With two Stanley Cup championships in the past five seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks are an excellent illustration of the value of solid drafting. The Blackhawks went from a down-and-out team to an elite franchise in large part because of their success at the draft table.
Every team has had its ups and downs since the NHL Draft began in 1963. Here's a look at the hits (and some of the misses) for the seven teams in the Central Division.
Best first-round pick: Jonathan Toews (2006) -- There is no area of the game in which Toews does not excel. He was 20 when he was named captain of the Blackhawks; at 26 he has seven 20-goal seasons, 440 points in 484 games, two Stanley Cup rings (and two Olympic gold medals), the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2010 and the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward last season. He's a terror on faceoffs (57.2 percent this season), among the NHL's best at the shootout (34-for-68 in his career) and is in the mix when discussion turns to the best player in the game today.
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Duncan Keith (2002) -- Keith, Chicago's second-round pick (No. 54) 12 years ago, was among the first pieces of the rebuild that has turned the Blackhawks into one of the NHL's top teams. He's one of the League's slickest passers and best point-producers from the blue line. He's averaged more than 24 minutes of ice time per game the past seven seasons and combines with Seabrook to form one of the NHL's best defense pairings. Keith won the Norris Trophy as the League's best defenseman in 2010 and is a finalist this season.
Best later-round pick: Dominik Hasek (1983) -- The Blackhawks used a 10th-round pick (No. 199) on Hasek without knowing if he'd ever be able to leave Czechoslovakia. Hasek arrived in Chicago as a 25-year-old in 1990. He was a backup in 1991-92 when Ed Belfour led Chicago to the Stanley Cup Final and then was traded to the Buffalo Sabres that summer. Unfortunately for Chicago, Hasek became perhaps the best 10th-round pick in history, winning the Hart Trophy twice and the Vezina Trophy six times; the player they got from the Sabres, Stephane Beauregard, soon was gone from the NHL.
Biggest disappointment: Adam Bennett (1989) -- There were big expectations in Chicago when the Blackhawks made Bennett, a defenseman from Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League, the No. 6 pick 25 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 Chicago, nor did he generate much offense in the minors. Bennett did score three goals after being traded to the Edmonton Oilers in 1993, but was out of pro hockey by the time he turned 25.
COLORADO AVALANCHE/QUEBEC NORDIQUES
Best first-round pick: Joe Sakic (1987) -- Sakic wasn't the franchise's first pick at the 1987 NHL Draft -- highly touted defenseman Bryan Fogarty went ninth, six spots ahead of him. However, few players in NHL history were more consistent than Colorado's long-time captain, the last vestige of the team's tenure in Quebec. He scored every one of his 625 goals for the same franchise while leading the Avalanche to Stanley Cup wins in 1996 and 2001. Sakic retired after the 2008-09 season and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012. He currently serves as the Avalanche's executive vice president of hockey operations.
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Milan Hejduk (1994) -- In their final draft before moving to Colorado, the Nordiques found Hejduk in the fourth round (No. 87, 15 picks after choosing Chris Drury). He didn't come to North America until 1998, but the Czech forward turned out to be worth the wait. Hejduk spent his entire NHL career with the Avalanche, finishing with 375 goals in 14 seasons. He had 41 in 2000-01, when Colorado won its most recent Stanley Cup, and a League-high 50 in 2002-03, when he also topped the NHL with a plus-52 rating.
Best later-round pick: Valeri Kamensky (1988) -- Quebec took a seventh-round (No. 129) flyer on Kamensky, hoping the young Russian might become available; he did three years later, and was 25 when he arrived in North America for the 1991-92 season. Kamensky was a solid player during the franchise's final four seasons in Quebec, but really raised his game after the move to Colorado, totaling career-highs of 38 goals and 85 points in 1995-96, and then had 10 goals and 22 points in the 1996 playoffs to help the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. Kamensky had 28- and 26-goal seasons after that and finished his career with 200 goals in 637 games.
Biggest disappointment: Daniel Dore (1988) -- The Nordiques swung and missed with the fifth pick in 1988 when they chose Dore, a forward from Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Dore had 33 goals and 91 points in his last full junior season after being drafted and got a chance to skate with the Nordiques before his 20th birthday, playing 16 games in 1989-90. But he played one NHL game the following season, never showed much of a scoring touch in the minors and was out of pro hockey before his 25th birthday. He did, however, play three years of roller hockey before retiring in 1996.
DALLAS STARS/MINNESOTA NORTH STARS
Best first-round pick: Mike Modano (1988) -- The North Stars made Modano the first selection in his draft year after a 47-goal, 127-point season with Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League. He had 105 points in 41 games with the Raiders the following season, then turned pro and became the face of the franchise. Modano's 561 goals and 1,374 points are the most by any U.S.-born player in NHL history. He finished his career with his hometown Detroit Red Wings in 2010-11, but now is back with the Stars as an executive advisor.
