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Late-Round Picks Key In Building Future

by Mark Pukalo / Tampa Bay Lightning
Dustin Tokarski led Spokane to the 2008 Memorial Cup with a remarkable postseason run that included three shutouts and an MVP trophy. Still, when the fifth round of the NHL Entry Draft began a month later Tokarski was available.

The Lightning didn’t let him get past them at pick No. 1 (122nd overall).

Tokarski followed that season with another great one, earning a .937 save percentage in the regular season, .947 in the playoffs and a gold medal leading Canada to the World Junior Championship. The Lightning signed Tokarski to an entry-level contract in December.

“Dustin is a young goaltender who has had success at every level he has played by helping his teams win championships,” Lightning executive vice president and GM Brian Lawton said, in December. “He has been an underdog most of the time, but has never let that distract him from succeeding.”

The Lightning chose Johan Harju in the sixth round in 2007. Harju, 21 at the time, was coming off a 12-goal season in Sweden. Since then he scored 47 goals in two seasons and played for Sweden in the World Championships this spring. Lawton said Harju will play in Russia next season, the team will evaluate his progress and then there’s a strong opportunity he will be with the Lightning organization in 2010-11.

“I wasn’t here or part of it, but he fits the late-round mold,” Lawton said. “Maybe he is a little older, for whatever reason hasn’t been drafted, but you can see he is coming. I commend the staff for a pick like that. We need to have more of them.”

Harju and Tokarski still have a ways to go, but they show the potential to enter the category of late-round gems that the draft has provided over the years.

Drafting well in the early rounds is very important. It can make or break franchises. Finding players late in the draft that contribute can push your team to another level.

Pavel Datsyuk was picked by the Detroit Red Wings in the sixth round in 1998 and Henrik Zetterberg in the seventh in 1999. The Wings also added Tomas Holmstron (1994) in the 10th round and Vladimir Konstantinov (1989) in the 11th. Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, now in the top six for the Wings, was the last pick of the 2002 draft in the ninth round. In 1989, the Wings also picked Niklas Lidstrom in the third round and Sergei Federov in the fourth.

Mistakes are made. Just look at the 2001 draft. Three first-round picks never played an NHL game and three goalies picked in that first round have not made an impact. Meanwhile, from picks 172-289 in that draft 14 have played 198 games or more in the NHL.

The ninth round in 1994 was rich in goaltenders. Tim Thomas, Evgeny Nabokov and Johan Hedberg were picked back to back. John Grahame, a member of the Lightning’s 2004 Stanley Cup team, and Tomas Vokoun were also selected in that round.

Pavel Kubina (7th) and Martin Cibak (9th) were picked by the Lightning in the late rounds and contributed in 2004, and don’t forget Martin St. Louis wasn’t even drafted. Nikolai Khabibulin was a ninth-round pick by Winnipeg. And while we’re talking goalies, how about Dominik Hasek going in the 10th round and Henrik Lundqvist in the seventh? Lightning coach Rick Tocchet was a sixth-round pick in 1983 and finished his career with 440 goals and 952 points.

Some just defy odds. Others are players that were simply under-rated or need to round out their games.

“Definitely, you are looking for players that have something holding them back now,” Lawton said. “It may be their size, the maturity as an individual or maybe they were a late starter and they haven’t played a lot of high-level hockey. We’re looking at all of those things.”

The Lightning had six picks in the fifth through seventh rounds last year and currently have a sixth and seventh round pick this year.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions about really trying to extend our draft and pick up some of these later-round picks,” Lawton said. “They are important, critical.

‘When you have a team like ours, that has had a couple down years, you really look to the draft to restart your future. That’s the way we’re approaching it. We think it’s critical we draft well with our early picks [four in the top 74]. But we also believe we need to come up with a player in those later rounds, with the understanding that those players may take three or four years. But if you don’t have them in the hopper now, as we’re finding out with this team, then the cupboard is really bare.”

Some top picks beyond the fourth round (1989-present):

5th round
Kevin Bieksa, 2001
Mike Smith, 2001
John-Michael Liles, 2000
Ryan Miller, 1999
Mikka Kiprusoff, 1995
Marty Turco, 1994
Miroslav Satan, 1993
Adrian Aucoin, 1992

Paul Ranger, 2002
Ryane Clowe, 2001
Marek Zidlicky, 2001
Andrei Markov, 1998
Pavel Datsyuk, 1998
Brian Campbell, 1997
Daniel Alfredsson, 1994
Darcy Tucker, 1993
Sean O’Donnell, 1991
Craig Conroy, 1990
Dallas Drake, 1989

Joe Pavelski, 2003
Cristobel Huet, 2001
Marek Svatos, 2001
Henrik Lundqvist, 2000
Matt Lombardi, 2000
Martin Erat, 1999
Henrik Zetterberg, 1999
Pavel Kubina, 1996
Stephane Robidas, 1995
P.J. Axelsson, 1995
Filip Kuba, 1995
Todd Marchant, 1993
Andrew Brunette, 1993
Ian Laperriere, 1992
Robert Lang, 1990

Dustin Byfuglien, 2003
Shane O’Brien, 2003
Dennis Wideman, 2002
Radek Martinek, 1999
Garrett Exelby, 1999
Doug Murray, 1999
Michael Ryder, 1998
Andrew Ference, 1997
Willie Mitchell, 1996
Tomas Kaberle, 1996
Hal Gill, 1993
Stephane Yelle, 1992
Peter Bondra, 1990

Mark Streit, 2004
Jonathan Ericsson, 2002
Maxime Talbot, 2002
Karlis Skrastins, 1998
Sami Salo, 1996
Tim Thomas, 1994
Tomas Vokoun, 1994
Evgeny Nabokov, 1994
Steve Sullivan, 1994
Mike Grier, 1993
Pavol Demitra, 1993
Nikolai Khabibulin, 1992

Tomas Holmstrom, 1994
Richard Zednik, 1994
Kimmo Timonen, 1993
Vladimir Malakhov, 1989

Kim Johnsson, 1994
Vladimir Konstantinov, 1989

Others top players picked after the fifth
Brett Hull, (Calgary) 6th round
Rick Tocchet (Philadelphia), 6th
Steve Larmer (Chicago), 6th
Doug Gilmour (St. Louis), 7th
Theo Fleury (Calgary), 8th
Luc Robitaille, (L.A. Kings) 9th
Dominik Hasek, (Chicago) 10th

Players drafted recently

5th Rd
Kris Versteeg (Chicago), 2004
Mikhail Grabovski (Toronto), 2004
6th Rd
Matt D’Agostini (Montreal), 2005
Roman Polak (St. Louis), 2004
Adam Pardy (Calgary), 2004
7th Rd
Sergei Kostitsyn (Montreal), 2005
Troy Brouwer (Chicago), 2004
Matt Hunwick (Boston), 2004
Chris Campoli (Ottawa), 2004
9th Rd
Mark Streit (Islanders), 2004

(Note: Versteeg was picked by Boston, Grabovski and Streit by Montreal and Campoli by the Islanders)

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