Central Division rivals Chicago and Detroit are excellent illustrations of the value of solid drafting. The Wings have been among the NHL's elite teams for the last two decades, winning four Cups in that span, while the Hawks went from down and out to elite status, including a Cup in 2010. The common denominator: Top-quality work at the NHL Draft -- for more than 20 years in the case of the Wings; for the past half-decade in the case of the Blackhawks.
Every team has had its ups and downs since the draft began in 1963. Here's a look at the hits (and some of the misses) for the five teams in the Central Division on Draft Day.
Best first-round pick: Denis Savard (1980) -- Luckily for Chicago, the Canadiens passed on Savard, a Montreal native, allowing him to fall to the Hawks at No. 3. Savard spent his first 10 seasons with Chicago, breaking the 100-point barrier five times thanks to some of the most spectacular moves ever seen on an NHL rink. He finished his career with 473 goals and 1,338 points, the vast majority of them with the Hawks.
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Troy Murray (1980) -- Two rounds after landing Savard, the Hawks filled their No. 2 center slot by picking Murray, who came to Chicago in 1982 after two seasons at the University of North Dakota and gave the Blackhawks several excellent seasons, including a 45-goal, 99-point monster season in 1985-86. He finished his career with 230 goals and 584 points in 915 NHL games and now is a team broadcaster.
Best later-round pick: Dominik Hasek (1983) -- The Hawks spent a 10th-round pick on Hasek, not knowing if he'd ever be able to leave Czechoslovakia. Hasek arrived in Chicago as a 26-year-old in 1990, backed up Ed Belfour a season later as Belfour led the Hawks to the Stanley Cup Final, then was traded to Buffalo that summer. Unfortunately for Chicago, Hasek became perhaps the best 10th-round pick in draft history; the player they got from the Sabres, Stephane Beauregard, soon was gone from the NHL.
Biggest disappointment: Adam Bennett (1989) -- There were big expectations when the Hawks made Bennett, a defenseman from the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League, the No. 6 pick 13 years ago, but he never delivered. After scoring 18 and 21 goals in his final two seasons in junior hockey, Bennett did not score at all in two short stints with the Hawks, nor did he generate much offense in the minors. Bennett did score three goals after being dealt to Edmonton in 1993, but was out of pro hockey by the time he turned 25.
Best first-round pick: Steve Yzerman (1983) -- The Wings actually wanted to choose Pat LaFontaine with the fourth pick, because he had played in the area and management felt he would help sell tickets. But LaFontaine went to the Islanders at No. 3, leaving Yzerman to the Red Wings. Yzerman became the face of the franchise for a generation of Detroit fans, morphing from a high-scoring center on some non-winning teams to one of the best two-way centers on a franchise that won three Cups in six years. He moved into the front office after retirement before leaving two years ago to become GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Nicklas Lidstrom (1989) -- The newly retired future Hall of Famer ranks as the biggest prize in one of the great drafts of all time. Lidstrom nearly was flawless in his 20 NHL seasons. He owns four Stanley Cup rings and seven Norris trophies, was the first European captain of a Cup winner, surpassed 1,000 points for his career early in 2009-10 and is in the conversation when the topic turns to the greatest defensemen of all time. His retirement leaves a huge hole on the Wings' blue line.
Best later-round pick: Pavel Datsyuk (1998) -- It's incredible to think now that Datsyuk actually went two years without being drafted. The Wings finally took a flyer on him near the end of the sixth round in 1998, but didn't bring him from Russia to North America for another three years. He arrived in the fall of 2001, just in time to help the Wings win the Cup the following spring, and he's become one of the best two-way forwards in NHL history, averaging more than 65 points in his 11 NHL seasons while winning the Selke Trophy three times and the Lady Byng four times. There is nothing he can't do on the ice, and he's a perfect fit for Detroit's style of play.
Biggest disappointment: Kory Kocur (1988) -- Joey Kocur's cousin was a scorer, not a fighter -- the Wings chose him after a 34-goal season with Saskatoon of the WHL, and he put up 45 goals and 102 points in 1988-89 before turning pro. However, his scoring touch in junior never translated to the pros -- he had 18 and eight goals in two AHL seasons before being sent to Fort Wayne of the IHL, where he had 25 and 21 goals before calling it a career in 1993.
Best first-round pick: Rick Nash (2002) -- The Jackets knew what they were doing when they chose Nash with the draft's first pick. Despite playing on a team that has struggled to score, Nash has 289 goals in eight seasons, including 30 in 2011-12. He was named team captain in March 2008, and had 40 goals and a career-best 79 points in 2008-09 to lead the Jackets to their first playoff berth.
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Steve Mason (2005) -- Mason, a third-round choice, was an instant hit as a rookie, leading the Jackets to their only playoff berth in 2009 and earning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie thanks to a 33-win season which also included a 2.29 goals-against average and 10 shutouts. He hasn't come close to putting up those kinds of numbers since then, though. His GAA hasn't been below 3.03 in any of the past three seasons.
