What do Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Mark Messier all have in common? Aside from being Hall-of-Fame players, they were all drafted in the third round or later in their respective draft classes. Hasek himself stands as one of the greatest late-round steals, going in the tenth round to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks eventually traded him to the Buffalo Sabres, where he won six Vezina Trophies and two Hart Trophies in the 1990s. He also captured two Stanley Cups (2002 and 2008) with the Detroit Red Wings.
Of course, it’s never easy to predict a young prospect’s success ahead of the draft. The level of competition in many junior leagues doesn’t hold a candle to the breakneck speed of NHL hockey. Yet, through proper scouting and player development, late-round picks can blossom into NHL stars, and lead their teams to new heights.
There is a good chance the Minnesota North Stars would’ve rather selected Hasek first overall instead of Brian Lawton. Speaking of where players should have been selected, let’s take a look at 15 other great late-round steals, and where they should’ve been drafted. We’ll find out which team these players should have played for, assuming they were drafted in the right spot.
15. Brian Campbell – Carolina Hurricanes, 22nd Overall
Campbell currently serves as a stalwart on the Chicago Blackhawks blueline. Yet, the Buffalo Sabres originally drafted him back in 1997. At 156th overall, Campbell proved to be a late-round steal. He flourished into an agile, puck-moving defenseman who commanded the power play. He hit his stride after the lockout, scoring 12 goals and 44 points in 79 games in 2005-06. He followed that up with another six-goal, 48-point season in 2006-07.
Campbell continued his productivity for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007-08, registering a career-high 52 points. He won the 2010 Stanley Cup in the Windy City as well. Campbell established a new career-best 53 points in 2011-12 with the Florida Panthers.
Given Campbell’s consistency, he was worthy of a first-round selection. The Carolina Hurricanes should’ve taken Campbell 22nd overall, instead of American defenseman Nikos Tselios. Tselios played just two NHL games.
14. Dustin Byfuglien – New York Rangers, 12th overall
Byfuglien is one of the premier offensive defensemen in the NHL today. Along with Milan Lucic, “Big Buff” has the perfect mix of scoring touch, snarl, and scrappiness. He can dish out a hard hit and drop the gloves with the fiercest enforcers in the game.
Despite his status as a defenseman, Byfuglien possesses a devastating slap shot that has allowed him to score over 150 career goals, including two 20-goal seasons. Most surprising of all is that the four-time All-Star dropped all the way to the eighth round in the 2003 draft. The Chicago Blackhawks took Byfuglien 245th overall.
The 2003 draft was exceptionally deep, as most hockey fans know. Defensemen like Ryan Suter, Braydon Coburn, Dion Phaneuf, and Brent Seabrook were all taken in the first round. However, Byfuglien clearly had first-round talent. Perhaps the Rangers could’ve taken Byfuglien 12th overall, instead of taking Dartmouth College forward Hugh Jessiman.
This draft position would’ve put Byfuglien just behind Andrei Kostitsyn and Jeff Carter, but ahead of Dustin Brown and Brent Seabrook.
13. Sergei Zubov – Washington Capitals, 9th Overall
The Rangers took Zubov in the fifth round (85th overall) in 1990. He proved to be an integral piece to the team’s historic run to the Stanley Cup in 1994. Zubov registered five goals and 19 points during that playoff run as the Rangers captured their first (and only) championship since 1940.
The Rangers traded to Zubov in 1996, but he continued his success with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and later, with the Dallas Stars. He won the 1999 Stanley Cup with the Stars, and earned his second All-Star honor that year. Zubov went on to become a four-time All-Star and one of the highest-scoring Russian defensemen in NHL history.
In hindsight, he should’ve been a top-10 pick in that 1990 draft. The Capitals should’ve taken Zubov ninth overall instead of defenseman John Slaney. Slaney scored just 22 goals and 91 points in 268 NHL games. Zubov, meanwhile, has 152 goals and 771 points in 1068 career games.
