Obviously, some teams are better at this than others -- and they do it in different ways. The core of Pittsburgh's 2009 Stanley Cup-winning team was Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, all chosen No. 1 or No. 2 in successive drafts. Chicago built this year's Cup-winning team with high picks like Jonathan Toews (No. 3 in 2006) and Patrick Kane (No. 1 in 2007) -- but also with lower-round picks such as Dustin Byfuglien (No. 245 in 2003) and Troy Brouwer (No. 214 in 2004). Detroit, perhaps the NHL's most successful team over the past 15 years, also has fared well with a handful of later-round picks -- stars such as Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
Here's a look at some of the best drafting performances by NHL general managers over the past quarter-century:Best draft -- Detroit Red Wings, 1989
This likely will be the gold standard of drafts for many years -- it's the one that helped turn the Wings into the elite organization they've been for the past two decades. Eight of Detroit's picks made the NHL and six had significant careers, with four playing 1,000 or more games. Third-round pick Nicklas Lidstrom, a six-time Norris Trophy winner who's still an elite defenseman at age 40, is a lock for the Hall of Fame, as is fourth-rounder Sergei Fedorov, the highest-scoring Russian-born player in NHL history. First-round pick Mike Sillinger and sixth-rounder Dallas Drake (who retired after the Wings won the Cup in 2008) both played over 1,000 games. Second-rounder Bob Boughner played 630 games, and Vladimir Konstantinov, an 11th-round choice, would have played a lot more than 446 were it not for a 1997 auto accident that ended his career prematurely.
The Wings' 1989 draft class is the only one ever to produce three 200-goal scorers (Sillinger, Lidstrom and Fedorov), and it's the first to have two 1,000-point scorers (Lidstrom and Fedorov).Best draft, 21st century -- Washington Capitals, 2004
This arguably is the best first-round performance by a GM in recent history. Landing Alex Ovechkin would be enough to make any general manager feel he'd had a successful draft. But in 2004, Washington's George McPhee followed up that gimme (taking Ovi with the No. 1 pick) by nabbing rock-solid defenseman Jeff Schultz at No. 27 pick, then grabbing high-scoring blueliner Mike Green two picks later. That's quite a haul in the space of one round. McPhee also took Chris Bourque, Sami Lepisto and Andrew Gordon
in later rounds, and all of them have seen action in the NHL.Best string of first-round picks -- Pittsburgh Penguins, 2000-06
The core of the Penguins' revival has come in a seven-year string of first-rounders that's hard to beat. In a seven-year stretch, the Penguins grabbed Sidney Crosby (2005) and Evgeni Malkin (2004), both of whom already have won multiple trophies, as well as Cup-winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (2003), shut-down center Jordan Staal (2006) and rugged defenseman Brooks Orpik (2000). They also picked defenseman Ryan Whitney (2002) and center Colby Armstrong (2001), a solid NHL player who was a key chip in the trade for Marian Hossa that helped get the Penguins to the 2008 Final before winning the Cup a year later.Best one-two punch -- Quebec Nordiques, 1989
The Nordiques (now the Colorado Avalanche) were in the second of three consecutive years in which they had the No. 1 pick when they selected Mats Sundin in 1989, and followed that choice by taking defenseman Adam Foote in the second round. No other team has had its first two picks from the same draft combine to play as many games. Most prolific draft -- New Jersey Devils, 1990
Having five players make the NHL from any one draft year is an excellent yield. In 1990, the Devils had 10 of their 14 picks make it to the NHL -- and all 10 played at least 100 games. Future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur was taken first, at No. 20, but the Devils also got good value from players like Valeri Zelepukin (11th round), while others like Mike Dunham (third) and Jaroslav Modry (ninth) had significant NHL careers. No team in the last 20 years has had so many players from a single draft reach the NHL.
The Devils' 1989 draft was nearly as good -- eight players, led by 400-goal scorer Bill Guerin (who's still active 21 years later), ultimately made the NHL.Seven for seven -- New York Islanders, 1991 and 1993
The Islanders did something right in 1991 -- they had one pick in each of the first seven rounds and all seven players made it to the NHL. First-round choice Scott Lachance played more than 800 games and second-rounder Zigmund Palffy had 329 goals and 713 points in 684 games. Six of the seven played more than 100 NHL games.
Amazingly, the same thing happened two years later -- the Isles had single picks in Rounds 1-7 and saw all seven players make the NHL. Two of them, first-rounder Todd Bertuzzi and second-rounder Bryan McCabe, remain active.
(Colorado's first seven picks in 1998 all made the NHL, but those choices all came in Rounds 1 and 2).Rolling a six -- San Jose Sharks, 2001
The Sharks were a perfect 6-for-6 in the 2001 Entry Draft -- every player they drafted has made the NHL. Christian Ehrhoff (fourth round) is a top-four defenseman with Vancouver; Ryane Clowe (sixth) has put up back-to-back 50-point seasons as a solid top-six forward; Marcel Goc (first) is a useful depth forward with Nashville; forwards Tomas Plihal (fourth) and Tom Cavanagh (sixth) both spent some time with San Jose in 2008-09.