Best later-round pick: Marc Methot (2003) -- Expansion teams need to find late-round gems, but the Blue Jackets have failed badly in this area. Among the few later-round players to see any kind of substantial playing time is Methot, a sixth-rounder who didn't become an NHL regular until 2008-09. He has seven goals and 47 points in 246 games over the last four seasons, after playing just 29 games the two previous seasons.
Biggest disappointment: Nikita Filatov (2008) -- The Jackets had big hopes for Filatov when they took him with the sixth pick four years ago, and those hopes got even bigger when he had a hat trick against Minnesota during a brief stint with Columbus in his first season. But Filatov and coach Ken Hitchcock didn't see eye to eye and Filatov was allowed to return to Russia to play with his KHL team for the rest of the season. He returned to North America but split 2010-11 between Columbus and its AHL farm team in Springfield before being dealt to Ottawa last June for a third-round pick. He wound up being sent to Binghamton of the AHL, went home to Russia and has signed with a KHL team for 2012-13.
Best first-round pick: Ryan Suter (2003) -- A lot of people in Nashville refer to Suter as "Robin," the sidekick to Shea Weber's "Batman." But while Weber has the big gun from the point and gets most of the attention, Suter is more than just the other guy in the partnership. He had seven goals and a career-best 46 points in 2011-12 while finishing with a plus-15 rating -- despite averaging 26:30 of ice time and playing against the opposition's best scorers on a nightly basis. He's quietly become one of the NHL's best two-way defensemen.
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Shea Weber (2003) -- Weber was the third of Nashville's second-round picks in 2003, but easily is the best of the three. Blessed with one of the NHL's biggest shots, Weber had 17 goals in 2006-07, slumped to six in an injury-plagued 2007-08, and then scored 23, 16, 16 and 19 goals in the past four seasons. He turns 27 in August and is among the NHL's best defensemen.
Best later-round pick: Pekka Rinne (2004) -- Rinne was eligible for the NHL Draft in 2001, but it wasn't until three years later that the Predators used an eighth-round pick on the 6-foot-6 Finnish goaltender. Rinne came to North America in 2005, spent two seasons with the Predators' AHL team in Milwaukee and became Nashville's starter in 2008-09. He owns the franchise record with 25 shutouts and is a finalist for this year's Vezina Trophy.
Biggest disappointment: Brian Finley (1999) -- The Preds took Finley with the sixth pick in their second draft, expecting him to become their goaltender of the future, but it never happened. Finley was forced to sit out the 2001-02 season due to a groin problem and had recurring injury issues throughout his career. Despite success in the AHL, Finley played only two games in Nashville -- one in 2002-03 and the other in 2005-06. Boston signed him in the summer of 2006, but he played just two games and didn't get another contract.
Best first-round pick: Rod Brind'Amour (1988) -- The Blues took Brind'Amour, a center, from Junior A hockey, with the No. 8 pick -- and he still was playing more than two decades later, though he had long since left St. Louis. The Blues traded him to Philadelphia in 1991 after he dropped from 26 goals and 61 points as a rookie to 17 and 49. The Flyers dealt him to Carolina in 1999-2000, and Brind'Amour continued to put up numbers, and was team captain when the Hurricanes won the 2006 Stanley Cup. He finished his career in 2010 with 452 goals and 1,184, points. He currently serves as an assistant coach in Carolina.
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Brian Sutter (1976) -- The oldest of the Sutter clan was the first to make the NHL when he was selected in the second round 36 years ago. As with all the Sutters, he was a tough, hard-nosed player (1,786 penalty minutes), who also had plenty of skill. He had seven consecutive 30-goal seasons and finished his career with 303 goals. Not long after he retired in 1988, he was named coach of the Blues, a job he held for four seasons.
Best later-round pick: Doug Gilmour (1982) -- The Blues took the undersized center in the seventh round after a 46-goal, 119-point season for Cornwall of the OHL, then saw him put up 70 goals and 177 points in his final junior season. Gilmour was an instant hit as a rookie -- St. Louis fans loved his feistiness, and he also could put the puck in the net. The Blues traded him to Calgary after five seasons, providing the Flames with a key piece of their Cup-winning team in 1989. He wound up playing 1,474 games with seven teams, piling up 450 goals and 1,414 points before retiring in 2003. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year.
Honorable mention: Paul MacLean (1978), Cliff Ronning (1984)
Biggest disappointment: Marek Schwarz (2004) -- The Blues took Schwarz, a Czech goaltender, with the 17th pick, but he never made it full-time in the NHL. Schwarz yo-yoed between the Blues and the minor leagues after turning pro in 2005, but played just six games for St. Louis, including a pair of relief stints totaling 15 minutes in 2008-09. He last played in the Czech League in 2009-10.
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