Every June, some 200 young hockey prospects are lucky enough to hear their name called by a representative of an NHL team, thus becoming official property of that club. Being drafted is just the first step; most of those 200-odd players won’t even play a single game in the NHL.
As time passes, we’re able to look back at the various draft classes of yesteryear and determine which ones were the strongest and which were the weakest, overall. While a lot of attention has been paid to some of the stronger classes in history (2003, 1984), not a lot has been given to the drafts that yielded the shallowest selection of players.
Looking back at the drafts throughout the years, I think it’s safe to say that the 1996 draft was one of the weakest on record. The first round yielded just two players who’ve participated in an All-Star game, and beyond the first round there isn’t much else, aside from a few gems here and there.
I took it upon myself to re-draft the first round of the ’96 draft to see what it would look like if the best players were selected in the top 30 and what teams they would have played for. Side note: there were only 26 teams in the league at the time, but the re-draft is selected as if it were today, so there are 30. The remaining four picks will fall under second rounders if this were 1996. Enjoy:
30 Zdeno Chara - Ottawa Senators
Originally selected: 56th, New York Islanders
Zdeno Chara, the giant Slovakian defenseman and Stanley Cup champion, was by far the best player to have been selected in the 1996 NHL draft. He jumps up 55 spots from where he was actually selected by the New York Islanders early in the third round.
While pretty much every other defenseman who appears on this list is either a defensive specialist or an offensive weapon, Chara has it all. The towering rearguard still has two years remaining on his contract, and he has shown no signs that he’ll be retiring before its expiration. He even still has offensive upside as a 39-year-old, as he notched 37 points in 2015-16.
29 Daniel Briere - San Jose Sharks
Originally selected: 24th, Phoenix Coyotes
Coming in at number two and the first forward off the board in our re-draft is Daniel Briere. Briere jumps up 22 spots, as he was originally selected 24th overall and is one of just two players selected in the first round in 1996 who appeared in an NHL All-Star game.
Briere’s journey started in Phoenix where he played for parts of five seasons before being shipped to Buffalo. From Buffalo he went to Philly, and then he finished his career with brief stops in Montreal and finally Colorado in 2014-15.
28 Tomas Kaberle - New York Islanders
Originally selected: 204th, Toronto Maple Leafs
Cracking the top three in our re-draft is a player who was formerly selected in the eighth round by the Toronto Maple Leafs, defenseman Tomas Kaberle. While Phillips was a defensive specialist, Kaberle was an offensive dynamo from the backend, proving a reliable power play option wherever he played.
Kaberle established himself in the league as a member of the Leafs, playing most of 12 seasons for the club before being dealt to Boston at the 2011 trade deadline. That was fortunate for Kaberle, as he lifted the Cup with the Bruins later that spring.
27 Chris Phillips - Washington Capitals
Originally selected: 1st, Ottawa Senators
When it comes to steady, reliable defenders, it doesn’t get much better than former first overall pick Chris Phillips. The Calgary native played his entire career with the Senators, the team that drafted him, and he recently officially retired, with 2014-15 being the last season he played hockey.
Of course having spent his whole career in Canada’s capital, Phillips never won a Stanley Cup. He came close in 2007, however, when his Sens fell to the Ducks in five games in the Stanley Cup Final.
26 Matt Cullen - Dallas Stars
Originally selected: 35th, Anaheim Ducks
Some players will have long, successful careers and at the same time sort of fly under the radar, and Matt Cullen is definitely one of those players. The two-time Stanley Cup champion has played more games in the world’s best league than anybody else drafted in 1996, one more than Dainus Zubrus, at 1,294.
Cullen played a key depth role on the recent Penguins championship team, and although he’s currently without a contract for 2016-17, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him sign a bargain deal with another club for one more season. He’s still effective in a minimal role.
25 Tom Poti - Edmonton Oilers
Originally selected: 59th, Edmonton Oilers
Coming in at number six on our re-draft is defenseman Tom Poti. Ironically, Poti ends up where he did in the actual draft, but selected a lot earlier. Poti enjoyed a successful career as a stay-at-home defender, starting it off with Edmonton in 1998-99. His journey included stops in New York (both clubs), and Washington before calling it quits after the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
While Poti was generally a defensive defenseman, he did have a few seasons where he put up some decent numbers. In 2002-03, his first year with the Rangers, he managed an impressive 11 goals and 48 points—this was a time when scoring in the league was historically low, keep in mind.
24 Sami Salo - Buffalo Sabres
Originally selected: 239th, Ottawa Senators
They don’t even go past the seventh round in the NHL draft anymore, so the fact that Sami Salo had any career at all as a ninth round pick is somewhat of an anomaly—it was deep in the ninth round too, as he was the third-last name off the board. With a 232 spot jump in our re-draft, Salo represents the biggest leap.