12. Joe Pavelski – Washington Capitals, 18th Overall
We have discussed the diamond in the rough that was Dustin Byfuglien. Future San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski was another late-round steal to come out of that 2003 draft.
The Sharks scooped up Pavelski 40 picks ahead of Byfuglien at 205th overall. The Wisconsin native made his NHL debut in 2006-07, and went on to become one of the most important players in franchise history. Pavelski scored 38 goals and 78 points last season, his third straight campaign of 35+ goals and 70+ points. “Little Joe” also scored 14 goals and 23 points as he led his Sharks to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.
Given his prolific production and leadership, Pavelski would’ve almost certainly been a late-first round or high-second round pick. The Capitals could’ve taken Pavelski 18th overall instead of Eric Fehr. Likewise, the Oilers could’ve snatched Pavelski 22nd overall instead of Marc-Antione Pouliot.
11. Jamie Benn – Philadelphia Flyers, 2nd Overall
Jamie Benn emerged as the franchise leader for the Dallas Stars ever since his debut in 2009. Benn, along with Tyler Seguin, leads a young Stars team eager to return to postseason play. Benn was named team captain in September 2013, and won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer the following season.
He has scored at least 22 goals in each of his seven seasons, and certainly turned out to be a steal in the 2007 draft. The Stars took Benn 129th overall that year. Benn clearly has top-five pick talent, and looking at that draft, you could say Benn ended up being the second-best player, behind Patrick Kane. So Benn should’ve gone to the Flyers at number two instead of James van Riemsdyk. The Flyers were re-building and had they drafted Benn, he’d probably be their captain today.
10. Ryan Miller – Nashville Predators, 6th Overall
The Buffalo Sabres probably didn’t expect much from Ryan Miller when they selected him 138th overall in 1999. They certainly didn’t expect him to take over as their franchise goalie and win over 350 games.
Miller is the Sabres all-time wins leader and sports a career .915 save percentage. It should be noted those numbers have dipped because of his recent seasons, but in his prime, he was arguably the league’s best goalie. He also took home the Vezina Trophy in 2010 and has represented Team USA at both the 2010 and 2014 winter Olympic Games.
Miller should’ve been the first goalie taken in that 1999 draft. Instead, the Nashville Predators selected Brian Finley sixth overall. Miller deserved that spot, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Finley started just four games, while Miller is among the greatest American-born goalies in NHL history.
9. Daniel Alfredsson – Edmonton Oilers, 4th Overall
Much like Benn, Daniel Alfredsson was another center taken in the middle rounds. John Ferguson, Ottawa’s director of player personnel at the time, selected Radek Bonk third overall that year. Yet, his greatest selection in that year’s draft came in the sixth round, when he selected Alfredsson with the 133rd overall pick.
The young Swede paid quick dividends for Ottawa, winning the Calder Trophy in 1995-96 and established franchise records in goals (426), assists (682) and points (1108). He captained the team to the 2006-07 Stanley Cup Final. He also participated in numerous charities to benefit the Ottawa community and recently had his jersey retired in a special pregame ceremony.
The Edmonton Oilers should’ve taken “Alfie” fourth overall to fill their center slot instead of Jason Bonsignore.
8. Pekka Rinne – St. Louis Blues, 17th Overall
Al Montoya, Marek Schwarz, Devan Dubnyk, and Justin Peters were all netminders taken before Pekka Rinne. Of those names, the only All-Star is Dubynk. Rinne deserved a spot among the first goalies taken. That wasn’t the case back in 2004.
The Predators took the Finland native 258th overall in the EIGHTH ROUND! Talk about a late-round steal. Rinne is a three-time Vezina Finalist and three time All Star. Rinne has won over 238 games and holds the Predators team record for most wins, most games played and most shutouts. He also backstopped Team Finland to a Silver Medal at the 2014 World Championships.
