The NHL draft is the cheapest and most effective way a GM can improve his club. It costs nothing in the way of outgoing assets (aside from the actual picks being used, of course), and you can potentially be grabbing the next face of your franchise at any point of the draft. If you’re able to grab an impact players well outside of the first round? That is a huge bonus.
For today’s list I took a peek at the last eight NHL drafts, dating back to the 2010 Entry Draft (we remember that oen as the "Taylor vs. Tyler" draft). From those eight draft classes, I selected the 15 biggest steals, NHL-wide (well, actually just five drafts, as 2016 and 2017 are too recent, and I surprisingly found zero steals from the class of 2013 that qualified as a top 15 steal).
What qualifies as a steal? Well that all depends on who you’re asking, but for the purposes of this list I used a simple criteria: if the player was selected outside of the top 100, he counts as a steal. This disqualified a few stellar hockey players who were picked late but within the top 100—J.G. Pageau (96th in 2011) and Shane Gostisbehere (78th in 2012), to name a few.
So, who have been the 15 biggest NHL Draft steals since the 2010 draft? Read on to find out:
15 Frederik Andersen - 2010, 187th overall
Frederik Andersen shows up here on our list with a bit of an asterisk, because he was actually drafted twice—once by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010, 187th overall, and again in 2012 by the Anaheim Ducks, this time 87th overall. The Hurricanes unfortunately had no idea what a steal they had on their hands with Andersen and never got him signed to an entry-level deal, so thus he re-entered the draft as a 22-year-old in 2012.
Andersen established himself as a reliable option while in Anaheim, playing a 1A/1B type role there, splitting starts with John Gibson, primarily. Now he’s the starting goaltender of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they have him signed through the 2020-21 season. Not bad for a guy who went 187th overall in 2010.
14 Colin Miller - 2012, 151st overall
Defensemen take a while to develop, and as prospects it is much harder to accurately forecast the career of a defenseman than it is of a forward. Bruins defenseman Colin Miller was picked up by the Los Angeles Kings in the 5th round of the 2012 draft, 151st overall. Miller was dealt to Boston at the 2015 draft, along with Martin Jones and a 1st round pick, in exchange for Milan Lucic.
This trade already looks like great long-term value for the Bruins, as they were able to flip Jones for another 1st round pick. Miller was actually plucked off the Bruins by the Vegas Golden Knights at the expansion draft in June, which sucks for the Bruins but also highlights the fact that Miller’s already developed into a useful NHLer. Needless to say, he’s already surpassed the modest expectations that come with a 151st overall pick.
13 Tobias Rieder - 2011, 114th Overall
Tobias Rieder was selected by the Edmonton Oilers in 2011, 114th overall. Rieder and the Oilers weren’t able to agree to terms on an entry-level deal, so Edmonton dealt Rieder to the Coyotes for Kale Kessy. This was a bad trade for Edmonton, as Kessy will never play in the NHL, while Rieder has already played 234 NHL games in Arizona and is closing in on the 100 point milestone.
At the time of the deal, the Oilers thought they were stacked on the wings (they still had Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, remember), so felt they could afford to get rid of Rieder for peanuts on the dollar. Now that a few years have passed, this was clearly an error on former Oilers GM Steve Tambellini’s part. Surely the Oilers could use Rieder in their top six now, as the wing positions are where they need the most help.
12 Andrew Shaw - 2011, 139th Overall
Andrew Shaw was a 5th round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011, 139th overall. The most impressive thing about Shaw’s jump to the NHL was the speed at which he did it. If a 5th round pick eventually does make the NHL, it’s usually at least three years until they make the jump. Shaw, conversely, cracked the Blackhawks lineup in 2011-12, the season he was drafted.
That truly is an anomaly, and any time you have a 20-year-old 5th round pick playing in the NHL the season after you draft him, you know you’ve found a gem. Much like many other players in Chicago over the past seven or eight years, Shaw priced himself out of the Windy City and now he’s a member of the Montreal Canadiens, but the ‘Hawks enjoyed the fruits of this steal for five seasons.