Salo’s career started in Ottawa, playing for the team that took a chance on him so late in the draft. The most substantial portion of his career was spent in Vancouver where he manned the point for nine seasons. He finished it in Tampa after the 2013-14 season.
23 Marco Sturm - Boston Bruins
Originally selected: 21st, San Jose Sharks
With the 21st overall pick in 1996, the San Jose Sharks went with Marco Sturm, which proved to be a good choice as he lands at number eight on our re-draft. Sturm broke into the NHL just one year after being drafted, and stuck there all the way until he chose to finish his career back home in Germany in 2012.
After playing seven and a half seasons in the Bay Area, Sturm was sent to Boston in the infamous Joe Thornton trade. Had the Bruins taken him here, perhaps San Jose wouldn't have been their trade partner. He was perhaps the best player involved in the trade besides Thornton, which is a huge indictment on then-Bruins GM Mike O’Connell, but shouldn’t be one on Sturm.
22 J.P. Dumont - Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
Originally selected: 3rd, New York Islanders
J.P. Dumont was a top-shelf prospect, having recorded 105 points for the Val d’Or Foreurs in his draft year. That performance vaulted him up the draft rankings back in '96, and he ended up going third overall to the New York Islanders.
Dumont played two more year of juniors after being drafted, which is a little unusual for a third overall pick. He finally became a full time NHL player at the turn of the millennium with the Chicago Blackhawks, and from there he moved on to Buffalo for five seasons and then onto Nashville for five more seasons, where he enjoyed his most productive years, highlighted by his 72 point season in 2007-08.
21 Willie Mitchell - New Jersey Devils
Originally selected: 199th, New Jersey Devils
Willie Mitchell just barely cracks the top 10, jumping an impressive 189 spots up the ranking from his original position of 199th overall. Most 8th round picks don’t stand a chance at making it in the world’s best league, so Mitchell is a diamond in the rough.
The stay-at-home defenseman (his career high in points is 24) has lifted the Stanley Cup twice as a member of the Los Angeles Kings (in 2012 and 2014), and he’s played in just shy of 1,000 games if you include his 89 playoff contests.
20 Dainius Zubrus - Phoenix Coyotes
Originally selected: 15th, Philadelphia
Dainius Zubrus was a for-real first round pick in 1996, and he again is a first round pick here in our 1996 re-draft. Zubrus was originally picked by the Flyers 15th overall, and his long and steady career has led to his jump of four spots in the draft, up to number 11.
I call his career long and steady because he has played 1,293 games, which puts him second overall among the 1996 draft class. His career started with the Flyers and saw him make stops in Montreal, Washington, New Jersey, and finally San Jose, where he just came up short in his quest for his first Stanley Cup.
19 Pavel Kubina - Vancouver Canucks
Originally selected: 179th, Tampa Bay Lightning
Oh look what we have here, yet another Stanley Cup winner from the class of 1996. This one comes in the form of Czech defenseman Pavel Kubina, who was victorious in 2004 as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Kubina enjoyed a long NHL career, finding his way into 970 games. Although those were primarily played wearing a Tampa sweater, his career did include brief stops in Toronto, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. His best seasons from an offensive standpoint came as a member of the Leafs, where he recorded consecutive 40-point campaigns.
18 Marty Reasoner - Calgary Flames
Originally selected: 14th, St. Louis Blues
Marty Reasoner is one of the few players on the list here that barely moved from his original draft position; he simply jumped up one spot to number 13. He started his career with the Blues, the team that drafted him, and from there he went to Edmonton where he played for most of his career. He could have been on the other side of the Alberta rivalry, had the Flames taken him here, instead of Derek Morris.
Not exactly an offensive juggernaut (like every other player who appears on this list), Reasoner was a reliable third line option at one stage of his career, and he was always a good option for fourth line duty.
17 Craig Adams - St. Louis Blues
Originally selected: 223rd, Carolina Hurricanes
Craig Adams represents one of the biggest jumps on our list, as he leapfrogs from 223 all the way to 14 in our 1996 re-draft. Adams was never an elite player by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, the winger only had one season in which he hit the 10 goal mark, which was in 2005-06.
That also happened to be the year Adams won his first Stanley Cup with the team that drafted him, the Carolina Hurricanes. The rest of his career included stops in Chicago and finally Pittsburgh, which is where he won his second Stanley Cup in 2009.
