In the salary cap era of the NHL, drafting is more important than ever before. Sure, to build a championship team you need those cornerstones that are often found early in the first round of drafts. But you also need to find some late round gems to round out your roster. Whether they’re depth/role players or key contributors, teams have to acquire some useful talent late in drafts if they’re to become winners.
Since the 1980s, it’s fair to say the best teams to ever step onto the ice are the 1980s Islanders and Oilers, the late 1990s/early 2000s Red Wings, and now the Chicago Blackhawks have stepped into the dynasty spotlight. Each of those teams had players they drafted in deep rounds contribute to championship teams.
The Islanders had 214th overall pick Stefan Persson play on four championship teams with the club. Butch Goring wasn’t an Islanders draft pick, but he was a 5th round L.A. Kings pick that won the Conn Smythe trophy for them in 1981, along with four championships.
In the 1979 draft, the Oilers picked Mark Messier in the 3rd round and Glenn Anderson in the 4th round. In 1980, they took Jari Kurri in the 4th round.
The Red Wings built a large chunk of their 1997 and 1998 championship teams via deep draft picks: Lidstrom, Fedorov, Kozlov and Konstantinov were all selected in the 3rd round (or later) of various drafts.
And as you will see in this list, the Chicago Blackhawks—the closest thing we have to a modern-day dynasty—have found several key contributors deep in the drafts.
The criteria for this list were simple: if a player was selected in the 4th round or later, he qualifies. There were tons of great players who didn’t make this list, and some of them are arguably better choices than some of the players I’ve included here… but I’ll live with my choices.
Here they are: the top 20 NHL draft steals since the year 2000.
20 Andrew Shaw (2011, 5th round, 139th overall, Chicago Blackhawks)
Good drafting is one of the reasons the Blackhawks are currently bordering on dynasty territory, and the 139th pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft is a perfect example of GM Stan Bowman’s drafting acumen. Shaw didn’t even take much time to develop, getting into 37 games in the 2011-12 season, the same year he was drafted.
19 Mark Stone (2010, 6th round, 178th overall, Ottawa Senators)
Before the 2014-15 season, it didn’t really look like Mark Stone had much of an NHL career ahead of him. He was called up for a cup of coffee as a 21-year-old in 2013-14, playing in 19 games and notching 8 points; okay numbers, but not really those of a legitimate offensive threat.
18 Gustav Nyquist (2008, 4th round, 121st overall, Detroit Red Wings)
The Detroit Red Wings built a dynasty in the 1990s, and it was almost all done through the draft. It looks like the organization is up to its same old trick again, as 2008 4th round pick Gustav Nyquist looks like a real winner early in his career.
17 T.J. Brodie (2008, 4th round, 114th overall, Calgary Flames)
T.J. Brodie broke out in a big way in 2014-15, and it was enough to land him at number 17 on our list. The Chatham, ON native spent most of the season playing alongside Calgary captain Mark Giordano, and together they formed arguably the best D pairing in the NHL.
16 Niklas Hjalmarsson (2005, 4th round, 108th overall, Chicago Blackhawks)
In order to build a dynasty, it’s crucial that you find key contributors in the late rounds of the draft, and that’s just what the Chicago Blackhawks have done. With the 108th pick of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, the ‘Hawks chose defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson.
15 Anton Stralman (2005, 7th round, 216th overall, Toronto Maple Leafs)
While Victor Hedman got all the credit this past spring (deservedly so) for quarterbacking the Lighting to the Stanley Cup Final, Anton Stralman was a legitimate stabilizing presence on the Tampa blue line through all 108 games the Lightning played this season. In the past four seasons, he’s played 81 games in the postseason, losing in the Final three times in the process.
14 Braden Holtby (2008, 4th round, 93rd overall, Washington Capitals)
Washington Capitals netminder Braden Holtby is the first goalie to make an appearance on our list, coming in at number 14. Holtby wouldn’t have made the cut if it wasn’t for this past season that saw him play 73 games for the Capitals, winning 41 of them and posting a .923 save percentage in the process.
13 Ryan Callahan (2004, 4th round, 127th overall, New York Rangers)
It’s not very often that you draft a future captain late in the fourth round of the draft, but that’s just what Glen Sather of the New York Rangers did at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft when he called out Ryan Callahan’s name at 127th overall.
