals in 72 points in 76 games. The thing is though, he also sported a -10 rating during that 2012-14 season. As of late, Brennan has elevated his play and has since been moved to the Flyers organization where he plays in the AHL for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms – currently with 37 points in 44 while games carrying a +11 rating. If he keeps up his recent level of play, he will definitely get some more time in the show.
8 Keaton Ellerby
At the half-way mark of this list, we will be looking at Keaton Ellerby – the Florida Panthers’ selection. Ellerby has come a long way from his days in the WHL where he was known to be quite chippy and taking untimely, selfish penalties. He has grown substantially as a person and also as a shutdown d-man by developing his positioning, poise, and overall hockey sense.
At 6’5” and 220 lbs, Ellerby is a surprisingly smooth skater who is great at making heads-up passes to streaking forwards. The big fella played for three different teams (Florida, L.A., Winnipeg) during his six NHL seasons and contributed a meager 27 points in 212 games while being chained to an unlucky -13 rating. He played only one game for the Jets during his last NHL season and in the following season moved on to the KHL. He currently plays in the SM-liiga.
7 Jonathon Blum
In at the lucky #7 spot is Jonathon Blum – a Nashville Predators’ draft choice. Blum is a playmaking defenceman with tremendous vision and skating ability who can find holes with the puck most defenceman simply cannot. His biggest downfall is definitely his size, 6’1” and 188 lbs, which goes hand in hand with his very evident lack of physicality.
Blum, the Long Beach, California product, played 110 games over five NHL seasons for the Predators and Wild – he recorded 24 points and was a -11 during his professional stint. With the Preds’ being as stacked as they were on the blue line and the Wild needing physicality, Blum decided to move on and try his luck in the KHL. While playing for the Vladivostok Admirals, Blum etched in 30 points over 55 games last season – so far this season, in 33 games, he’s already sitting on 20 points.
6 Brendan Smith
Next on the list is a Mimico, Ontario native, Brendan Smith – a Detroit Red Wings addition. The 27-year-old went 27th overall and for good reasons; in his college days, Smith was a very talented offensive defenceman with smooth skating, great vision, and soft hands. While playing for the University of Wisconsin, Smith dropped an impressive 15 goals and 52 points over 42 games during the 2009/10 season. The Red Wings are notorious for drafting well and Smith is no exception to the notoriety.
The Red Wings are a great organization for developing young talent and they did just that with Smith, placing him in the AHL for two full seasons (after he finished his schooling) before giving him a shot in the NHL. With the retirement of Lidstrom, the aging of Kronwall, and the general lacking on the back end, Smith joined the Red Wings at the perfect time. However, playing under one of the best coaches of all time, Mike Babcock, Smith quickly learned he would have to fill a different role from the one he was used to. He is now a dependable two-way defenceman who is sitting on a career rating of +1.
5 Ian Cole
In at the #5 spot is a St. Louis Blues’ selection, Ian Cole. There’s one word that best sums up Cole, and that is Versatility. Cole is a puck-moving, two-way defenceman who plays smart, physical, and offensively at times. He’s a player you can throw into all situations including special teams, clutch moments, and shutdown roles against opposing threats.
Cole is currently playing in his seventh NHL season on his second team, the Pittsburgh Penguins – a team he lifted the cup with last season. Over 306 professional games, Cole has chalked up 68 points while sitting on a cushy +55 rating – he is currently playing his career best season with 17 points in 50 games and a +20 rating. Cole has really proven his value during his time in Pittsburgh and will without a doubt have a long and fruitful career.
4 Karl Alzner
Next on the list is Karl Alzner – a big defenceman out of Burnaby, British Columbia. Alzner is a great shutdown, borderline two-way, defenceman with size and mobility who can play in just about every situation. Alzner is very physical but also very disciplined – he has never gone above 30 PIMS during his time as a pro. His offensive game has been developing and he has come off two back-to-back career-high seasons of 21 points in 82 games.
Alzner is currently in his ninth NHL season, all of which have been with his draft team, the Washington Capitals. With the Capitals being the high-flying offensive powerhouse that they are, Alzner is the perfect, reliable defensive backbone. Once he earned a regular roster spot in 2009, Alzner has played in all 82 games in all but one season (injury) and carried an impressive +56 while doing so – talk about reliability, eh?
3 Thomas Hickey
In at the #3 spot is Thomas Hickey – a Los Angeles Kings’ selection. The key to Hickey’s game is his seemingly effortless skating ability and his vision. He’s a great puck-moving defenceman who makes breakouts a breeze. On the other end of the spectrum, being a great skater allows him to close the gap on opposing forwards very quickly and with ease.
Hickey never did play for his draft team, but instead was claimed on waivers by the New York islanders. He’s currently in his fifth season with the Islanders and has contributed 16 goals and 78 points while sporting a +16 rating. Hickey is currently on pace for his career-best season, sitting on 13 points in 47 games so far – his best was 22 points in 81 games during the 2014-15 season. I believe Hickey is going to roll into his prime within the next few seasons and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him and Islanders deep in the playoffs in the next upcoming years.
2 Kevin Shattenkirk
In at the #2 spot is #22 for the St.Louis Blues. Kevin Shattenkirk is a Colorado Avalanche draft pick who has blossomed into one of the best offensive defencemen in the NHL today. His offensive vision and patience really separate him from most D-men in the game today – it’s essentially like having a fourth forward on the ice with you. On top of his offensive game, Shattenkirk is also a fairly reliable defenceman.
Shattenkirk is currently playing in his seventh NHL season and has recorded 66 goals and 277 points in 460 games – very impressive for a blue-liner. Where he really shines is on the powerplay, showing off his smooth skating and remarkable vision – he has notched an impressive 34 goals and 137 points on the power play. Shattenkirk is an absolute weapon and I’m excited to see what else he has to offer as his career presses on.
1 Ryan McDonagh
Last but certainly not least, is the St. Paul, Minnesota native, Ryan McDonagh. He’s truly a remarkable hockey player and one of the most well-rounded D-men in the NHL. McDonagh has exceptional positional awareness, plays with an edge, and is offensively gifted – making him your ideal two-way defenceman. He was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens but traded to the New York Rangers in a terrible trade that I covered in a previous article of mine – so yeah, the Habs drafted both Subban and McDonagh in the same year!
McDonagh is currently playing in his seventh NHL season for the Rangers and has racked up 45 goals and 199 points in 440 games. My old man used to say that the best defencemen are the ones you hardly notice – I didn’t get it at first, but McDonagh is a perfect example of this. He’s not a flashy player, always makes the simple play, and is almost never beat my opposing players. On top of his impressive point production, the guy is sitting on a career rating of +124 and has never dipped below +10 in a season!