A good draft can set up a team for years, while a bad one can set back a franchise for a long time.
Try as they might, NHL general managers know most of the players they select during the Entry Draft never will wear an NHL sweater. The object is to get maximum value out of their picks -- finding the stars they need to build a team around, the role players to support them and the depth to trade for what they can't find.
Obviously some teams are better at this than others -- and they do it in different ways. The core of Pittsburgh's Stanley Cup-winning team was Marc-Andre Fleury
, Evgeni Malkin
and Sidney Crosby
, all chosen with the first or second pick of the draft from 2003-05. Detroit, which lost to Pittsburgh in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final after beating the Penguins in 2008, has fared well with a handful of later-round picks -- stars such as Henrik Zetterberg
and Pavel Datsyuk
-- while having just three first-round picks on its roster -- Marian Hossa
, Brad Stuart
and Nicklas Kronwall. And of those three, only Kronwall was chosen by the Wings.
Here's a look at some of the best drafting performances by NHL general managers over the past 20 years:
Best draft: Detroit Red Wings, 1989 --
This is the draft that helped turn the Wings into the elite organization they've become. Eight of the players chosen made the NHL, with six having significant careers. Four have played at least 1,000 games and three still were active in 2008-09, 20 years after being drafted. Third-round pick Nicklas Lidstrom
, a six-time Norris Trophy winner, is a lock for the Hall of Fame, as is fourth-rounder Sergei Fedorov
, the highest-scoring Russian-born player in NHL history. First-round pick Mike Sillinger
and sixth-rounder Dallas Drake
(who retired after the Wings won the 2008 Cup) have played well over 1,000 games. Second-rounder Bob Boughner played 625 games, and Vladimir Konstantinov
, an 11th-round choice, would have played a lot more than 446 were it not for a 1997 auto accident that ended his career.
The Wings' 1989 class is only one in the history of the draft to produce three 200-goal scorers (Sillinger, Lidstrom and Fedorov), and they are three points (by Lidstrom) away from becoming the first to have two 1,000-point scorers.
Best draft, 21st century: Anaheim Ducks, 2003; Philadelphia Flyers, 2003; Chicago Blackhawks, 2004 --
Anaheim started with a terrific one-two punch, selecting Ryan Getzlaf
with the 19th choice in the first round and taking future linemate Corey Perry
at No. 28. Those two figure to be core players for the Ducks for years to come. Sixth-rounder Drew Miller
spent much of this past season with the Ducks and was on the playoff roster, while Shane O'Brien
(now with Vancouver) has played 234 NHL games and carved a niche for himself as a big, physical blueliner.
Like the Ducks, the Flyers hit a pair of home runs in the first round, grabbing high-scoring Jeff Carter
with the 11th pick and taking future captain (and Selke finalist) Mike Richards
at No. 24. The Flyers also have seen four of their five third-round picks make the NHL: Colin Fraser
, Stefan Ruzicka
, Alexandre Picard and Ryan Potulny
Of the Blackhawks' 17 selections in '04, seven of them have played at least briefly in the NHL. First-rounder Cam Barker
, second-rounder Dave Bolland
and seventh-rounder Troy Brouwer
all were significant contributors to the team that made it to the Western Conference Finals this spring.
Best first round: Washington Capitals, 2004 --
Landing Alex Ovechkin
would be enough to make any GM feel he'd had a successful draft. But in 2004, Washington's George McPhee
followed up a gimmie (taking Ovechkin with the No. 1 pick) by nabbing steady defenseman Jeff Schultz
with the 27th pick in the opening round, then grabbing Norris Trophy finalist Mike Green
two picks later. That's quite a haul in the space of one round.
Best one-two punch: Quebec Nordiques, 1989 --
The Nordiques were in the second of three consecutive years in which they had the No. 1 pick when they selected Mats Sundin
in 1989, then followed that choice by taking defenseman Adam Foote
in the second round. No other team has had its first two picks from the same draft class combine to play as many games.
Most prolific draft: New Jersey Devils, 1990 --
Having five players make the NHL from any one draft class is an excellent yield. In 1990, the Devils had 10 of their 14 picks make it to the NHL -- and all 10 played at least 100 games. Future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur
was the 20th pick of the first round, but the Devils also got good value from players like Valeri Zelepukin
(11th round), and Mike Dunham
(third) and Jaroslav Modry
(ninth). No team in the last 20 years has had so many players from a single draft reach the NHL.
The Devils' 1989 draft was nearly as good -- eight of 10 players, led by 400-goal scorer Bill Guerin
, ultimately made the NHL.
Seven for seven: New York Islanders, 1991 and 1993 --
The Islanders did something right in 1991 -- they had one pick in each of the first seven rounds and all seven players made it to the NHL. First-round choice Scott Lachance
played more than 800 games and second-rounder Zigmund Palffy
had 329 goals and 713 points in 684 games. Six of the seven played more than 100 NHL games.
Amazingly, the same thing happened two years later -- the Isles had single picks in Rounds 1-7 and saw all seven players make the NHL. Two of them, first-rounder Todd Bertuzzi
and second-rounder Bryan McCabe
, were still active in 2008-09.
Colorado's first seven picks in 1998 all made the NHL, but those choices all came in Rounds 1 and 2.
Rolling a six: San Jose Sharks, 2001 --
The Sharks were a perfect 6-for-6 in the 2001 Entry Draft -- every player they drafted has made the NHL, and five of the six still are with the organization. None of the six has emerged as a star yet, but Christian Ehrhoff
(fourth round) is a top-four defenseman, Ryane Clowe
(sixth round) is coming off a 22-goal season; Marcel Goc
(first) and Tomas Plihal
(fourth) are useful depth forwards; Tom Cavanagh
(sixth) spent most of the season in the AHL, but played 17 NHL games with San Jose.