12 Patric Hornqvist (2005, 7th round, 230th overall, Nashville Predators)
There were seven rounds in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and the Nashville Predators held the draft’s final pick, number 230. With it, they selected winger Patric Hornqvist, and what a selection it turned out to be.
11 Jaroslav Halak (2003, 9th round, 271st overall, Montreal Canadiens)
Jaroslav Halak is the second goaltender to show up on the list, and the first member of the deep 2003 draft class to make an appearance. The Slovak goaltender has finally landed in a full-time starting position with the resurgent New York Islanders, and he was a big reason they just had their best season in over a decade.
10 Ondrej Palat (2011, 7th round, 208th overall, Tampa Bay Lightning)
Hockey fans got an eye-full of the Tampa Bay Lightning this past spring as they fell to the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Final. The Lightning’s top-six forwards were a big reason they went as far as they did, and the “Triplets” line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat earned the lion’s share of the praise.
9 Johnny Gaudreau (2011, 4th round, 104th overall, Calgary Flames)
At five-foot-nine and just a shade over 150 pounds, it’s pretty easy to see why every team passed over the opportunity to draft Johnny Gaudreau multiple times in the 2011 draft. The 2014-15 Calder Trophy nominee made a lot of teams feel silly for that oversight this past season, as he compiled 64 points in his rookie year.
8 Matt Moulson (2003, 9th round, 263rd overall, Pittsburgh Penguins)
The draft class of 2003 is actually ridiculous. Looking back, it’s easy to see why it’s considered to be the deepest draft in NHL history. Let’s just put it this way: there are four players drafted past the 6th round in 2003 that appear on this list. Moulson is the second one so far, coming in at number eight.
7 Dustin Byfuglien (2003, 8th round, 245th overall, Chicago Blackhawks)
Many pundits thought Dustin Byfuglien was too big and too slow to play defence at the NHL level, and that’s likely why 30 teams passed over him about seven times each before the ‘Hawks took a flier on the beefy rearguard with their 8th round pick (245th overall) that year.
6 Keith Yandle (2005, 4th round, 105th overall, Phoenix Coyotes)
At number six, Keith Yandle is the second-highest ranked defenceman on our list of draft steals. His name shows up near the top of the defensive scoring leaders almost every season these days, so it’s easy to see why we consider Yandle such a steal of a deal for the 4th round (105th overall).
5 Lubomir Visnovsky (2000, 4th round, 118th overall, Los Angeles Kings)
One of two selections from the 2000 NHL Entry Draft to crack the top five on our list, Visnovsky was one of the league’s premier offensive defencemen for more than a decade. Selected by the Kings in the 4th round 118th overall, “The Vision” has amassed 495 points in his career, which puts him 60th in all-time scoring for defensemen.
4 Joe Pavelski (2003, 7th round, 205th overall, San Jose Sharks)
Joe Thornton and Partick Marleau have been the faces of the San Jose Sharks franchise for nearly a decade now, but with all the drama involving Thornton and GM Doug Wilson last season, a changing of the guard appears inevitable.
3 Pekka Rinne (2004, 8th round, 258th overall, Nashville Predators)
The third goaltender to appear on our list is Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, coming in at number three. An 8th round pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Rinne was an absolute steal for the Predators. Along with Shea Weber, Rinne has become the cornerstone of the Predators’ franchise.
2 Jamie Benn (2007, 5th round, 129th overall, Dallas Stars)
If you told Jamie Benn back in 2007 that he’d be taking home an Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer at any point in his career, he’d have likely called you a fool. Well, last month at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, Benn was awarded the Art Ross Trophy, becoming the first 5th round pick ever to do so.
1 Henrik Lundqvist (2000, 7th round, 205th overall, New York Rangers)
They don’t call him “The King” for nothing; Henrik Lundqvist tops our list of draft steals since the year 2000. Picked up by the Rangers in the 7th round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Hank has carved out quite a career for himself.
He’s been the face of the New York Rangers franchise for a decade now, and in that time he has won an Olympic Gold Medal for Sweden (2006) and a Vezina Trophy in 2012 as the league’s best goalie. The only thing Lundqvist needs to round out that mantle is a Stanley Cup, and he’s come close in recent years, losing in the Final in 2014, and in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012 and 2015.
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