- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
It's one thing to have draft picks. It's quite another thing to know what to do with them. Looking back over the past 15 NHL entry drafts, it's obvious that some teams have done much better than others when it comes to sorting out potential talent.
"I think the teams that have done the best at the draft table have one thing in common," says former Flames GM Craig Button, who also served as the Stars' scouting director. "They have continuity in their scouting group."
That does seem to be a theme when you examine the teams that have made magic at the draft table. Teams like the Wings, Devils and Predators have been under stable leadership for many years and they've done quite well determining which prospects have what it takes to make in the NHL.
After taking a look at each team's record dating back to 1995, I'm ready to offer my top 10 list of the league's top drafting clubs. For the record, the Sharks and Flyers just missed my cut.
1. Detroit Red Wings: The late-round selections of future superstars Pavel Datsyuk (171st overall) and Henrik Zetterberg (210th) in 1998 and 1999, respectively, were vital in allowing the league's model franchise to make a smooth transition from the Steve Yzerman era to their impressive post-lockout look.
The team's most important pick dates back to 1989 when they selected future franchise defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom with the 53rd overall pick. In the same draft, they grabbed Sergei Fedorov with the 74th selection. And they tabbed D Vladimir Konstantinov (whose career was cut short due to injuries suffered in a tragic car accident) with the 221st pick. There's only one word for a draft like that: Wow!
In more recent years, the Wings' amateur scouting staff has uncovered forwards Johan Franzen, Val Filippula and Darren Helm; defensemen Niklas Kronwall, Derek Meech and Jonathan Ericsson as well as goaltender Jimmy Howard.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: The defending champions have built their powerhouse club with can't miss high picks like Sidney Crosby (No. 1 in 2005), Evgeni Malkin (No. 2 in '04), Jordan Staal (No. 2 overall in '06) and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (No. 1 in '03).
Those were easy, right.
The Pens scouting staff built around those high-end prospects with Ds like Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Alex Goligoski and role-playing forwards Max Talbot and Tyler Kennedy. That kind of work isn't so easy.
Pittsburgh also chose current NHLers like Michal Roszival (Rangers), Ryan Malone (Lightning), Colby Armstrong (Thrashers), Ryan Whitney (Oilers) and Dan Carcillo (Flyers). GM Ray Shero dealt Armstrong and Whitney in separate deals to acquire superstar winger Marian Hossa and hard-working Chris Kunitz.
3. Washington Capitals: Like their Eastern Conference rivals in Pittsburgh, the Capitals were positioned nicely at or near the top of the draft at the right time. In 2004, with the first pick, the club tapped dynamic Alex Ovechkin. Two years later, with the fourth overall selection, the Caps bagged ace pivot Nicklas Backstrom.
In 2002, with their second first round pick, the club's scouting staff uncovered super-talented winger Alex Semin. They had similar success with an additional first round pick in '04, choosing offensive-minded D Mike Green with their third choice in the opening round.
They've also scored with forwards Eric Fehr and Boyd Gordon; defensemen Jeff Schultz and goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Ds Karl Alzner, John Carlson and G Michal Neuvirth each have shown the potential to make their mark in the big league, too.
4. Chicago Blackhawks: The Hawks are another team that turned their franchise around with high-end draft picks. In 2006 and '07, respectively, they grabbed franchise forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
In 2002, the club made a big hit by selecting D Duncan Keith with the 54th overall pick. In subsequent years, they used first round picks to add to their blueline, taking Brent Seabrook (14th overall) in '03 and Cam Barker (3rd) in '04. Two months ago, they sent Barker to Minny for D Kim Johnsson in a deal that helped clear some budget space for next season.
5. Nashville Predators: GM David Poile and his scouting staff have done a very nice job since entering the league in 1998.
Two years earlier, they started to construct a good young defense by choosing Dan Hamhuis with the 12th overall pick.
The Preds appeared to connect on a goal-scoring winger when they took Russian-born Alex Radulov with the 15th pick of the '04 draft. However, Radulov opted to leave Nashville to skate in the KHL to gain a better pay day. While there have been some rumors that indicate that Radulov would like to comeback to play in the NHL, that has not happened.
Later in the '04 draft, the Preds took a flier on Finnish-born goalie Pekka Rinne. I think we all know how that turned out.
Not armed with a big budget, Nashville hasn't been able to keep all of its home grown talent. Forwards Scott Hartnell and Scotty Upshall were two successful Preds' picks that eventually were moved on via trade.
6. Los Angeles Kings: GM Dean Lombardi stockpiled draft picks during a rebuilding process that started after the lockout. Prior to his arrival, though, the club had already made some smart picks, taking top pivot Anze Kopitar (11th overall) and goalie Jonathan Quick (72nd) in 2005 and grabbing versatile captain Dustin Brown with the 13th overall choice in '03.
The franchise's best pick, however, might have been the selection of D Drew Doughty with the second pick in the '08 draft. In a class that was featured several high-end defensive prospects, the Kings took exactly the right one in Doughty, who looks like a future Norris Trophy winner.
In '07, with the 11th overall pick, the Kings tabbed Quebec League goalie Jonathan Bernier, who was just named the top goaltender in the AHL. The kid goalie recently backstopped back-to-back wins over the Preds and Canucks to help nail down a playoff spot. Bernier figures to eventually (maybe sooner than later) battle Quick for the top job in Hollywood.
7. New Jersey Devils: Longtime scouting director David Conte has enjoyed quite a bit of success during his nearly two decades on the job in Jersey.
Amazingly, the Devils are still benefitting from a pick they made 20 years ago, when the club grabbed a QMJHL goalie named Martin Brodeur with the 20th overall pick in 1990. In the lead-up to that draft, the Devils watched both Brodeur and Trevor Kidd. Clearly, they chose the right guy. In fact, the club traded back in that draft to make the pick.
In subsequent years, Conte and his staff selected stud D Scott Niedermayer as well as a number of top forwards like Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta. Yeah, the Devils have done a pretty good job at the draft table.
8. Dallas Stars: The Stars scouting staff has done a terrific job of identifying talent over the past two decades. In their current lineup, they have home-grown forwards like Mike Modano, Jere Lehtonen, Brendan Morrow, James Neal, Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn, Steve Ott and young Tom Wandell as well as Ds Trevor Daley, Matt Niskanen, Mark Fistric and Niklas Grossman.
Back in 1994, the club selected goaltender Marty Turco, who'll likely be leaving the organization via free agency this summer. Since then, they've selected goalies Dan Ellis and Mike Smith, who've been good enough to make their way to the NHL with other organizations.
And, for the record, it should be noted that, in 1995, the Stars scouting staff selected a Western Hockey League winger named Jarome Iginla. The club moved Iginla to Calgary in a deal that brought Stars' current GM Joe Nieuwendyk to Dallas during his playing days.
9. Colorado Avalanche: The success of the franchise's many young players is positive reflection of the work done by the team's scouting group.
Veterans Adam Foote, Milan Hejduk, John-Michael Liles and Peter Budaj also are products of the club's drafting efforts. The Avs also selected long-time NHLers like Robyn Regehr, Sammy Pahlsson and Alex Tanguay.
10. Buffalo Sabres: Rookie of the Year candidate Tyler Myers is among the latest Buffalo draft picks to make a place for himself in the NHL. Myers was selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2008 draft.
In 1999, which, by most accounts, wasn't a terrific draft year, the Sabres got a steal when they selected goalie Ryan Miller with the 138th overall pick. That pick will go down as one of the best in the franchise's history.
463dFrank Provenzano and Corey Pronman
493dFrank Provenzano and Corey Pronman