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Jere Lehtinen (1992) -- The North Stars used a fourth-round pick (No. 88) on Lehtinen, a forward who had scored 32 goals in 43 games in Finland's second division. Lehtinen never put up huge offensive numbers in the NHL, but he won the Selke Trophy as the League's best defensive forward three times and had 20 or more goals in a season seven times (30 or more twice). He was plagued by injuries near the end of his career and retired following the 2009-10 season.
Best later-round pick: Marty Turco (1994) -- The Stars were rewarded for their willingness to let Turco develop in college and the minors. They took Turco with a fifth-round choice (No. 124) in 1994 but didn't bring him to the NHL until 2000-01, after he had spent four seasons at the University of Michigan and two more in the minors. Turco backed up Ed Belfour for two seasons and then took the starting job in 2002-03. In his nine seasons with the Stars he had as many seasons with a goals-against average below 2.00 (three) as above 2.50.
Biggest disappointment: Jason Botterill (1994) -- The Stars expected Botterill to develop into a star after they drafted him with the No. 20 pick 20 years ago following an excellent freshman season at the University of Michigan. Botterill fueled those expectations with 32- and 37-goal seasons for the Wolverines before turning pro. But the scoring touch Botterill showed in college never materialized in the NHL. He had five goals in 88 games during parts of six NHL seasons with four franchises before retiring in 2004. Botterill has had more success since hanging up his skates; he recently was promoted to associate general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Best first-round pick: Marian Gaborik (2000) -- The first draft pick in Wild history remains the best. Though he's been bothered throughout his career by groin and leg injuries and played for defense-first teams, Gaborik is one of the NHL's elite talents. His 219 goals remain the most in franchise history, as are his single-season totals of 42 goals and 83 points in 2007-08. Gaborik left the Wild in the summer of 2009 to sign with the New York Rangers as a free agent and put up two 40-goal seasons in New York. He was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013 and the Los Angeles Kings in 2014. He led all players with 14 goals this spring while helping the Kings win the Stanley Cup.
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Nick Schultz (2000) -- Schultz, the second player drafted by the Wild, became an NHL regular on defense at age 19 in 2001-02 and remained one until he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers late in the 2011-12 season. He was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets late in the 2013-14 season. Schultz never has been a big offensive contributor (his career bests are six goals in 2003-04 and 20 points in 2009-10), but he's solid in his own zone and rarely misses a game (he's played at least 70 games nine times in 12 seasons).
Best later-round pick: Derek Boogaard (2001) -- The Wild never have fared well in the later rounds of the draft. Boogaard, a seventh-round pick (No. 202), provided muscle up front but little offense. Still, he's one of only two players drafted after the fourth round by the Wild who has played in more than 164 games (two full NHL seasons). Boogaard signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers in the summer of 2010 but missed most of the season with injuries, and died in the summer of 2011.
Honorable mention -- Lubomir Sekeras (2000).
Biggest disappointment: A.J. Thelen (2004) -- The Wild's decision to take Thelen, a Minnesota-bred defenseman playing at Michigan State, with the 12th pick had the potential for a great "local kid makes good" story, but it didn't turn out that way. Thelen was dismissed from Michigan State during the middle of the 2004-05 season, went to the Western Hockey League and didn't impress the Wild enough to earn a contract. He spent most of his career in the ECHL, though he did get nine games with Rochester in the AHL in 2009-10. He had 29 points in 65 games for Kalamazoo of the ECHL in 2010-11, his last pro season, before retiring after a series of concussions.
Best first-round pick: Ryan Suter (2003) -- Suter and fellow 2003 draftee Shea Weber formed one of the NHL's best defense tandems for seven seasons, until Suter left in free agency for the Minnesota Wild in the summer of 2012. Weber's big shot and offensive numbers got more attention, but Suter was more than just the other member of the partnership. He showed that after moving to the Wild, earning First-Team All-Star honors in 2012-13 and leading the NHL in ice time (29:24) in 2013-14 while putting up 43 points and a plus-15 rating in 82 games.
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Shea Weber (2003) -- No defenseman has put the puck in the net during the past six seasons as often as Weber. He led all defensemen in 2013-14 with 23 goals and has 106 since becoming a regular in 2008. Weber's shot is among the most feared in the NHL, and his all-around game has improved enough to earn him a nod as a Norris Trophy finalist this season, when he finished with a career-high 56 points.
