It is true that playing in the NHL, or any professional sport for that matter, is an extremely difficult endeavor to undertake. More often than not, NHL draft picks don’t get the chance to play in the pros and are relegated to play in the minors for their career or are forced to let go of the dream altogether. Just as an indicator of how hard it is to make the NHL, let’s examine minor hockey in the province of Ontario, one of the world’s most concentrated geographic areas for hockey. Ontario is host to several of the world’s biggest minor hockey leagues, including the G.T.H.L. (Greater Toronto Hockey League) and the O.M.H.A. (Ontario Minor Hockey Association), and produces many of the NHL’s biggest stars, including John Tavares and Steven Stamkos. For young men playing minor hockey in Ontario, only 0.16% of them will be drafted by an NHL team, and a mere 0.02% will ever play in the NHL!
Evidently, it is quite difficult to crack an NHL roster, even if you are selected in the entry draft. It becomes that much more difficult when you are selected in the seventh, and final, round of the draft – a round which is used for selecting former player’s sons out of respect as much as it is used for addressing organizational needs. Sometimes however, one of these late-round picks rises above the odds and surprises everyone by being able to succeed in the NHL. The odd time, one of these players develops into a superstar and poses questions as to why they weren’t considered in the first round of their respective draft. As for the scouts who were able to find these needles in the haystack that is minor hockey, well… let’s just say that they earned themselves a large raise.
29 Frederik Anderson (2010)
Although Frederik Anderson was selected in the third round of the 2012 NHL entry draft by the Anaheim Ducks, he was actually originally selected in the seventh round (187th overall) by the Carolina Hurricanes two years prior. Already in his short career (three years) Anderson has totaled an impressive 77 wins in just 125 games! Despite his success so far, the Ducks decided to trade him to the Toronto Maple Leafs as they also have John Gibson, another talented young goaltender. At just 26 years old, Anderson has many years left to play and has quite a promising future. Hopefully, for the Maple Leafs, Anderson can finally solve the riddle between the pipes that has mystified Toronto for years. Already this early in his career, Anderson has proved that he is one of the best players to have been selected in the seventh round of an NHL entry draft, and if he continues to win at the pace he already has, he will solidify his name as one of the best.
27 Matt Hunwick (2004)
Matt Hunwick was selected 224th overall by the Boston Bruins in the 2004 NHL entry draft, where he eventually played the first several years of his career. In the following years, Hunwick spent time with the Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers, and now currently with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he is an alternative captain. Although Hunwick has never been the most productive offensive defenseman, he has certainly shown he is capable of shutting down his opponents in his own end. So far in his career, Hunwick has played 407 games and has tallied 88 points. Internationally, Hunwick has represented the US national team on several occasions and helped them earn a bronze medal in the 2013 World Championship. At age 31, Hunwick has plenty more time to increase his statistics and his reputation as a defensive defenseman. He is definitely one of the best players to be taken in the seventh round of an NHL draft in the last twenty years.
25 Carl Gunnarsson (2007)
Carl Gunnarsson was selected 194th overall in the seventh round of the 2007 NHL entry draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he spent the first five years of his career before being dealt to the St. Louis Blues. Although not known for his offensive prowess – he has 107 points in 437 career games – Gunnarsson has always proven that he has a gifted defensive mind, being able to play top-pair minutes and shut down the first lines of opposing teams. Internationally, Gunnarsson has represented Sweden at the World Championships three separate times, twice winning bronze and once winning silver. At only 29 years old, Gunnarsson has plenty more hockey left to play and, as a member of the St. Louis Blues, has a very good chance of winning it all as the Blues are a very well-built team. Certainly, out of all the players selected in the seventh round of the last twenty NHL drafts, Carl Gunnarsson is one of the best.
23 Cristobal Huet (2001)
Cristobal Huet was selected 214th overall in the seventh round of the 2001 NHL draft by the Los Angeles Kings, where he spent the first couple years of his career playing. His next team, the Montreal Canadiens, decided to keep Huet as their starter over Jose Theodore, and were pleasantly surprised when Huet emerged as an extremely effective goaltender. Huet was a star for the Canadiens for several years, including in the playoffs where he was a big factor in several Canadien’s wins. Eventually, the Canadiens were forced to trade Huet due to their promising and upcoming prospect, Carey Price. During his tenure with Washington, Huet experienced relative success but later signed with the Chicago Blackhawks where he was once again a crucial component to his team’s success. Unfortunately for Huet, the Blackhawks had an up and coming goaltender, Antti Niemi who eventually replaced Huet. If it were not for a couple promising prospects, Huet could have potentially had a larger impact in the NHL. Certainly though, Huet is one of the best players to emerge from the depths of the NHL draft in the last twenty years.
