Leaf lovers, here’s a question for you.
What do this group of players have in common?
Their ranks include the top three goalscorers and a trio of players tied for a share of second place in playoff assists.
They rank second, third, fourth and fifth in playoff points behind Sidney Crosby.
They boast the number one plus/minus player in the playoffs, the goalie with the most wins and the player whose story has been far and away the best story of the post season.
Every one of the players who match that description was picked in the third round or later.
The Leafs, of course, shipped their first and second rounders as well as next year’s first rounder to Boston in the Phil Kessel
Dave Nonis, Brian Burke’s number one has intimated that the Leafs will move up in the draft. But for now, let’s just deal with what can be out there in the later rounds.
It turns out quite a bit.
Consider Joe Pavelski, chosen in the seventh round by the Sharks in 2003. Pavelski leads the post-season in goal scoring with seven. His teammate, Evgeni Nabokov, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner was a fourth-round pick. His five wins, at least at this writing, lead the league.
Another Shark, winger Ryane Clowe is also distinguishing himself. He came to the Sharks in the sixth round, in 2001.
Detroit has long benefitted from their famously late selections thanks to Johan Franzen, chosen in the third round in 2004, Henrik Zetterberg (seventh round in 1999) and Pavel Datsyuk (seventh-rounder in 1998).
The list is startling. Montreal has gotten tremendous production from Tomas Plekanec, a third-rounder in 2001. Plekanec scored four times in the series win over Washington and turned in a 70-point regular season.
David Krejci of the Bruins, drafted in the third round in 2004 has scored three times. Dennis Wideman, chosen in the ninth round by Buffalo, is a standout defenceman with the Bruins.
Patrick Sharp, a third-rounder in 2001 has scored three goals this playoffs.
The Canucks Mikael Samuelson, a thirty-goal scorer in the regular season, has seven so far. The Sharks originally drafted him in the 1998 draft.
Which brings us to the dominant figure in the post season, the Canadians Jaroslav Halak, drafted in the ninth round in 2003. He has fashioned a .939 save percentage and even as we speak, statue makers in Montreal are pondering his likeness.
Interestingly, most of these players weren’t given up on and then shipped elsewhere. Sharp, for example, was drafted by the Flyers but the vast majority of the late-rounders who blossomed did so with the teams that chose them.
Also, many of the late rounders are Europeans, college players or, in the case of the Leafs’ speedster Viktor Stalberg, both. One prominent player, Dan Boyle, wasn’t drafted at all.
Now the disclaimer. The players were gleaned from an enormous sample. If they were good late-rounders who were still playing they made the list.
But if you can hit, very much like Wings and Sharks have, it can dramatically alter the direction of your team. The Leafs hope they are doing that with Viktor Stalberg, a fifth-rounder, and they are delighted with the progress shown by Carl Gunnarsson
(a 2007 seventh-rounder who is already among their top six defencemen).
But if you have any doubt of the value of late drafts, don’t take my word for it. Just watch the playoffs.