Best later-round pick: Pekka Rinne (2004) -- Rinne was eligible for the draft in 2001, but it wasn't until three years later that the Predators used an eighth-round pick (No. 258) on the 6-foot-5 Finnish goaltender. Rinne came to North America in 2005, spent most of two seasons with the Predators' American hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee and became Nashville's starter in 2008-09. He owns franchise records with 163 victories and 32 shutouts, and is a two-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy, though he's struggled with injuries for the past two seasons.
Biggest disappointment: Brian Finley (1999) -- Nashville took Finley with the sixth pick in its second draft, expecting him to become its goaltender of the future. Instead, 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. The Boston Bruins signed him in the summer of 2006 but he played two games and didn't get another contract. His career NHL record is 0-2-0, with a 4.70 goals-against average and .851 save percentage.
Best first-round pick: Rod Brind'Amour (1988) -- St. Louis selected Brind'Amour, a center playing in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, with the No. 8 pick; he still was playing more than two decades later, though he had long since left St. Louis. The Blues traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1991 after he dropped from 26 goals and 61 points as a rookie in 1989-90 to 17 and 49. The Flyers dealt him to the Carolina Hurricanes during the 1999-2000 season, and he was the captain when the Hurricanes won the 2006 Stanley Cup. Brind'Amour, a two-time winner of the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward, finished his career in 2010 with 452 goals and 1,184 points. He serves as an assistant coach for the Hurricanes.
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Brian Sutter (1976) -- The oldest of the Sutter brOthers was the first to make the NHL when he was selected in the second round 38 years ago. As with all the Sutters, he was a tough, hard-nosed player (1,786 penalty minutes in 779 games), who also had plenty of skill. Brian had seven consecutive 30-goal seasons and finished his career with 303 goals. He later spent four seasons as coach of the Blues.
Best later-round pick: Doug Gilmour (1982) -- The Blues took Gilmour, an undersized center, in the seventh round (No. 134) after a 46-goal, 119-point season for Cornwall of the OHL, then saw him total 70 goals and 177 points the following season. Gilmour was an instant hit as a rookie, as St. Louis fans loved his feistiness and the way he could put the puck in the net. The Blues traded him to the Calgary Flames after five seasons, providing the Flames with a key piece for their Stanley Cup-winning team in 1989. Gilmour played 1,474 games with seven teams, piling up 450 goals and 1,414 points. He retired in 2003 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.
Biggest disappointment: Marek Schwarz (2004) -- The Blues took Schwarz, a Czech goaltender, with the 17th pick 10 years ago, but he never made it as a full-time NHL player. Schwarz bounced between the Blues and the minor leagues after turning pro in 2005 and played six games for St. Louis, including a pair of relief stints totaling 15 minutes in 2008-09. He returned to the Czech League later that season and has played in Europe ever since.
WINNIPEG JETS/ATLANTA THRASHERS
Best first-round pick: Ilya Kovalchuk (2001) -- Atlanta made the playoffs just once before the move to Winnipeg, but it would be hard to blame its struggles on Kovalchuk, who developed into one of the most dynamic scorers in the NHL. He scored 29 or more goals in each of his eight seasons with the Thrashers (including a pair of 52-goal performances) before being traded to the New Jersey Devils in February 2010. Kovalchuk became a better two-way player in New Jersey while remaining one of the NHL's most consistent scorers and helped the Devils to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Ondrej Pavelec (2005) -- One reason the Thrashers spent most of their existence outside the playoffs is a lack of success in rounds 2-4. Pavelec, a goaltender taken in the second round (No. 41) in 2005, has emerged as the Jets' full-time goaltender. However, he's allowed 473 goals the past three seasons, more than any other goaltender in the League in that span, and hasn't had a save percentage better than .906 since 2010-11.
Honorable mention -- Patrick Dwyer (2002).
Best later-round pick: Tobias Enstrom (2003) -- The small-but-skilled defenseman from Sweden didn't come to North America until 2007, but he's been an effective player in his seven NHL seasons. Enstrom made the All-Rookie team in 2007-08 and has been the franchise's most effective offensive-minded defenseman almost from the day he arrived. He had 10 goals and 30 points in 82 games this season, the first time he hasn't missed a game since 2009-10.
Biggest disappointment: Patrik Stefan (1999) -- Atlanta expected big things when it made Stefan the first draft pick in franchise history. Although he spent six seasons with the Thrashers and played 455 NHL games, he never came close to putting up significant offensive numbers. He never scored more than 14 goals or managed more than 40 points in a season, had a positive plus/minus rating once in Atlanta and was plagued with concussion-related problems. He spent a season with the Dallas Stars and then signed in Switzerland, but played only three games there before retiring in 2007.