The two-day selection gala in Pittsburgh on June 22 and 23 has come a long way since 1963, when six teams met inside the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.
However, one thing hasn't changed. The draft is the culmination of a year's worth of effort for the hard-working scouts, who have traveled long hours across two continents in their search to find the next great NHL star.
It's a hard target to hit, and becomes harder every year as the talent pool continues to widen and deepen. But when they do hit, it can be a franchise-changing experience.
With 49 drafts in the book, it seems like a good time to rank which teams had the best moments in the history of the draft.
10: Boston Bruins, 2006
The Bruins' decisions at the 2006 draft are a big reason there's a 2011 Stanley Cup banner hanging from the TD Garden rafters. In the second round, they chose power forward Milan Lucic, and one round later, took agitator Brad Marchand. The player they picked in the first round helped as well, but indirectly. They chose Phil Kessel with the fifth pick, and in 2009 sent him to Toronto for three draft picks, one of which was used on Tyler Seguin.
Highlights: Phil Kessel, 1st round (No. 5); Milan Lucic, 2nd round (No. 50); Brad Marchand, 3rd round (No. 71).
9. Montreal Canadiens, 1987
It's not an exaggeration to say the Canadiens won the 1993 Stanley Cup because of what they did at the 1987 draft -- most notably because of who they selected in the second round. With the second of two picks, they chose defenseman Eric Desjardins, who scored the game-tying goal in the final seconds of regulation in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, and then capped his hat trick by scoring in overtime. Their first pick in the second round, John LeClair, then scored in overtime in Games 3 and 4.
Highlights: Andrew Cassels, 1st round (No. 17); John LeClair, 2nd round (No. 33); Eric Desjardins, 2nd round (No. 38); Mathieu Schneider, 3rd round (No. 44).
8. Quebec Nordiques, 1979/1994
The Nordiques started strong and finished up their NHL run pretty well. There certainly was success in between, but the bookends of their NHL existence were their best years ever at the draft. In its first draft as an NHL team, the club drafted one Hall of Famer with first-round pick Michel Goulet, and set the stage for the arrival of another by taking Anton Stastny -- brother of Peter Stastny -- in the fourth round. Twenty-five years later, the Nordiques used consecutive mid-round picks on players who helped win the 2001 Stanley Cup after the franchise moved to Colorado -- Chris Drury and Milan Hejduk. And in the ninth round they found a small goalie from the University of Vermont who went on to a bit of fame -- Tim Thomas.
Highlights: 1979 -- Michael Goulet, 1st round (No. 20); Dale Hunter, 2nd round (No. 41); Anton Stastny, 4th round (No. 83). 1994 -- Wade Belak, 1st round (No. 12); Chris Drury, 3rd round (No. 72); Milan Hejduk, 4th round (No. 87); Tim Thomas, 9th round (No. 217).
7. Chicago Blackhawks 2002-03
Remember the Blackhawks' top defense pairing from the 2010 Stanley Cup team? What about the best power forward in that year's playoffs? Chicago landed all three players in back-to-back drafts. In 2002 they found Duncan Keith in the second round, and in the first round of the talent-rich 2003 draft, they selected Brent Seabrook with the 13th pick. In the eighth round that year, they found a gem in Dustin Byfuglien.
Highlights: 2002 -- Duncan Keith, 2nd round (No. 54); James Wisniewski, 5th round (No. 156); Adam Burish, 9th round (No. 282). 2003 -- Brent Seabrook 1st round (No. 13); Corey Crawford, 2nd round (No. 52); Lasse Kukkonen, 5th round (No. 151); Dustin Byfuglien, 8th round (No. 245).
6. Montreal Canadiens, 1971
Taking Guy Lafleur with the first pick of the 1971 draft wasn't all that difficult. Even as a junior, Lafleur had the obvious look of an All-Star. Getting Larry Robinson in the second round was the real coup. Of the Canadiens' six picks in the first two rounds of the draft, Lafleur and Robinson were the only ones to have significant NHL careers. But after getting those two, what more did they really need?
Highlights: Guy Lafleur, 1st round (No. 1); Larry Robinson, 2nd round (No. 20).
5. Calgary Flames, 1984
When Flames fans look back on the team's 1989 Stanley Cup championship, they can see the foundation for that team built in the 1984 draft. First-round pick Gary Roberts and ninth-round pick Gary Suter were major parts of the team. They also used a sixth-round pick on a high-scoring kid from the British Columbia Junior Hockey League who went on to some fame -- Brett Hull.
Highlights: Gary Roberts, 1st round (No. 12); Paul Ranheim, 2nd round (No. 17); Brett Hull, 6th round (No. 117); Gary Suter, 9th round (No. 180).
4. Philadelphia Flyers, 1969
After being pushed around by the big, tough St. Louis Blues in the 1967 and 1968 playoffs, Flyers owner Ed Snider had seen enough, and he told his scouts he wanted to get bigger and tougher. The 1969 draft is when the Bullies came to Broad Street. They snared Bobby Clarke in the second round, and then found the player who best embodied that era of Flyers hockey, Dave Schultz, in the fourth.
Highlights: Bobby Clarke, 2nd round (No. 17); Dave Schultz, 4th round (No. 52); Don Saleski, 6th round (No. 64).
3. New York Islanders, 1974
The Islanders found the making of a pretty good first line with their first two picks at the 1974 draft, nabbing Clark Gillies in the first round and Bryan Trottier in the second. In all, the Islanders drafted four players who were part of their four straight Stanley Cup championships in the 1980s.
Highlights: Clark Gillies, 1st round (No. 4); Bryan Trottier, 2nd round (No. 22); Stefan Persson, 14th round (No. 214).
2. Edmonton Oilers, 1979-80
It's rare enough to find two Hall of Famers in one draft. Doing it twice? There's a better chance of getting struck by lightning twice in the same spot. But that's exactly what happened for the Oilers, who in two drafts assembled an incredible array of talent. In 1979, they picked Mark Messier in the third round and Glenn Anderson in the fourth. The next year, they used the eighth pick of the 1980 draft on Paul Coffey and a fourth-round selection on Jari Kurri. Combined Stanley Cups with Oilers: 18.
Highlights: 1979 -- Kevin Lowe, 1st round (No. 21); Mark Messier, 3rd round (No. 48); Glenn Anderson, 4th round (No. 69). 1980 -- Paul Coffey, 1st round (No. 6); Jari Kurri, 4th round (No. 69); Walt Poddubny, 5th round (No. 90); Andy Moog, 7th round (No. 132).
1. Detroit Red Wings, 1989
The gold standard of drafts. Of the Wings' 14 picks, eight played in the NHL, and four played at least 1,000 games. They found a pair of future Hall of Famers with back-to-back picks in the middle rounds -- Nicklas Lidstrom in the third (No. 53) and Sergei Fedorov in the fourth (No. 74). Three players picked in this draft played major roles in helping the Wings win the 1997 Stanley Cup.
Highlights: Mike Sillinger, 1st round (No. 11); Bob Boughner, 2nd round (No. 32); Nicklas Lidstrom, 3rd round (No. 53); Sergei Fedorov, 4th round (No. 74); Dallas Drake, 6th round (No. 116); Vladimir Konstantinov, 11th round (No. 221).
Author: Adam Kimelman of NHL.com