Looking back at which teams selected goaltenders in that first round in 2004, the Rangers, Blues, Oilers and Canucks all selected goaltenders. The Rangers took Montoya, thinking they needed a goalie, but with Lundqvist in their system, it turns out they didn’t. The Oilers selected Devan Dubnyk, who’s now become a star. The Canucks took Schneider which was a good move (unlike the bad move of trading him). It makes most sense for the Blues to replace their original pick, Marek Schwarz, with Rinne which would have solved their long-time issue in nets. Perhaps the Blues would now have a Stanley Cup with Rinne in their crease.
7. Sergei Federov – New York Islanders, 3rd Overall
I almost put Pavel Bure in this spot. Yet, due to his injury history and early retirement at age 32, I chose fellow Russian Sergei Federov instead.
Federov rose to stardom in the 1990s as a member of the Detroit Red Wings. The swift-skating Russian center won the 1994 Hart Memorial Trophy as NHL MVP, and went on to capture three Stanley Cups in Detroit before he abruptly left for the Anaheim Ducks in 2003.
He retired in 2009 as a six-time All-Star, two-time Selke Trophy award winner, and, as mentioned, a three-time Stanley Cup champion. Federov became the first Russian-born player to score 1,000 NHL points and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.
Federov must have been a first-round pick, right? Well, not quite. The Red Wings selected Federov with the 74th overall pick in the 1989 draft. Imagine if the Islanders took Federov third overall instead of underwhelming centerman, Scott Thornton? Perhaps the Isles could’ve made a few deep playoff runs in the 90’s instead of enduring a decade of futility.
6. Henrik Zetterberg – New York Rangers, 4th Overall
Akin to Alfredsson, Zetterberg was an unheralded Swedish forward heading into his draft class. Zetterberg also wasn’t ranked among the top European skaters in that draft class. Yet, Detroit’s Director of European Scouting, Hakan Andersson, was impressed enough to implore management to select Zetterberg 210th overall in 1999.
Safe to say that late-round gamble paid off, as Zetterberg has blossomed into one of the most consequential players in franchise history. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy after the Wings captured the 2008 Stanley Cup over the Pittsburgh Penguins. He has scored over 300 goals in his career, and has served as Detroit’s captain since 2013.
Zetterberg should’ve been taken fourth overall in that 1999 draft, just behind fellow Swedes Daniel and Henrik Sedin. The Rangers would’ve been much better off taking Zetterberg fourth overall instead of Pavel Brendl.
5. Luc Robitaille – Chicago Blackhawks, 3rd Overall
Gretzky may have boosted the Los Angeles Kings to international relevance, but it was Luc Robitaille who spent 14 seasons with the franchise. He contributed from the very start, and won the 1987 Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. The All-Star left winger holds the record for most goals in franchise history with 577. He stands as the highest-scoring left winger in NHL history with 1,394 points.
How big of a steal was Robitaille? He was taken in the ninth round of the 1984 NHL draft. The ninth round doesn’t even exist in the NHL anymore.
He wasn’t the best player in that year’s draft (that honor goes to Mario Lemieux) but he was definitely a top-five talent. The Chicago Blackhawks could’ve taken Robitaille with the third overall pick instead of selecting Eddie Olczyk. Not to take anything away from Olczyk, but Robitaille’s career numbers and accomplishments speak for themselves.
4. Igor Larionov – Los Angeles Kings, 10th Overall
Larionov was a trailblazer for Russian players in the NHL. He, along with Slava Fetisov, was one of the first Soviet players to defect to America. Perhaps that was a reason for Larionov’s late-round selection. The Canucks probably saw Larionov as a high-risk, high-reward move. They took him 214th overall in 1985. That move certainly paid off.
Larionov scored 51 goals and 143 points in 210 games over his first three seasons. He spent just over two seasons with the San Jose Sharks before an October 1995 trade to the Detroit Red Wings. It was in Motor City that Larionov truly honed his hall-of-fame resume. He won three Stanley Cups (1997, 1998, and 2002) and was a respected locker room leader and mentor for the team’s younger Russian players.
