The NHL Entry Draft annually gives teams the opportunity to acquire a franchise-altering talent, but for every transformative star that is taken in the early rounds of the draft, a skilled player somehow manages to fall through the cracks. While talent evaluators are typically savvy when it comes to spotting players who will be productive NHLers, there have been countless examples of future stars going completely undrafted.
The current format of the NHL Entry Draft provides teams with the rights to 211 players, and in past years as many as 293 players have been selected. That means that for a player to go undrafted in the NHL Entry Draft, professional talent evaluators have to believe that there are a minimum of 200 other players who will have a better NHL career. Of course, it is very easy to second-guess a draft pick with the benefit of hindsight, but it is still safe to say that professional talent evaluators are not always correct in their assessment of future NHL talent.
Some of the players appearing on this list not only went on to have long and successful careers despite going undrafted, but many of them played so well that they were ultimately elected to The Hockey Hall of Fame. When an undrafted NHLer makes the Hall of Fame, at least the teams who passed on making the selection don’t feel so bad about missing out. After all, every team in the league made the very same mistake. These 25 undrafted NHLers all proved the talent evaluators wrong by having long and productive NHL careers, with some becoming the very best players to ever appear on the ice.
*All stats were taken from Hockey-Reference.com.
25 Craig Berube
An enforcer who played in 1,054 games during a 18-year career, the man known as “Chief” worked his way through the coaching ranks in his post-playing career to serve as head coach of the team that first signed him, the Philadelphia Flyers, who have since fired him. Berube went undrafted before signing on with the Flyers in 1986, and during his lengthy career with five different franchises, the left-winger amassed over 3,000 penalty minutes. That makes him just one of nine NHLers to ever do so, and it ranks him seventh on the all-time list.
24 Geoff Courtnall
Courtnall, a mainstay of the NHL throughout the 1980s and 1990s, started off his career with the Boston Bruins in 1983 after being passed over in the draft. Courtnall would go on to play 17 years in the NHL, winning a Stanley Cup in 1988 with the Edmonton Oilers and reaching another Stanley Cup Finals as a core piece of a solid 1994 Vancouver Canucks team. In 1,048 games in the NHL, Courtnall scored 367 goals and assisted on 432.
23 Dwayne Roloson
Despite enjoying a standout collegiate career in which he earned All-American honors anda nomination for the Hobie Baker Award, “Roli” was not drafted after leaving college in 1994. He was signed by the Calgary Flames as an undrafted free agent, but he bounced back and forth between the NHL and the AHL before having one of his best seasons in the NHL at the age of 34. That was the 2003-04 season, and Roloson earned an All-Star appearance while leading the NHL in save percentage. A few seasons later, Roloson led the Edmonton Oilers on a memorable run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, only to tear his MCL in the first game of a series the Oilers ultimately lost.
22 Mark Giordano
Giordano is one of several active players to make the list, as the undrafted NHLer is in the midst of a solid career spent entirely with the Calgary Flames (save for one season spent in Russian Super League). One of the best defenseman in the league, Giordano made his first All-Star game appearance in 2015, a season after receiving a first-place vote for the Norris Trophy. Unfortunately for the Flames and for Giordano, injuries have forced the defenseman to miss significant time over the past two seasons. Before a biceps injury effectively ended his 2014-15 season, Giordano had already registered a career-high in points by amassing 48 in 61 games.
21 Chris Kunitz
Kunitz is a prime example of an undrafted player going on to have a lengthy and wildly successful NHL career. In his ongoing 11-year career, Kunitz has already won two Stanley Cups (with the Ducks in 2007 and the Penguins in 2009) in addition to an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada in 2014. The left-winger also earned First All-Star Team honors for the 2012-13 season while playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, a season in which he scored 52 points in 48 games.
20 Steve Thomas
Despite being passed over by every team in the NHL, Steve Thomas played 20 seasons in the National Hockey League before calling it quits in 2004. Thomas was a gifted scorer who enjoyed some of his best years while playing for the New York Islanders, leading the team to an unlikely run to the Conference finals in 1993, picking up the scoring slack after Pierre Turgeon was injured during the first round of the playoffs. That season, Thomas registered a career-high in points, totaling 87 on 37 goals and 50 assists. Thomas had an exceptionally productive career for a player who went undrafted, scoring 421 goals and assisting on 512 for a career total of 933 points.