21 Jason Demers (2008)
Jason Demers was drafted 186th overall in the seventh round of the 2008 NHL entry draft by the San Jose Sharks. Demers played the first few years of his career with the Sharks before he was traded to the Dallas Stars, where he emerged as a very effective and reliable defenseman. The Florida Panthers took notice of his talents, recognizing that he was blossoming into an elite defender, and subsequently signed him this off season to a contract worth a reported $22.5 million over five years. At only 28 years old, Demers has several years to continue to develop, and many more years to solidify himself as a significant NHL defenseman. So far in his professional career, Braun has tallied 143 points in 423 games. Over the past two decades, Demers is definitely one of the best players to have been drafted in the seventh round of the NHL draft.
19 Justin Braun (2007)
Justin Braun was selected 201st overall in the seventh round of the 2007 NHL entry draft by the San Jose Sharks. Although he has only played in the league for a few years now, Braun has already proven that he is capable of being an elite defenseman in the NHL. He has tallied 92 points in just 367 career games and has made a name for himself as a very defensively-minded defenseman. This past season, Braun was a crucial component in the Shark’s team that narrowly missed winning the Stanley Cup, losing in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the finals. At 29 years of age, Braun is entering into potentially the prime of his career and quite clearly has many more years to play. He is certainly one of the better players to emerge from the final round of the NHL drafts over the last couple of decades and, if he can continue to develop, will likely move up the ranks of seventh round successes.
17 Ondrej Palat (2011)
Although Ondrej Palat has only been in the league for a few years now, he is a talent that has caught the attention of the hockey world. In his first three full seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Palat has scored 55 goals and 162 points. Those are extremely impressive numbers for a fairly young player, let alone a player who was selected in the final round of the 2001 NHL entry draft. In his first season, Palat was nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy (rookie of the year) and was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team. Internationally, Palat was selected to the Olympic Czech Republic team in 2014 at just 23 years old and was recently selected to represent the Czech at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey. With all of his early success, and with such tremendous potential, Palat is certainly one of the best players to come out of the seventh round in the last twenty years. Who knows, maybe one day, he’ll be the best.
15 Radim Vrbata (1999)
Being drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1999 NHL entry draft, Radim Vrbata was never really able to solidify himself in the NHL until he was traded to the Arizona Coyotes in 2007. From then on, Vrbata has enjoyed a fairly successful career, albeit a turbulent one. He enjoyed great success during his time with Arizona and then with the Vancouver Canucks, putting up career highs in goals (35 with Arizona) and points (63 with Vancouver). So far in his career, Vrbata has tallied 554 points and at 35 years of age, has a few more years of productive hockey left. However turbulent some of Vrbata’s seasons have been, no one can deny that as a seventh-rounder, playing in the NHL for fifteen seasons is an impressive feat. Vrbata is definitely one of the best seventh round selections in any of the NHL entry drafts over the last two decades.
13 Shawn Thornton (1997)
Although never being an elite scorer in the NHL, Shawn Thornton has solidified himself as one of the league’s more intimidating enforcers. Thornton has made a name for himself as an enforcer through his aggressive play and ability to spark his teammates in important situations. Thornton was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1997 NHL draft, but never played a game for the Maple Leafs. Instead, Thornton began his career with the Chicago Blackhawks but later signed with the Boston Bruins where he played for many years, before ultimately signing with the Florida Panthers where he currently plays. Thornton helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011 and has recently helped Florida, who was second last in the league when they signed him, become a serious contender in the Eastern Conference. Again, Thornton has never been a threat to score in the NHL, he has always been an effective utility player capable of igniting his teammates and awakening fans, and for that, he is one of the best seventh round picks in the last twenty years.
11 Pavel Kubina (1996)
Pavel Kubina was selected 179th overall in the seventh round of the 1996 NHL entry draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Kubina went on to enjoy a very successful professional career, playing for four different teams (Tampa Bay, Toronto Maple Leafs, Atlanta Thrashers, and Philadelphia Flyers) over the span of 15 seasons. Kubina helped the Lightning win the Stanley Cup in the 2003-2004 season, playing in 81 regular season games and all 22 playoff games that year. At the end of his career, the grizzled defenseman had a total of 386 points in 970 career regular season games. Internationally, Kubina regularly represented the Czech Republic and helped win the Czech an Olympic bronze medal in the 2006 games. Any player who can play in nearly 1,000 NHL games after being selected in the seventh round of the draft should be considered a great success, and Kubina is definitely one of the greater successes of the seventh round from the last two decades.