16 Fernando Pisani - Philadelphia Flyers
Originally selected: 195th, Edmonton Oilers
The chances of an eighth round pick even playing a single game in the NHL are slight, so Fernando Pisani is a major success story here, coming in at number 15 on our list, up a whopping 180 slots. This could be a little high for Fernando, as he only played 462 NHL games, but his performance in the 2006 playoffs gets him here.
Shortly after that Cinderella run by the Oilers in 2006, Pisani was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which ultimately cost him many games over the remainder of his career, and eventually he was forced to retire in 2011 due to its complications.
15 Michal Rozsival - Tampa Bay Lightning
Originally selected: 105th, Pittsburgh Penguins
You’ve probably started to notice the trend I pointed out earlier, about there actually being a decent number of useful defensemen who were drafted in 1996. The next one up is Michal Rozsival, who is yet another Stanley Cup champion found on this list, and the first one who is a repeat winner (2013 and 2015, both with the Blackhawks).
Rozsival stared his NHL career with the Pens, the team that drafted him 105th overall. From there he went to the Rangers where he played for five and a half seasons. He then had a brief stop in Phoenix before heading to Chicago, which is where you’ll find him today.
14 Derek Morris - Washington Capitals
Originally selected: 13th overall, Calgary Flames
Defenseman Derek Morris is one of just five players selected in the 1996 NHL entry draft who played in 1,000 games, and he’s the first of the bunch to appear on our list at number 17. His 1,107 games rank 5th in the draft class.
Morris was drafted 13th overall originally, so he did drop four spots in the re-draft. That might seem like harsh treatment for a guy who played over 1,000 games, but if you dig deep enough you do find a lot of useful and productive hockey players buried in this class of 1996 who were probably overall more valuable than Morris.
13 Toni Lydman - Montreal Canadiens
Originally selected: 89th, Calgary Flames
Another steady defenseman shows up on our list at number 18 in the form of Finn Toni Lydman. Lydman started his pro career back home in Finland, but eventually made his way onto the Flames roster for the 2000-01 season.
After playing four years in Calgary, Lydman played five in Buffalo and then ended his career after another three seasons in Anaheim. The ice was generally tilted in the right direction when he was on the ice, as his career plus/minus of +51 will attest to.
Lydman wasn’t much of a goal scorer from the point, notching just 36 goals in his 847 game career. His playmaking ability was strong though, as he racked up 206 assists to reach 242 points for his career.
12 Samuel Pahlsson - Edmonton Oilers
Originally selected: 176th, Colorado Avalanche
It was tough to decide where to put Sami Pahlsson on this list, since he was really only a role player throughout his NHL career. That role he played, though, was a big one on some pretty successful teams. Praise was heaped upon him during the 2007 Cup run with the Ducks, for instance.
While Pahlsson played the bulk of his career in Anaheim, it also included stops in Boston, Chicago, Columbus, and Vancouver. After an unsuccessful 2011-12 campaign that was split between Columbus and Vancouver, he decided to head back home to finish his career in the SEL.
11 Eric Belanger - Florida Panthers
Originally selected: 96th, Los Angeles Kings
Center Eric Belanger comes in at number 20 on our re-draft of the ’96 entry draft, which represents a substantial jump of 76 spots for the French Canadian. Belanger was a bit of an AHL journeyman before busting into the NHL full time in the 2000-01 season.
Like many players who were drafted in 1996 (even the few useful ones), Belanger bounced around from team to team for most of his pro career, spending a maximum of three seasons in any given city after departing L.A. in 2006.
10 Cory Sarich - San Jose Sharks
Originally selected: 27th, Buffalo Sabres
Coming in at number 21 on our 1996 re-draft list is defenseman Cory Sarich. Sarich is another player from this draft class who enjoyed a long NHL career, finding his way into a whopping 969 games in addition to 57 playoff games.
Sarich is also another Stanley Cup winner we find on the list, as he was victorious with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. From Tampa his career took him to Calgary, where he played out the bulk of his days until retiring after one final season in Colorado.
9 Ruslan Salei - New York Rangers
Originally selected: 9th, Anaheim Ducks
Coming in at number 22 on our 1996 re-draft is defenseman Ruslan Salei, and he is just the second skater on our list to actually drop from his actual draft standing. Salei was picked by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks 9th overall, and he enjoyed a pretty long NHL career.
The vast majority of his career was spent in Anaheim, but unfortunately for him he left the season before the Ducks lifted Stanley in 2007. He spent the better part of two seasons in Florida, then spent two more in Colorado, and one more in Detroit before calling it a career.
8 Mark Parrish - Pittsburgh Penguins
Originally selected: 79th, Colorado Avalanche
American Mark Parrish was selected late in the third round in 1996, 79th overall by the Avalanche. After being drafted, Parrish exploded offensively in his last junior year, notching 92 points in 54 games that season.
