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In search of sleepers

by Tyson Giuriato / Vancouver Canucks
On Day 2 of the NHL Draft, long after the blue chip prospects have made their way to the podium, teams will continue to make picks hoping to find that diamond in the rough.

A sleeper. A dark horse. A player that most fans have never heard of, hoping one day he will defy the odds and turn out to be an NHL player.

More often than not, these late rounds picks are rarely heard of again. Some play a few more years of junior or college before opting into a new profession. Some scrape together a productive career in the minor pro circuits. Some even get that taste of coffee in the NHL. And then there are those who completely surpass expectations.

We are talking about those late round draft picks that turn out to be productive NHL players.

Canucks.com went through the archives and found some of the best picks made in the fifth round or later at the NHL Draft since 1990. Here are a few:

Peter Bondra, 1990, 156th overall, Washington Capitals
Bondra could score. He led the NHL in goals in two separate seasons and played in five All-Star Games. He tallied 150 goals in a three-season span from 1995 to 1998 and finished his career with 503 goals in total.

Daniel Alfredsson, 1994, 133rd overall, Ottawa Senators
The Senators got a guy that would serve as captain of their team for 13 seasons with a sixth round pick. Alfredsson would play in six All-Star Games and finish his career with 444 goals and 1157 points in 1246 games.

Pavel Datsyuk, 1998, 171st overall, Detroit Red Wings
A four-time Lady Byng Trophy winner and a three-time Frank J. Selke Trophy winner, Datsyuk was one of the best two-way players in the game over the past 15 years. Since entering the league in 2001, only seven players have scored more points than the two-time Stanley Cup champ.

Henrik Zetterberg, 1999, 210th overall, Detroit Red Wings
One year after nabbing Datsyuk in the sixth round, the Red Wings grabbed another franchise player in the seventh round. The 2008 Conn Smythe Trophy winner would go on to serve as captain of Detroit the past four seasons. He has amassed 836 points in 918 career regular season games.

Henrik Lundqvist, 2000, 205th overall, New York Rangers
Since entering the league in 2005, no goaltender has more wins (374), saves (17,805) or shutouts (59) than Lundqvist. The 2012 Vezina Trophy winner is the only goaltender in NHL history to start his career with 11 straight 20-win seasons.

Joe Pavelski, 2003, 205th overall, San Jose Sharks
Some, including this writer, consider the 2003 NHL Draft the best ever. The second round was better than some first rounds in other years and the talent didn’t drop off there. The Sharks were able to nab their future captain in the seventh round. Only Alex Ovechkin has more goals than Pavelski over the past three seasons.

Dustin Byfuglien, 2003, 245th overall, Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks took the big defenceman in the eighth round and after two more seasons of junior and some seasoning in the AHL, Byfuglien made the jump full time to the NHL in 2007. Since that 2007-08 season, only two defenceman have recorded more points than the current Winnipeg Jet.

Jamie Benn, 2007, 129th overall, Dallas Stars
Nobody has more points over the past two seasons than Jamie Benn. At only 26-years-old, the Victoria, BC product has become one of the elite scorers in the league. He led all skaters with 87 points in 2014-15 to win the Art Ross Trophy, while besting that total this past season with 89 points. The Stars captain also won an Olympic gold medal with Canada in 2014.

As for the Canucks, they have also found some pretty good players in later rounds since 1990.

Adrian Aucoin, 1992, 117th overall
Aucoin, a defenceman from Ontario drafted in the fifth round (you will notice a trend), played parts of seven seasons for the Canucks. With a cannon of a shot, he remains the only Canucks defenceman to record 20 goals in a season, finishing with 23 in 1998-99.

Scott Walker, 1993, 124th overall
A defenceman converted to forward, Walker’s time with the Canucks only lasted parts of four seasons. However, the man they call “Wild Thing” went on to have success in Nashville and Carolina, twice hitting the 25-goal mark, while also leading the Predators in scoring with 67 points in 2003-04. He finished his career with 397 points in 829 games.

Brent Sopel, 1995, 144th overall
Sopel played 322 games with the Canucks, amassing 130 points. He led all Canucks defenceman in scoring during the 2003-04 season with 42 points. That same season he was voted the winner of the Fred J. Hume Award as the Canucks’ Unsung Hero.

Matt Cooke, 1997, 144th overall
Cooke played 566 regular season games in a Canucks uniform, registering 203 points. He was voted by the fans as the Canucks’ Unsung Hero in 2003 after amassing a career-high 42 points during the regular season. While a member of the Canucks, he won the gold medal with Canada at the 2004 World Championship. Cooke would go on to play 1046 games in the NHL.

Kevin Bieksa, 2001, 151st overall
Another Ontario-born defenceman drafted in the fifth round. Bieksa’s 597 regular season games as a Canuck rank seventh all-time among blue-liners, while also ranking sixth all-time in points (241) and fourth all-time in penalty minutes (879). His 71 post-season games as a Canuck rank third all-time, just three behind long time teammate Sami Salo.

Jannik Hansen, 2004, 287th overall
The Canucks nabbed Hansen in the ninth round with the fifth to last pick in the 2004 NHL Draft. Voted three times as the Canucks’ Unsung Hero by fans, as well as voted the 2013 Pavel Bure Most Exciting Player Award winner, Hansen has played 537 regular season games in a Canucks uniform and is coming off a career high 22-goal season.

Ben Hutton, 2012, 147th overall
The third Ontario-born defenceman drafted by the Canucks in the fifth round to make this list. Hutton just completed his rookie season where he appeared in 75 games and amassed 25 points. He was voted by fans as the Canucks’ 2016 Babe Pratt Trophy winner as the best defenceman on the team.

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