19 Niklas Backstrom
Backstrom has played all of his nine NHL seasons as a member of the Minnesota Wild, and the goaltender enjoyed immediate success during his rookie season after taking over at goalie due to an injury to then-starter Manny Fernandez. It was that season that Backstrom led the league in save percentage and goals against average, claiming the William Jennings trophy while also earning some consideration for the Vezina. It would not be the last time that Backstrom's goaltending resulted in consideration as the league's best goalie, as the native of Finland finished third in the balloting in 2009.
18 Marty McSorley
Say what you want about McSorley, but the fact remains that he was an incredibly important player on some very good Oilers and Kings teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A valued teammate and enforcer for Wayne Gretzky, McSorley was part of two Stanley Cup winners with Edmonton and very nearly won a third while in Los Angeles. Though McSorley will be remembered for the illegal stick penalty in the Stanley Cup finals and the Donald Brashear incident that ultimately ended his run in the NHL, his 17-year career included some very solid play on the ice, including a season in which he led the league in plus-minus in 1990-91 while with the Kings.
17 Greg “Gus” Adams
In one of the oddest circumstances in NHL history, the undrafted Greg Adams once played on the same line as another undrafted NHLer also named Greg Adams. For the purposes of identification, Adams went by the name Gus while playing for the Vancouver Canucks and, identification issues aside, was able to famously lead the franchise all the way to the 1994 Stanley Cup finals. Adams scored a game-winning goal in overtime of the first game of the series, but the Rangers seemed to be the team of destiny that year and ultimately took the series. Adams, a veteran of 17 NHL seasons, totaled 743 points during his career, racking up 355 goals and 388 assists while playing for New Jersey, Vancouver, Dallas, Phoenix and Florida.
16 John Madden
An undersized defensive-minded center and an exceptional penalty killer, the 5’11” Madden was able to carve out an excellent NHL career while playing the bulk of his seasons with the New Jersey Devils. A three-time Stanley Cup winner (twice with the Devils and once with the Blackhawks), Madden was awarded the Selke Trophy in 2001 and was the runner-up in three additional seasons. Madden scored 165 goals in his 13 NHL seasons, 18 of which were of the short-handed variety.
15 Sergei Bobrovsky
The reason that Bobrovsky appears on this list as an undrafted NHLer has nothing to do with teams questioning his ability. Instead, Bobrovsky was passed over in the draft due to questions over his signability, an issue with many Russian players at the time. Now that Bobrovsky is in the NHL, he has enjoyed a great deal of early-career success, having already earned the Vezina in 2013, the same year he was named to the NHL First All-Star team. In his relatively brief and still ongoing career, Bobrovsky has been able to post a 2.51 goals against average and .918 save percentage.
14 Brian Rafalski
After a standout collegiate hockey career, Rafalski went undrafted and played in Sweden and Finland for four years before joining the New Jersey Devils in 1999. His time in the European leagues proved to be incredibly valuable, as the defenseman was an immediately productive member of the Devils while playing alongside Scott Stevens, a pairing that would help lead New Jersey to the Stanley Cup that season and again in 2003.
Rafalski would again play a vital role on a Stanley Cup winner as a member of the Detroit Red Wings in 2008, and the undrafted NHLer nearly won a fourth in 2009 as the Red Wings fell just short of back-to-back titles. Rafalski also enjoyed success in Olympic play, as the three-time Olympian led the USA to a silver medal in 2010 while being selected as the best defenseman in the Olympic Hockey Tournament.
13 Dave Poulin
A veteran of 13 NHL seasons, Poulin’s relatively small stature was a part of the reason that NHL teams passed on taking him in the draft. Despite going undrafted, Poulin enjoyed a solid career spent mostly with the Philadelphia Flyers and was chosen to play in the NHL All-Star game in both 1986 and 1988. Poulin was known for his exceptional two-way play, and was recognized for his efforts at both ends of the ice when he was awarded the Selke Trophy in 1987.
