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.
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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.
The Belleville, ON native has already won two Stanley Cups and has played in 244 regular season games, all with the ‘Hawks. At just 23 years old, Shaw has tons of time to add to his already impressive resume for a 5th round draft pick.
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.
In 2014-15 Stone absolutely exploded—especially in the second half. Finishing the season with 26-38-64, he earned himself a Calder Trophy nomination. Incredibly, Stone recorded 46 of those points in the final 43 games of the year. I’d take that with my 6th round pick all day, every day.
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.
The Wings made Nyquist take the long way to the league as they do with most of their prospects, putting him through 137 games with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins before finally making him a full-time NHLer halfway through the 2013-14 season. In just 179 NHL games so far, Nyquist has managed 59 goals and 115 points, making him a steal at 121st overall.
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.
The 2008 4th round pick played all but one game in each of the last three seasons for the Flames, and he recorded his 100th career point this year on his way to a 41-point campaign. At just 25 years old, there’s a lot of time left for the Calgary defenseman to grow into one of the league’s premier rearguards.
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.
Hjalmarsson has gone on to win three Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks, and this past spring he was one of the four defenders head coach Joel Quenneville essentially ran with throughout the playoffs. Not bad for a 4th round pick.
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.
Stralman was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 7th round of the 2005 draft. I’d say the fact that he’s played almost a full-regular season’s worth of playoff games in the last four years is proof that he’s wildly surpassed all expectations set out for him on draft day.
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.
At 93rd overall Holtby is actually the highest pick to appear on the list, but he still meets the criteria I set out in the intro. When I weighed the effect he had on the Capitals’ success this past season, it was impossible not to include him.
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.
Callahan has come a long way since then, playing in 547 regular season games, plus 88 more in the postseason. He wore the ‘C’ in New York before he was traded to the Lightning in the Martin St. Louis deal at the 2014 trade deadline, and now he has an ‘A’ on his chest in Tampa, proving he’s a natural-born leader.
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.
Hornqvist would go on to play over 350 games for the Predators before being dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins last summer along with Nick Spaling in exchange for sniper James Neal. In his career, Hornqvist has recorded five 20-goal seasons, including one 30-goal year in 2009-10; a pretty good return for a 230th overall pick.
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.
Young goalies are always tough to evaluate with any sort of accuracy, which is probably why one-fifth of this list is made up of goalies. Even so, it’s pretty hard to believe that 270 other players’ names were called out prior to the Canadiens calling out Halak’s name in 2003.
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.
General manager Steve Yzerman looks like a genius for this, as Johnson went undrafted and Kucherov was a late second round pick in 2011. The true draft steal of the “Triplets” line has to be Palat, though, who was nabbed in the 7th round, 208th overall in the 2011 draft.
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.
Many think he was robbed of the Calder Trophy, which ended up going to 2014 first overall pick Aaron Ekblad, but with Gaudreau’s talent level, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few trophies on his mantle before all is said and done for Johnny Hockey.
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.
Moulson was a bit of a late bloomer, and he never truly established himself as a full-time NHLer until he was 26. After arriving in New York to skate with John Tavares and the Islanders, Moulson established himself as a pretty good wingman for the franchise center, registering three straight 30-goal seasons.
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.
Byfuglien found success on the Blackhawks as a power forward before moving back to the point after being shipped off to the then-Thrashers organization. Almost 600 games into his NHL career, it’s safe to say Big Buff is one of the biggest draft steals of the last 15 years.
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).
Playing his entire career with the Coyotes until he was dealt to the New York Rangers at the trade deadline last season, Yandle has already surpassed the 50-point plateau three times in his career. At just 28 years old, Yandle could have a few more seasons with that level of production left in his arsenal.
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.
Visnovsky is currently an unrestricted free agent, and at 38-years-old it’s hard to imagine his phone ringing off the hook this summer. Still though, he’s already more than surpassed the expectations of any 4th round pick.
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.
Enter Joe Pavelski, the club’s 7th round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Pavelski turns 31 this month, and today he is one of the most lethal snipers in the game. In fact, only Alexander Ovechkin has scored more goals (104) over the past two seasons than Pavelski’s 78. Today, Pavelski is just 15 points shy of 500 in his career.
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.
Although a Vezina Trophy has somehow eluded the Finnish netminder, he’s been a finalist three times, including this past season when he lost out to Montreal’s Carey Price. At 32 years old Rinne is still going strong, looking to add to his impressive collection 204 NHL wins.
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.
Now just 25 years old, Benn has already played in 426 games, registering 359 points in the process. Quite a steal for a 129th pick, indeed.
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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