By now, we've heard about Tim Thomas' career. He was drafted in 1994 after his freshman year at the University of Vermont. He spent three more seasons there, and also spent time in the ECHL, IHL, the Finnish league, AHL and Swedish Elite League. In the 2002-03 season, he debuted with the Boston Bruins.
That's eight seasons since his draft year. In at least the past 20 years, there hasn't been a player who debuted so late in his career and ended up having such a distinguished career. In fact, once you get past Year 2, a player's chances of playing in the league already begins to diminish. By Year 5, only 2.6 percent of draftees ever reach the NHL. Everyone else has already made it to the NHL -- or will never make it.
But another thing that happens with each passing year is that expectations drop. Five years after a draft, the ceiling for a player is pretty low. And that's what makes Thomas' success so impressive: He turned into an all-star eight years after being drafted.
Now, it helped that Thomas was a goalie; it's doubtful a skater could pull off such a stunt. But even then, it's a huge outlier. However, each year we have these career minor-leaguers make the league and we have to wonder: "What's their ceiling?" They won't be Tim Thomases, but we're looking at the best players who took the long -- and short -- roads to the league and exploring just how good players have been, grouped by their time to the NHL.
To read more from Alvin, plus get access to Insider's complete NHL and NHL draft coverage, you must be an ESPN Insider.