Poulin is probably best remembered for playing on one of the most potent lines in hockey at the time as a member of the Flyers, joining Brian Propp and fellow undrafted NHLer Tim Kerr. That line helped lead Philadelphia to the Stanley Cup Finals in both 1985 and 1987, but Poulin’s Flyers were ultimately undone on both occasions by the buzzsaw that was the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. One of hockey's good guys and a highly respected leader, Poulin was awarded the King Clancy Trophy in 1993, essentially capping a career in which he was able to rack up 325 assists and 205 goals. Of his 205 goals, 39 were shorthanded, putting him in a tie for 6th all-time.
12 Curtis Joseph
Possessing one of the greatest nicknames in sports history, the goaltender so readily identified as “CuJo” was signed by the St. Louis Blues after going undrafted following his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin. What followed was a standout NHL career that spanned 19 years and saw Joseph finish in the top-3 of the Vezina Trophy voting on three separate occasions.
Playing for five different franchises, Joseph appeared in two All-Star games and won the Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2000 while playing for Toronto. With 24,279 saves, Joseph ranks third on the all-time list, trailing only Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. Though Joseph was never able to win a Stanley Cup during his lengthy NHL career, he did earn an Olympic gold medal while representing Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
11 Steve Duchesne
A three-time All-Star Game selection and an excellent defenseman who possessed outstanding offensive skills, Duchesne’s production on the ice is as notable as the players for whom he was traded during a 16-year career that saw him suit up for six different franchises. In 1991, Duchesne was a part of the deal that brought Jari Kurri to the Kings, and was also a part of the rather sizable deal that sent Eric Lindros to the Flyers.
While the trades are certainly notable, the fact that Duchesne was something of a journeyman should not have an impact on his status as one of the best undrafted NHLers to ever play the sport. In 1,113 games in the NHL, Duchesne scored 227 goals and assisted on 525 while playing for the Kings, Flyers, Nordiques, Blues, Senators and Red Wings, and his 752 points places him 20th all-time among defenseman.
10 Dan Boyle
Boyle entered the NHL in 1998 after going undrafted, joining the Florida Panthers for 22 games in the 1998-99 season and for 13 games in the 1999-00 season before finally earning a full-time roster spot for the 2000-01 season. In the years that would follow, Boyle would earn NHL Second All-Star Team honors in 2007 and again in 2009 while being recognized as one of the best defensemen in the league. Boyle has enjoyed a great deal of team success during his ongoing 16-year career, as he was an integral part of the Tampa Bay Lightning team that won the Stanley Cup in 2004 and was also a member of Team Canada’s Olympic victory in 2010.
9 Tim Kerr
Kerr was one of the most prolific scorers of the 1980s, but injuries prevented him from enjoying sustained success throughout his career. With the Philadelphia Flyers, Kerr was a key component of the aforementioned potent line that also featured Dave Poulin and Brian Propp, and it was Kerr’s devastating scoring ability that made the line so effective. For three consecutive seasons, Kerr led the league in power-play goals, scoring a total of 81 from the 1984-85 season to the 1986-87 season, and his total of 34 power-play goals in 1985-86 remains a single-season NHL record to this day. Kerr played in three All-Star Games during his career, and he was named to the Second All-Star team in 1987.
8 Joe Mullen
Mullen, a Hall of Famer who played 16 seasons in the NHL, has a number of notable accomplishments on his resume. Over the course of a career in which he played for the Blues, Flames, Penguins and Bruins, Mullen was able to exceed both the 500-goal and 1,000-point milestones, making him the first American player to do so. A two-time winner of the Lady Byng Trophy, Mullen was also selected to play in three All-Star Games and earned NHL First All-Star Team honors following the 1988-89 season. Mullen's success was not limited to individual accolades of course, as the right-winger won the Stanley Cup three times -- once with the Flames in 1989 and twice with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992.
7 Borje Salming
Salming accomplished quite a bit during his illustrious NHL career, and it was the Swedish-born defenseman who essentially paved the way for other European hockey players. At the time of Salming’s arrival in the NHL, there was a prevailing belief that the European players -- Swedes in particular – were not tough enough to succeed in the NHL game. Salming’s arrival and subsequent success in the NHL did a great deal to dispel that belief.
As part of a 17-year career spent almost entirely with Toronto, Salming was named to the NHL Second All-Star team fives times, earning First All-Star Team honors in 1977. He was consistently among the Norris Trophy candidates for over a decade, and his career point total of 787 ranks him 17th on the all-time list among defenseman. A Hall of Famer, Salming still holds a number of team records for the Maple Leafs, including career assists (620) and career plus-minus (+155).
