Monday, 8 September 2008

Drafted Late? No Problem!

There's a pile of talk about which rookies will make an NHL roster this season straight out of training camp. Without doubt, any of the top picks have a great shot, and probably will do well with their NHL clubs. That's not to say that there aren't other rookies who have a shot at doing well if they are committed to doing the work. There have been a number of late-round picks in the NHL drafts over the years that have turned hard work into long and successful careers. Some have gone on to win NHL awards, and a few have even captured the Stanley Cup. However, all of the following players were drafted with the 200th pick in the NHL Entry Draft or lower. And all have gone on to become stars in the NHL.

1. Mark Streit, New York Islanders: Streit was drafted 262nd overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens. The Swiss-born defenceman arrived in the NHL during the 2005-06 season, and hasn't looked back. Since his arrival, he's played in 205 games, scoring 25 goals and 84 assists while providing steady play on the blueline. He was signed this summer by the New York Islanders to a five-year, $20.5 million free agent contract. Not bad for 262nd overall at all.

2. Martin Gerber, Ottawa Sentators: Gerber was drafted 232nd overall in 2001 by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. In 200 NHL games, Gerber has put up respectable numbers for the Ducks, Carolina Hurricanes, and Ottawa Senators. He has a career GAA of 2.60 to go along with a career save percentage of .911 while compiling a 100-64-7-13 record. He helped Carolina win a Stanley Cup, and returned to the finals with Ottawa.

3. Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers: Lundqvist has already put together an impressive resumé. Drafted by the Rangers 205th overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, Lundqvist broke into the NHL in 2005-06 in style by winning 30 games in his rookie season. He also helped Sweden win an Olympic gold medal that year. He hasn't slowed down in the last two years. In 195 NHL games, Lundqvist has a record of 104-58-0-27 (no ties), 17 shutouts, a GAA of 2.27, and a save percentage of .917. The Rangers made sure to keep him as a Blueshirt, signing him to a six-year deal this past season.

4. Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings: Zetterberg might be the epitome of the kind of player you hope to find at the bottom of the pile. Drafted 210th overall in 1999 by the Detroit Red Wings, Zetterberg went from unknown to superstar. He broke into the league in 2002-03, and racked up 22 goals and 22 assists to start off his career. Not impressive, but not shabby. Five seasons later, look at these numbers: 355 games played, 152 goals, 180 assists, a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and an Olympic gold medal in 2006. That's how a star is made.

5. Tomas Kaberle, Toronto Maple Leafs: For a Toronto team that has perennially been thin on the back end, drafting Kaberle has to stand-out as a major highlight. The Buds drafted Kaberle 204th overall in 1996, and he's been a mainstay on the Toronto blueline since the 1998-99 season. The savvy veteran defenceman has been a highlight year in and year out for the Maple Leafs. In 681 NHL games, Kaberle has scored 69 goals and added 333 assists while playing on the top defensive unit. The three-time NHL all-star has won an Olympic bronze medal for the Czech Republic.

6. Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose Sharks: The Russian goaltender was drafted 219th overall in 1994 by the Sharks, but had a lot of trouble establishing himself as the go-to-guy in San Jose. His rookie season was officially in 2000-01, and he has played in the majority of San Jose's games since that time. In 430 NHL games, Nabokov has a GAA of 2.37, a save percentage of .911, 40 shutouts, and a record of 208-150-29-19. However, Nabokov really took the reins last season, playing 77 games and going 46-21-8. Nabokov became the first European-born goalie to score a goal on March 10, 2002 when he shot the puck from the top of his crease into Vancouver's open net. Nabokov also won the Calder Trophy as best rookie in 2000-01, and won a gold medal in the World Championships in 2008. Impressive, to say the least.

7. Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers: Timonen was drafted 250th overall in 1993 by the Los Angeles Kings, but he never got to spend any time in southern California. On June 26, 1998, the Kings dealt Timonen, along with Jan Vopat, to the Nashville Predators for future considerations. It was in Nashville, under the watchful eye of head coach Barry Trotz, that Timonen became a solid offensive defenceman. He signed a six-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers in June 2007 after being traded with Scott Hartnell from Nashville for a first-round pick. Timonen broke into the NHL in 1998-99 and has not looked back. In 653 NHL games, Timonen has scored 87 goals and 258 assists. He has represented his country of Finland in 1998 and 2006 at the Winter Olympics, winning a bronze medal and a silver medal, respectively. Timonen is highly regarded, and plays the defensive side of the puck as well as he does the offensive side.

