For all the debating and back-and-forth bickering that takes place leading up to the NHL draft, which for some is a year-long endeavor, you would think we’d all have a pretty good idea how the actual draft turns out.
Although guessing and prognosticating are core characteristics of the armchair general manager, you can also lump the people who do the actual drafting into this group. That’s right, NHL GM’s and the scouts they employ sit stoically at the head of the draft-day roulette table, hoping their bets on prospects change their fortunes for the better. Sure, they do their homework and treat the draft as their respective franchise’s hinge point for wheeling in an upwards trajectory.
Of course, the odds are in favor of those holding the highest slots on the draft board, but even then it’s still a gamble that can have a profound impact on not only their job security but also the future success of the organizations that employ them.
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Which is why it is imperative for teams to make the most of every draft pick regardless of how few or late the selections are. Although it helps to get a first or second overall pick, most contenders build a strong supporting cast on the strength of late-round draft picks. Measuring their success can vary, but point totals and games played are two acceptable barometers to justify or validate an individual draft pick.
By using scoring, individual awards and team accomplishments as an approach to gauge the success of a specific draft class, what you’ll find is that the significant amount of top players in the NHL were originally selected early in the first round of the draft. There are, however, the outliers who weren’t taken within the upper tier of their respective draft-years and went on to all-star careers in the NHL.
Naturally, if you asked around NHL front offices, you’d probably be told that scouting is, in fact, an art, and player development from the post-draft period is far from a science. Go ahead and pick a random draft year, and see how none of its highest scorers were drafted in sequential order beginning with the first overall pick. For every Mario Lemieux (1984), Sidney Crosby (2005) or Connor McDavid (2015) – each of whom was the No. 1 pick in their draft year – you’ll find a Nikita Kucherov, Sebastian Aho or Jamie Benn who were drafted outside of the first round.
In the last seven years, three of the NHL’s regular-season scoring champions were not first-round picks. Including Kucherov, who was the 58th overall selection in 2011 and went on to win this year’s Hart Trophy as league MVP.
This phenomenon is by no means limited to forwards. If you include undrafted Mark Giordano, who won the Norris Trophy for the best defenseman, 12 of the last 18 winners were either drafted outside the first round or weren’t drafted at all and it isn’t a fluke list either. Hockey Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom, a third-rounder in 1989, accounts for seven of those trophies, while Duncan Keith (2nd Round in 2002), Zdeno Chara (3rd round in 1996) and P.K. Subban (2nd round in 2007) round out the list.
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In goal, the run of three straight Vezina Trophy winners who were not picked in the first round ended last night when 2012 first-rounder Andrei Vasilevskiy took home the award over Ben Bishop (3rd round in 2005) and Robin Lehner (2nd round in 2009). But the league’s most prestigious trophy – The Stanley Cup – has been reserved for starting goalies who weren’t considered first-round talents on draft day. Since Marc-Andre Fleury (1st overall in 2003) took home the Cup in 2009 with Pittsburgh, every starter on the next 10 Cup winners was drafted in the second round or later, including St. Louis Blues netminder Jordan Binnington (3rd round in 2012).
As you can see, late-round success can be as critical to a team’s success as the sure things in the draft’s top five. Here are some prospects to keep an eye on during this weekend’s activities in Vancouver.
1. Spencer Knight (G, U.S. U18, NTDP)
The idea that a team doesn’t need a goalie who was a high draft pick to compete for the Stanley Cup is certainly a valid one. Nonetheless, goalies with Knight’s potential don’t come around very often. With stylistic comparisons to Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist, you can see why several teams may consider him a top-10 pick.
2. Robert Mastrosimone (LW, Chicago, USHL)
Being one of the last cuts from a historic program like this year’s NTDP is just one of several reasons why this high-energy sniper needs to be taken seriously by NHL scouting departments. Mastrosimone was one of the USHL’s top goal scorers and tied for the lead in playoff scoring.
3. Tobias Bjornfot (LHD, Djugardens J20, Superelit)
Philip Broberg and Victor Soderstrom received most of the attention this year as the cream of Sweden’s deep crop of two-way defensemen. But Bjornfot has the potential to the best of them all. An on-ice leader and sound decision maker, he can go end-to-end on one shift and smother an opposing counterattack on the next.
4. Premysil Svoboda (LW, Litvinov, Extraliga)
A top scorer in the Czech junior league, Svoboda has nasty offensive skills and can play the role or finisher or playmaker. He can handle a bad pass in stride as well as anyone in his class, including Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko.
5. Jordan Spence (RHD, Moncton, QMJHL)
A graceful puck mover who was one of the top-scoring defensemen in the QMJHL, Spence looked as smooth and confident for Team Canada at the under-18 world championship as he did for Moncton. He’s a crisp passer and calculated risk taker in the offensive end.
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Top 2019 NHL Draft sleepers
1. Ludvig Hedstrom (LHD, Djugardens U20, Superelit)
A physical two-way defenseman who was a mainstay for Team Sweden at all the key pre-draft tournaments, Hedstrom packs a wallop in his 5’11 frame but also skates extremely well.
2. Marek Berka (LW, Litvinov U20, Extraliga Juniors)
One of the more explosive skaters in the draft, Berka was part of the Litvinov steamroller that included Svoboda, Dan Bartos and elite 2020 draft prospect Jan Mysak. He can finish off the rush but also plays inside and competes hard in all three zones.
3. Tukka Tieksola (RW, Karpat U20)
A dynamic playmaker who makes as many high-end plays in the neutral zone as he does inside the opposing end, Tieksola can dazzle you with his vision and escapability.
4. Jamieson Rees (C, Sarnia, OHL)
A high-energy center who was a top player on a thin Sarnia squad, Rees can scoot and intensify his team’s collective efforts by showing them what effort and hard work look like. He was one of Canada’s best players at the U18 worlds.
5. G Dustin Wolf (G, Everett, WHL)
As goalies shrink down to traditional height requirements, so will the desire to only draft goalies big enough to cover every angle without moving. Wolf is a master technician who uses quickness and incredible play anticipation to smother WHL attacks the same way his Everett predecessor Carter Hart did a few seasons ago.
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