11 Andreas Athanasiou - 2012, 110th Overall
There’s no doubt there are still holes in the 23-year-old center’s game, but Andreas Athanasiou has started turning some heads in Detroit. The London, Ontario native showcased his speed and skill with lightning-fast breaks up the middle more than a few times in 2016-17, and he ended up potting a respectable 18 goals in 64 games last season.
The defensive side of his game could use some work, but there is so much promise at the other end that a patient team should be able to put up with Athanasiou’s warts. Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill practiced some tough love on him in 2016-17, even benching the speedy sniper a few times for his gaffes and irresponsibility. With Detroit in rebuild mode and in need of offensive fire power for the future, look for Athanasiou to take on a bigger role next year.
10 Jaccob Slavin - 2012, 120th Overall
The Carolina Hurricanes boast one of the strongest defense corps in the NHL, and that’s in no small part thanks to the steal they grabbed in the 4th round of the 2012 Entry Draft. Jaccob Slavin was drafted out of the USHL and made the move to college after that, slowly but surely developing into a well-rounded defenseman. 2016-17 was somewhat of a breakout year for Slavin, as he managed 34 points and a plus-23 rating on a less-than-mediocre ‘Canes team.
Slavin is a prime example of how difficult it can be to evaluate young defensemen. The league is full of effective defensemen who were selected late in the various drafts. A few more very good defensemen show up on this list as well, and they’re all just from the last eight years.
9 Josh Manson - 2011, 160th Overall
It is common knowledge that defensemen develop slowly, and exhibit A of that would be Ducks D-man Josh Manson. Manson, the son of former NHL defenseman Dave Manson, broke out in 2015-16, a good four seasons after he was drafted by the Ducks in the 6th round of the 2011 NHL Draft, 160th overall. He followed it up with an even stronger campaign in 2016-17, so it looks like Manson is here to stay.
Like Carolina, Anaheim too as one of the best defense corps in the league, and Manson shared top-pairing duties with Hampus Lindholm for the better part of 2016-17. What’s incredible is that they carried the play, as the ice seemed like it tilted towards the opponent’s zone whenever that pairing was out. The Ducks went out of their way to ensure they wouldn’t lose Manson to Vegas at the June expansion draft—for good reason.
8 Petr Mrazek (2010, 141st)
The 2016-17 season was certainly a disappointing one for Czech netminder Petr Mrazek, but there are still lots of reasons to like his game and where it’s headed. After stealing the starter’s role from Jimmy Howard in 2015-16, Howard took it right back last season. Nonetheless, Mrazek was acquired by the Red Wings in the 5th round of the 2010 draft (141st overall), so I’m still comfortable calling him major steal.
Despite his lackluster 2016-17 campaign, Mrazek’s career numbers are still stellar. His career .913 save percentage hovers right around the league average, and that includes the .901 he posted this past season, which drags it down. His record of 64-51-17 is pretty solid when you consider the fact that Detroit hasn’t been very good for most of his time there.
7 Kirill Karpizov - 2015, 135th overall
Coming in at number seven on our list is Minnesota draft pick Kirill Kaprizov. Kaprizov is the only player to appear on this list who has never even played an NHL game, but I still feel pretty confident in calling him a steal. Drafted just two years ago at the 2015 draft, Kaprizov started putting people on notice almost immediately after being drafted, and he was a near point-per-game player in the KHL last year.
If you ever stumble across a “best players who are not playing in the NHL” list, I guarantee you will find Kaprizov’s name at or near the top of said list. He’s almost a shoo-in to make the big club out of training camp this year, and he could even find himself in the top-six if he performs well, and he’ll surely get a look on the power play.
6 Mark Stone - 2010, 178th Overall
Sometimes a prospect will come out of nowhere and take the league by storm, and for this Western-based NHL fan, that’s exactly what Ottawa’s Mark Stone did in 2014-15. After a few strong seasons in Binghamton in the AHL, Stone made his presence felt in the NHL by notching 64 points in 80 games, leading the Senators to the postseason thanks to a late season surge.