6 Dino Ciccarelli
Ciccarelli was an unbelievably prolific scorer throughout his long NHL career, and his 1,200 points are impressive even before considering the fact that he was never drafted by an NHL franchise. The Hall of Fame right-winger spent the bulk of his career with the Minnesota North Stars, earning three of his four All-Star selections with the club he entered the league with. Though he played 19 seasons, Cicarrelli never hoisted the Stanley Cup, though he did have notable playoff performances while taking two teams to the finals -- the North Stars in 1981 and the Red Wings in 1995. His 608 career goals ranks him 17th all-time, just behind Bobby Hull and just ahead of Jari Kurri.
5 Peter Stastny
Stastny, the father of current NHLer Paul Stastny, arrived in the NHL after defecting from Czechoslovakia following a season in which he was named the player of the year in his home country. Joined by his two brothers on the Quebec Nordiques, Stastny was an immediate success in the NHL, winning the Calder in 1980 and playing in six All-Star Games throughout the 1980s. The Hall of Fame center amassed 1,239 points during his 15-year career in the NHL, and had six consecutive seasons in which he totaled more than 100 points, a feat accomplished by only six other players in the history of the NHL.
4 Adam Oates
Oates played a significant role in some of the greatest offensive seasons in the history of hockey, as he and then-teammate Brett Hull were a dynamic pairing and an offensive juggernaut. Oates, a willing and skilled passer, aided Hull in scoring 72 goals in the 1989-90 season and 86 in the 1990-91 season. A five-time All-Star Game participant, Oates racked up 1,420 points during a career that lasted 19 seasons and included stints with the Red Wings, Blues, Bruins, Capitals, Flyers, Ducks, and Oilers.
Oates' career total of 1,079 assists still ranks seventh on the all-time list, which undoubtedly contributed to his election to the Hall of Fame in 2012. While Oates was never drafted in the NHL, he did draw considerable interest from NHL teams after deciding to skip his senior season of college. He ultimately signed a four-year, $1.1-million deal that made him the highest-paid rookie in the NHL.
3 Ed Belfour
Drafted or not, Belfour is simply one of the best goalies to ever play the game. A Hall of Famer who played for the Blackhawks, Sharks, Stars, Maple Leafs and Panthers, “Eddie the Eagle” had one of the best rookie seasons a goalie has ever had in 1990-91. During that first full season, Belfour led the league in saves (1,713), save percentage (.910), and goals against average (2.47), a rare feat that led to Belfour winning the Vezina, the Calder and the Jennings, along with an NHL First All-Star Team selection. That’s a lot of hardware for a rookie season, and the remainder of Belfour’s career would see similar success.
In the 15 seasons that followed, Belfour again earned the Vezina in 1993 and was selected to play in six NHL All-Star Games. Belfour won the Stanley Cup in 1999 as a member of the Dallas Stars, posting a goals against average of 1.67 in the playoffs, anchoring the Stars as they ultimately defeated the Sabres in six games that year. An Olympic gold medalist as a part of Team Canada in 2002, Belfour’s 76 career shutouts rank ninth all-time.
2 Martin St. Louis
A Hart Trophy winner, a two-time Art Ross Trophy winner and a five-time First or Second All-Star Team honoree, St. Louis was passed over by every NHL team despite a solid collegiate career at the University of Vermont. The diminutive right-winger has had a career that will undoubtedly land him in the Hall of Fame once he finally hangs up his skates, having already totaled over 1,000 points during his 16 years in the NHL so far.
In addition to the aforementioned accolades, St. Louis has won Olympic gold as a part of Team Canada in 2014 and has won the Stanley Cup while with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. A three-time winner of the Lady Byng and the 2004 recipient of the Lester B. Pearson Award, why NHL teams believed that St. Louis would be limited by his size in spite of his considerable skill remains something of a mystery.
1 Wayne Gretzky
While Gretzky was not technically eligible for the draft due to his own personal services contract and an agreement between the Edmonton Oilers and the NHL as a part of the NHL-WHA merger, the fact remains that The Great One went undrafted due to those special circumstances. There is no need to go into the personal accomplishments of the man who held 61 NHL records at the time of his retirement, as there is simply no argument as to his status as the best hockey player to have ever played the game.