Parrish never got a real shot with the Avs, but his 722 game NHL career did include stops in Florida, NYI, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Dallas, Tampa, and Buffalo. To say Parrish was an elite forward at any point in his NHL career would be a stretch, but he had some solid seasons, highlighted by his 60 point campaign in 2001-02.
7 Oleg Kvasha - Phoenix Coyotes
Originally selected: 65th, Florida Panthers
This 24th pick was where Briere was actually drafted, so you can appreciate how much of a steal he was here, seeing all the other names that went before him.
With a third round pick they had acquired via trade from the Vancouver Canucks, the Florida Panthers chose Oleg Kvasha in 1996, and it turned out to be a decent pick, given the circumstances.
Kvasha was a towering Russian centerman who filled in the role as a solid 2nd or 3rd liner. After starting his career in Florida with back-to-back 25 point seasons, he continued his journey on the Island where he had his best seasons, including a 51 point campaign in 2003-04.
6 Andrei Zyuzin - Colorado Avalanche
Originally selected: 2nd, San Jose Sharks
If there was a strength at the 1996 draft (there wasn’t), it would be the defense. Thirteen of the 26 selections made in round one were rearguards, and the second one off the board was Russian defenseman Andrei Zyuzin.
Zyuzin was a pretty big disappointment for the Sharks, as he never found a permanent home with the club and was moved to Tampa Bay in the 1999 offseason. The struggles more or less continued there for Zyuzin, and the rest of his NHL career featured stops in Jersey, Minnesota, Calgary, and Chicago.
5 Dan LaCouture - Detroit Red Wings
Originally selected: 29th, New York Islanders
Dan LaCouture was originally picked 29th overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft (early second round pick, in reality), and in our re-draft he jumps up to 26th overall, just squeezing into the first round of the draft.
LaCouture was a lumbering winger who brought physicality wherever he went, and he was a bit of a nomad during his 337 game NHL career. He never played a single game for the Islanders, the team that drafted him, but his career included stops in Edmonton, Pittsburgh, New York (Rangers), Boston, New Jersey, and Carolina.
4 Boyd Devereaux - Buffalo Sabres
Originally selected: 6th, Edmonton Oilers
The first player to appear on our list who would represent a second round pick in 1996 is Oilers pick Boyd Devereaux. In this re-draft though, we're adapting it to how a draft would look today, so 27th overall keeps him here.
Devereaux got his start in Edmonton, playing parts of three seasons with the Oilers before continuing his career in Detroit.
It was in Motor City that he helped the Wings win the 2002 Stanley Cup, making him the second Stanley Cup winner to appear on the list so far. Devereaux’s 627-game NHL career saw him make pit stops in Phoenix and Toronto before he went to Switzerland to finish out his career.
3 Robert Esche - Pittsburgh Penguins
Originally selected: 139th, Phoenix Coyotes
The first and only goalie appearing on our list today is Robert Esche. Esche was originally a sixth round pick who went to the Coyotes in ’96, so he jumps a good five rounds and 111 spots to land at number 28 in our 1996 re-draft.
Esche was a backup for the better part of his career, playing the role in Phoenix from 1998 to 2002. When he found himself in Philadelphia in 2002-03, his role was slightly increased to a 1B. He played 40 games in both 2003-04 and 2004-05, and in 2003-04 he backstopped the Flyers to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, winning all 11 games in the process.
2 Dan Hinote - New York Islanders
Originally selected: 167th, Colorado Avalanche
Dan Hinote goes 29th overall in our 1996 re-draft, which is quite a jump for him as he was originally selected in the seventh round. He was picked by the Avalanche, and made his NHL debut in 1999-00, and became a regular in 2000-01.
Hinote suffers from a similar issue as Clark, in that his career simply wasn’t very long. He played even fewer games than Clark in the end, seeing action in just 503 games and compiling 90 points in the process.
1 Brett Clark - Los Angeles Kings
Originally selected: 154th, Montreal Canadiens
Squeezing himself into the first round re-draft is defenseman Brett Clark. Clark is a unique tale, because he didn’t establish himself as an NHLer until 2005-06, nine years after he was drafted. Once he established himself though, he became a useful D-man.
Clark saw action in 689 games, which is impressive for any skater drafted in the sixth round. He put up decent boxcars for a defensive defenseman, posting 45-141-186 by the time he hung up the skates. He even had a season in which he produced 39 points, which are top-pairing offensive numbers.
Had Clark’s NHL career gotten underway before he was 29 years old, it’s entirely possible he’d find himself much higher on our re-draft list.
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