The Stanley Cup champion Kings had 11 former first round picks on their playoff team and the runner-up Rangers had nine.
Building, either with your own high choices, or recent ones acquired in trades, wins for you, but that said, do the math. If you are lucky enough every year -- and no one ever is -- to nail your No.1 pick but just hit that one, it will take 19 seasons to put together enough skaters and a goalie to win a Cup. That means you had better either draft a bunch of eternal Teemu Selannes, make some selective, smart, and non cap choking, free-agent buys, or better idea yet, hit on some later drafts.
The Kings top six playoff scorers once were first-rounders (only three of which, by the way, they drafted themselves). But were they top-heavy enough in scoring stars to win without Jonathan Quick, Tyler Toffoli, Jake Muzzin, Dwight King, Slava Voynov and Jarret Stoll, all of whom they drafted from the second round on?
This season’s other semifinalists, Chicago and Montreal, had only five and six first-rounders respectively. The Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith, Brandon Saad and Corey Crawford were second round choices and Nick Hjalmarsson a No. 4. Montreal’s P.K. Subban was a No. 2, Tomas Plekanec a No. 3 and David Desharnais wasn’t drafted at all, more evidence that you want to build a contender, you had better hit some longshots.
Have the Flyers, who had eight first rounders on their playoff roster (only two of whom, Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier) they drafted themselves -- been sleeping through too many sleepers? Since taking Patrick Sharp in the third round in 2001, all they have to show on their roster for 86 picks from the second round on is Zac Rinaldo, a No. 6 in 2008. The only other one of the 86 even in the league is Boston’s Dennis Seidenberg, whom the Flyers took in a fifth round.
To be fair, the Flyers found Matt Read and Michael Raffl as undrafted free agents and have a 2012 third-round pick, Shayne Gostisbehere, who should be a contributing regular within a year. You also can’t blame these slim pickings entirely on the scouts, either. From 2002 until 2011, the Flyers traded away all but three second-round picks (plus No. 1 picks in 2009 and 2010 for Chris Pronger.
The Flyers have picked, signed, and traded effectively to produce a promising group of forwards. But they also have had to spend money on free agents to band-aid a fairly expensive defense that still doesn’t have a No. 1 guy to replace Pronger. So Ron Hextall’s scouts have to resume finding some historic finds like Jimmy Watson (third round) Paul Holmgren (sixth), Pelle Lindbergh (third), Ron Hextall (sixth), Rick Tocchet (sixth), and Gordie Murphy (ninth).
Of course, there weren’t 30 teams when the Oilers took Mark Messier in the third round and Glenn Anderson in the fourth round of the same draft. You wait longer for your turn now, plus all levels of hockey are much more extensively combed by scouts. What you may think are your secrets are somebody else’s secrets, too.
That said, David Krejci and Milan Lucic were second rounders, Joe Pavelski and Jamie Benn were picked in the fifth, and Marty St. Louis and Chris Kunitz weren’t drafted at all. All those players were in the top 30 of NHL scorers this season. The Red Wings built a dynasty selecting Slava Kozlov 45th, Pavel Datsyuk 171st, Henrik Zetterberg 210th and Thomas Holmstrom 257th. Doug Gilmour (seventh round), Luc Robitaille (ninth) Jari Kurri (fourth) are all in the Hall of Fame.
And, so is the most iconic second-round pick in the history of the game, Bobby Clarke.
One glance at this year’s picked-over list of unrestricted free agents on July 1 is all that is needed to be reminded that drafting, more than ever, is the way to build your team. Teams willingness to lock up their home-grown emerging stars on long contracts puts fewer premium players on the open market every year, why the Flyers knew they had to take their best shot at Shea Weber last summer, and having failed to get him, are resigned to the fact that to get another Pronger, they probably are going to have to draft one.
Some kids sitting in the stands with his parents at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday, their smiles dissipating by the round, will end up growing an inch, putting on 15-20 pounds, or developing some hands over the next 2-3 years.
The teams that guesses best on a few of these guys will be at a big advantage.