Larionov also enjoyed success on the world stage. He won two Gold medals with Team Russia at the Winter Olympic games, and four gold medals at the World Championships.
Larionov should’ve been the first center selected in that 1985 draft. The Los Angeles Kings could’ve taken him 10th overall instead of Dan Gratton. Imagine how Larionov would’ve gelled with a young Luc Robitaille.
3. Theo Fleury – Los Angeles Kings, 4th Overall
Theo Fleury remains one of the most beloved players in Flames franchise history. He scored 34 points in 36 games as a rookie in 1988-89, and was an big part of Calgary’s only Stanley Cup championship team that season. In 791 games as a Flame, Fleury scored 364 goals and 830 points. He was also a point-per-game player in the postseason, scoring 79 points in 77 career playoff games.
Despite Fleury’s tenacious play and scoring prowess, he wasn’t the most menacing forward. His 5-foot-6 stature scared off many teams in the 1987 draft. Fleury fell so far down the board, that the Flames took him with the 166th pick in the eighth round.
Fleury went on to play in 1,084 games, and scored 1,088 points. His remarkable speed, ferocity, and consistency resulted in seven All-Star appearances.
The Los Angeles Kings should’ve taken Fleury with the fourth overall pick in that 1987 draft. Instead, they took Wayne McBean. Think about how Fleury and Robitaille would’ve looked on the same line, and how Wayne Gretzky (who arrived in 1988) could’ve skyrocketed the Kings’ offense.
2. Pavel Datsyuk – Nashville Predators, 2nd Overall
Just one year before the Red Wings took Henrik Zetterberg in the seventh round of the 1999 draft, they scored with another late-round steal. The team selected Russian playmaker Pavel Datsyuk with the 171st pick in the 1998 draft.
Datsyuk, along with Zetterberg, led the Red Wings throughout the 2000s and early 2010s. He established himself as one of the craftiest playmakers in the entire NHL over his 15-year career. His soft hands and unrivaled stickhandling and puck-moving ability frustrated defenders and goaltenders alike. Datsyuk dangled defensemen out of their skates and made goalies flop around like fish on the ice with his “Datsyukian” dekes.
Datsyuk remained remarkably consistent throughout his career. He was nearly a point-per-game player, having scored 918 points in 953 games. He earned his fair share of hardware as well.
Datsyuk is a four-time All-Star, three-time Selke Trophy winner, and two-time Stanley Cup Champion. He also captured four straight Lady Byng Trophies from 2006-2009.
Given Datsyuk’s stardom and importance to the Red Wings franchise, he warranted a top-three draft selection. Vinny Lecavalier went first overall, but Datsyuk should’ve gone with the very next pick. Instead, the Nashville Predators took center David Legwand.
1. Henrik Lundqvist – New York Islanders, 1st Overall
Henrik Lundqvist might not be a Stanley Cup champion, but he is one of, if not the most, significant goaltender in Rangers franchise history. Mike Richter may have the ring, but Lundqvist has the records.
He is the only goaltender to win 30 games in each of his first 11 seasons, and holds team records for most wins (395) shutouts (61) and playoff wins (55). He also won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top netminder in 2012. Simply stated, the Rangers would not have enjoyed the success of the past decade without “King Henrik” backstopping them. He may be in his mid-30′ but he remains the most important roster player ever since his 2005 debut.
Somehow, Lundqvist fell to the late rounds in 2000, and the Rangers took him 205th overall. Given his sensational play, he should’ve been the top pick taken in the 2000 draft. Why number one? Well, it’s because the Islanders took Rick DiPietro with that first pick. If they wanted a goalie, Lundqvist was the way to go.
As a Ranger fan, though, I’m glad he fell to the seventh round. I couldn’t imagine him in an Islanders sweater.
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