Stone’s rookie season still stands as his best so far, but it’s not like he's taken a huge step back. He recorded 61 in his sophomore season, and he was held to 54 points in 2016-17—albeit in just 71 games. Even if Stone settles in to be more of a 50 point scorer than a 65+ point guy, the Senators will happily take that from the 178th overall pick from 2010.
5 Brendan Gallagher - 2010, 147th overall
Quite often in the draft a talented player who happens to be of a smaller stature will fall to the later rounds, simply because teams are hesitant to pick small players. The Canadiens finally called Brendan Gallagher’s name in the 5th round of the 2010 draft, 147th overall. After finishing off his junior career with the Vancouver Giants, then seasoning in the AHL for one year, Gallagher made the jump to the NHL in 2012-13 and hasn’t looked back.
He’s developed into a reliable two-way winger for the Canadiens, and he’s become somewhat of a fan favorite in Montreal—Habs fans seem to appreciate his feisty style. You could say that 2016-17 was a bit of an off year for Gallagher—at least from an offensive production perspective—but his shooting percentage was cut in half, and his advanced stats suggest he should bounce back to 50-60ish points in 2017-18.
4 Ondrej Palat - 2011, 208th overall
As the 208th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Ondrej Palat represents the lowest pick on our list. It’s hard to believe that Palat dropped all the way down to the 7th round in 2011, mostly because he’s been a productive player in the league for four straight seasons now. The Czech native makes up one-third of the “Triplets” line in Tampa, a line that has been one of the league’s best for a few years.
Considering that about 1% of 7th round picks actually have careers in the NHL, this has to be considered a huge steal for Steve Yzerman and the Lightning. Palat is a legitimate first line player, and with such a strong top six in Tampa they will have a lot of options in 2017-18. If Steven Stamkos stays healthy and they manage to keep the Triplets together, the Lightning could be the best team in the East this season.
3 Viktor Arvidsson - 2014, 112th overall
He was selected 112th overall in the 2014 draft, but it wasn’t until 2016-17 that Viktor Arvidsson became a household name in the hockey world. After struggling to adapt to the NHL game in his rookie campaign in 2015-16 (16 points in 56 games), he broke out in a big way last season, reaching the 30 goal plateau and finishing the year with 61 points.
Can Arvidsson continue to grow as a player? The Swede is only 24 years old, and won’t turn 25 until the very end of the 2017-18 regular season. It’s possible he takes yet another step, but really even if he stagnates the Predators will take the money and run on this 4th round pick. How often do you nab a legit first liner that late in the game?
2 John Klingberg - 2010, 131st Overall
While John Klingberg’s game still has a few blemishes, there’s no doubt that he’s established himself as a true top-end offensive defenseman. The Stars power play quarterback was selected in the 5th round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and he was a bit of a late-bloomer. So far, he’s proven worth the wait for Dallas.
The Swedish defenseman spent little time seasoning in the AHL after making the move to North America from the Swedish League in 2014-15, getting the call-up after 10 games with the Texas Stars. He made his presence felt, notching 40 points in 65 games as a rookie, and he’s kept up a similar pace, registering 147 points in 221 games thus far in his career. He’s a top-five point producing defenseman in the NHL today.
1 Johnny Gaudreau - 2011, 104th Overall
Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau tops off our list of the biggest draft steals since 2010. The one they call Johnny Hockey was picked in the 4th round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, 104th overall. He played three years with Boston College—winning the Hobey Baker Award in his final season—before making the jump to the NHL, but there were hardly any growing pains.
Gaudreau would have won the 2013-14 rookie of the year award if not for Aaron Ekblad’s strong season (perhaps an Eastern media bias played a role, as this one is voted on by PHWA members). In any case, Gaudreau has established a reputation as one of the most dangerous forwards in the league, and his numbers back that up. He’s managed 204 points in 232 games to date.