It's been 22 years since NHL general managers gathered in Minnesota for a Draft. The last time they did, in 1989 at the Met Center in Bloomington, the Quebec Nordiques made future 500-goal scorer Mats Sundin the first European ever taken with the No. 1 pick -- and the Detroit Red Wings did pretty well when they took a little-known Swedish defenseman named Nicklas Lidstrom in the third round.
All 30 teams picking this weekend at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul would love to be as fortunate as the Nords (now the Colorado Avalanche) and the Wings were then, though that's not likely to happen. Finding the next Lidstrom or Sundin is a lot easier said than done. Since what is now the Entry Draft was first held in 1963 (Montreal took Garry Monahan with the first pick), success in finding the next generation of NHL talent has been a hit-or-miss proposition.
But the rewards for success are high.
Stanley Cup winners are built mostly on good drafts -- whether it's high picks like Chicago's Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews last year, or solid secondary choices like Boston's Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron (both second-rounders) and Brad Marchand (a third-round pick).
Recent Cup winners like the Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins are examples of the benefits of good drafting. The Penguins had it easier -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury were picked first or second. The Wings, who won in 2008 and lost to the Penguins in the '09 Final, were loaded with their own draft picks -- including Lidstrom, a seven-time Norris Trophy winner. Going back further, dynasties like the 1970s Montreal Canadiens and 1980s New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers were built on the foundation of brilliant drafts.
Here's a look at Draft Day by the numbers:
Where the boys are -- Canada still is the biggest provider of NHL talent, though not nearly to the extent it used to be.
Of the 5,087 players drafted since 1991, 2,382 (46.8 percent) were born in Canada (the United States is next with 1,007). From 1991 through 1998, more than half the picks each year were Canadian; since 1999, however, Canadians have represented less than half the draft class. Last year, 99 of 210 players selected (48.3 percent) were Canadian; since 1997, the only time Canadians represented more than half the players taken was 2008 (120 of 211, 56.9 percent).
The Ontario Hockey League has been the biggest single supplier of talent. Since 1969, 2,026 OHL players have been drafted -- 21.2 percent of all players chosen. The Western Hockey League is next with 1,762 (18.4 percent); the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is a distant third with 997 (10.4 percent). The last four players taken with the No. 1 pick have come from the OHL.
The WHL was tops last year with 43 players chosen, followed by the OHL (42) and QMJHL (22).
Looking everywhere -- Since 1969, 1,886 international (non-North American) players have been drafted -- nearly one out of every five chosen (19.8 percent). The percentage of internationals bounced around in the teens in the 1980s, climbed into the 20s in the 1990s, and soared as high as 41.2 percent (119 of 289) in 2001. The numbers began going down after that, and last year's total of 39 (18.6 percent) marked the fourth year in a row that less than 20 percent of the players taken were non-North Americans.
The number of Russians taken in the draft has plummeted over the past few years, with only four taken in 2010, down from a high of 47 in 1992 and a plunge from the 33 taken as recently as 2002. Despite that, there have been more Russians taken since 1991 than any other non-North American nation -- 463, well ahead of Sweden's 338, though there have been 44 Swedes taken in the last two years.
In all, 29 countries outside North America have had at least one player taken.
Two for No. 2 -- No brother combination ever has been picked No. 1, but two brothers have been selected with the No. 2 pick. Pittsburgh took Jordan Staal second in 2006, three years after Carolina took older brother Eric with the No. 2 pick.
There have been three Staals picked in the first round -- Marc was taken with the 12th pick by the New York Rangers in 2005. The Staals are only the second brother combination to have more than one brother taken in the first round in different drafts. The other is the Sutters -- four of the six Sutter brothers to play in the NHL were chosen in the first round. Duane and Brent were chosen No. 17 by the New York Islanders; Duane in 1979, Brent a year later.
Rich and Ron Sutter are one of six sets of twins to be drafted in the first round (1982); they and Henrik and Daniel Sedin (1999), are the only ones taken in the first round.
Firsts and lasts -- Ken Dryden is the first player taken in the draft to make the Hockey Hall of Fame. Unfortunately for the Boston Bruins, who picked Dryden in 1964, he opted to go to Cornell and they traded him to Montreal. Dryden eventually turned pro and led the Canadiens to a memorable upset of the defending champion Bruins in 1971 on the way to the first of his six Stanley Cups.
Detroit defenseman Jonathan Eriksson, selected with the final pick of the 2002 Entry Draft -- No. 291 -- is the highest-drafted player to score a regular-season goal. That's an honor he's likely to hold for a long time because the draft was reduced to seven rounds in 2005. Patric Hornqvist, taken with the 230th and final pick by Nashville in 2005, is the most recent player to score a goal (he has 53 in three NHL seasons) after being taken with the last pick in the draft.
Brian Elliott, taken by Ottawa with the 291st (next-to-last) pick in 2003, is the most successful goaltender chosen this low in a draft.
Highs and lows -- Beginning in 1968, every player taken No. 1 through 2005 has played at least 299 games in the NHL -- before 1968, however, three of the five top picks never made it. Gord Kluzak, taken first by Boston in 1982, and goaltender Michel Plasse, selected by Montreal in 1968, both played 299 games. Kluzak retired in 1990-91 due to recurring knee problems, but his career basically was over after 1987-88, his fourth full season. His career totals of 25 goals and 123 points are the lowest of any non-goaltender taken No. 1.
Of the five players taken No. 1 since 2005 (Erik Johnson, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Taylor Hall), all have been full-time regulars when they're not injured and figure to surpass 299 games played easily.
Hornqvist may catch him in the near future, but for now defenseman Kim Johnsson scored the most points of any player taken with the last pick of a draft. Johnsson, chosen 286th in 1994 by the New York Rangers, played 739 games with the Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks, scoring 67 goals and 284 points. Andy Brickley, taken with the last pick in the 1980 Entry Draft by Philadelphia, has the most goals of any final pick (82).
Who'd have thought it? -- The ninth round of the 1994 Entry Draft might have been the greatest lode of goaltending talent in NHL history.
Seven of the goaltenders who were taken in the ninth round 17 years ago made it to the NHL, while only six position players got that far. Five of the seven went on to have substantial careers in the NHL. Quebec took two-time Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas with the 217th pick, Philadelphia tabbed Johan Hedberg with the next pick and San Jose grabbed Evgeni Nabokov with the 219th pick. Seven choices later, Montreal selected Tomas Vokoun, while Boston chose John Grahame with the 229th choice.
All five have won at least 97 NHL games and were active professionally in 2010-11. Thomas has two Vezinas and a Conn Smythe Trophy; he and Nabokov have been First-Team NHL All-Stars. All five have played on their countries' Olympic teams.
That would be an incredible showing had they all been taken in the first round. To find that kind of talent that low in the draft is almost incomprehensible.