8. Nikolai Khabibulin, Chicago Blackhawks: The man known as the "'Bulin Wall" was drafted 204th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, and Khabibulin has certainly shown his value. He spent two seasons with the Jets before the franchise moved south to Phoenix. He spent three more seasons in the desert before he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning along with Stanislav Neckar for Mike Johnson, Paul Mara, Ruslan Zaynullin and a second-round pick in the 2001 draft. After four seasons in the Sunshine State, Khabibulin was signed by the Blackhawks in a free agent deal. However, it was his time in Tampa Bay where he'll be remembered. In 2003-04, Khabibulin and the Lightning won the Stanley Cup. Khabibulin also won a bronze medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics. For a guy drafted in the ninth-round, he's played in 586 NHL games posting a 251-239-58-11 record, a 2.69 GAA, and a .908 save percentage with 36 shutouts.

9. Igor Larionov, retired: The Russian superstar was originally drafted 214th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in 1985 due to the political issues that faced Russian players attempting to defect to North America. He finally reached Vancouver for the 1989-90 season. Larionov played three seasons for the Canucks before he was claimed off waivers by the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks swapped "The Professor" and a conditional pick to Detroit for Ray Sheppard. After signing with Florida in 2000, the Panthers traded Larionov back to Detroit for Yan Golubovsky. Just listen to this list of achievements: 1979 and 1980 World Junior Champion; 1981 Canada Cup Champion; 1984 and 1988 Olympic gold medalist; 1982, 1983, 1986, and 1989 World Champion; 1997, 1998, and 2002 Stanley Cup Champion; 2002 Olympic bronze medalist. In 921 NHL games, Larionov notched 169 goals and 644 assists. And that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of his hockey prowess. Larionov might be the greatest 200th overall pick in the history of the game.

10. Dominik Hasek, retired: The flamboyant Czech goalie was drafted 207th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1983. Hasek was selected at his low position due to the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia at the time, the same reason as Larionov's low position. Hasek's rookie season was officially in 1991-92, nearly eight years after he was drafted. Playing backup to Ed Belfour didn't last long as Hasek was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres for Stephane Beauregard. It was in Buffalo that Hasek's legend grew to superstar status. After nine seasons in Buffalo, Hasek was traded to Detroit for Vyacheslav Kozlov and a couple of draft picks. After a short stint in Ottawa that was riddled with injuries, he returned to Detroit to finish his career. His legacy is unquestionable: 1998 Olympic gold medalist, 1997 and 1998 Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP, and 2002 and 2007 Stanley Cup Champion. And let's not forget how he developed his unorthodox style of goaltending known as "the flop".

11. Dave Taylor, retired: Taylor was drafted 210th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 1975. Taylor broke into the NHL in 1977-78 with the Kings, and became the face of the franchise for many years. Over 17 seasons with the Kings, Taylor played in 1111 NHL games, scoring 431 goals and 638 assists. He won both the King Clancy Trophy and the Bill Masterton Trophy in the NHL, and played in the NHL All-Star Game four times. He also has the distinction of being selected by the Houston Cougars of the WHA's Amateur Draft in 1974. The closest that Taylor got to a Stanley Cup was in 1993 when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Kings in the final. However, in 1995 - one year after he retired - Taylor had his number retired by the Los Angeles Kings, the third in team history.

Now, I just want to point out that 10 of 11 players profiled here are of European descent. I believe that may be due to the amount of exposure our junior players get in North America with all the combines and draft specials and junior games shown by mainstream media.

However, it doesn't mean that a player drafted in the 200-range of picks is anything to sneeze at. We've seen Olympic gold medalists, Stanley Cup Champions, MVPs, playoff MVPs, and phenomenal statistical careers posted by each of these men. Will we see another darkhorse crack an NHL lineup? Absolutely. Will it be this year? Only those players can make it happen. Good luck to all the rookies at training camp this autumn!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Texas Youth for Political Awareness said...

Nice blog! It's very true that late in the draft might mean great in the game. Be watching for Colin Long and Jesper Samuelsson, two late picks (100th and 211th, respectively) who many people feel have much more talent than their draft position suggests.

Oh, and I saw that you have a pretty lengthy list of hockey blogs on your page. Would you mind listing mine? It'd be awesome if you could.
Either way, nice blog, and I'll be waiting for the next one!