9 Patric Hornqvist (2005)
In a draft that was marked by the selection of Sidney Crosby at first overall, Patric Hornqvist’s selection in the seventh round at 230th (the very last pick) by the Nashville Predators was nothing more than an afterthought. However, Hornqvist, who now plays alongside the first overall pick of his draft Sidney Crosby, has emerged as one of the league’s most pesky, and productive, forwards. His presence around opposing goaltenders is renowned and his ability to get under the skin of his opponents while also scoring at a solid rate is an intangible that GM’s dream of. Hornqvist proved his worth this past season as he won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, playing on the first line with the league’s best player Crosby. In each of the last three seasons, Hornqvist has tallied over 50 points. Without a doubt, Hornqvist is one of the best seventh round picks of the last two decades, and perhaps the best last pick in the same time span.
7 Anton Stralman (2005)
For the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team that took Anton Stralman in the seventh round of the 2005 NHL entry draft, they are kicking themselves for letting Stralman go. They are kicking themselves because Stralman has developed into an elite NHL defenseman and is currently an integral part of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s blueline. Stralman’s last two seasons have been his best as a professional and, at only 30 years old, is an indicator that his development curve is still on the upswing. In his first season with Tampa Bay, Stralman helped the team reach the Stanley Cup Finals, where they eventually lost and was a big factor in helping the Lightning reach the playoffs this past season. His play has been so impressive of late, that he was named to the Swedish national team in the upcoming World Cup of Hockey. With many years left to play in his career, Stralman has plenty more time to prove that he is in fact one of the best seventh round draft picks in the last twenty years.
5 Joe Pavelski (2003)
In recent years, Joe Pavelski has emerged as one of the league’s most formidable offensive threats, putting up big numbers for the San Jose Sharks. So far in his career, Pavelski has totaled 485 points in just 643 games, to go along with 79 career playoff points. In his last three seasons with the Sharks, who selected Pavelski in the seventh round of the 2003 entry draft, he has collected a total of 227 points. Since 2013-2014, Pavelski is 2nd in goals scored with 116 and 2nd in powerplay goals with 47; only Alexander Ovechkin has more in both categories. It is safe to say that Pavelski has blossomed into a superstar as he was selected as the Shark’s captain once it was decided Joe Thornton could no longer bear that responsibility. Internationally, Pavelski is a top forward for team USA and was a crucial factor in the silver medal team in the 2010 Olympic Games.
3 Henrik Lundqvist (2000)
Henrik Lundqvist has, for years now, been considered as one of the NHL’s top goaltenders – if not the best – which is reflected by his given nickname “King Henrik”, a testament to his dominance in the crease. He is the only goalie in NHL history to win 30 games in ten of his first eleven professional seasons and was named the Vezina Trophy winner in 2012 as the league’s best goaltender. Although he has not been able to help his New York Rangers (the team who took him in the seventh round of the 2000 entry draft) to a Stanley Cup championship, he has put together an impressive resume nonetheless. So far in his career, Lundqvist has amassed 374 wins, a 2.28 goals against average, a .921 save percentage, and 59 shutouts. Internationally, Lundqvist has been a stalwart in net for Sweden, winning them an Olympic gold medal in 2006 and an Olympic silver medal in 2014.
1 Henrik Zetterberg (1999)
If someone told you that Henrik Zetterberg was drafted in the seventh round of the 1999 NHL entry draft, would you have believed them? Nope, you probably wouldn’t have until you searched his online bio and saw for yourself that Zetterberg was in fact drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the seventh round. The Detroit scouting staff, which is infamous for its late round magic at entry drafts, liked what they saw in Zetterberg, and now nearly two decades later, can only smile at the dividends which have been paid by the Swedish superstar. Zetterberg has totaled 836 points so far in his illustrious career, to go along with 120 points in the playoffs. He led the team to a Stanley Cup championship in 2008 as he was named the Conn Smythe winner (the most valuable player in the playoffs). Additionally, Zetterberg has been a crucial component to the Swedish national team for over a decade, helping lead them to an Olympic gold medal and an Ice Hockey World Championship in 2006. Now the captain of the Red Wings, Zetterberg is a member of the Triple Gold Club (Stanley Cup, Olympic gold, and World Championship gold) and is by far the best seventh round draft pick of the last two decades.