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Central teams have found many late-round gems

by John Kreiser
The Entry Draft still is the basis for building a team in the National Hockey League. A top-flight draft can set up a team for years to come. A bad one -- sometimes even just a bad pick or two -- can set back a franchise for a long time.

While the five teams in the Central Division have found good players at the top of the draft, what stands out is the volume of outstanding players found in the fifth round and beyond.

Here's a look at the hits (and some of the misses) for the teams in the Central Division:


Best first-round pick: Denis Savard (1980) -- Luckily for Chicago, the Canadiens passed on Savard, a Montreal native, allowing him to fall to No. 3 in the 1980 Draft. He spent his first 10 seasons with the Hawks, breaking the 100-point mark five times and bringing some of the most spectacular moves ever seen on an NHL rink. He finished his career with 473 goals and 1,338 points.
Honorable mention: Doug Wilson (1977), Ed Olczyk (1984), Jeremy Roenick (1988)

Best pick, rounds 2-4: Troy Murray (1980) -- Two rounds after landing Savard, the Hawks filled their No. 2 slot at center by landing Murray in the third round (No. 57). Murray came to Chicago in 1982 after two seasons at North Dakota and gave the Hawks several excellent seasons, including a 45-goal, 99-point effort in 1985-86. He finished his career with 230 goals and 584 points in 915 NHL games.
Honorable mention: Eric Daze (1993), Duncan Keith (2002)

Best later-round pick: Dominik Hasek (1983)
The Hawks spent a 10th-round pick (No. 199) on Hasek, not knowing if he'd ever be able to leave Czechoslovakia. He arrived as a 26-year-old in 1990, backed up Ed Belfour a season later when Belfour led the Hawks to the Final, then was traded to Buffalo that summer. Unfortunately for Chicago, Hasek became perhaps the best 10th-round pick in draft history; the player they got in return (Stephane Beauregard) soon was gone from the NHL.
Honorable mention: Doug Crossman (1979) Steve Larmer (1980)

Biggest disappointment: Adam Bennett (1989)
There were big expectations when the Blackhawks made Bennett, a defenseman from the OHL's Sudbury Wolves, the No. 6 pick in the 1989 Entry Draft -- but he never delivered on them. After scoring 18 and 21 goals, respectively, in his final two junior seasons, Bennett did not score at all in two short stints with the Hawks, nor did he generate much offense in the minors. Bennett scored 3 goals after being dealt to Edmonton in 1993, but was out of pro hockey by the time he turned 25.
Honorable mention: Eric Lecompte (1993), Mikhail Yakubov (2000)


Best first-round pick: Rick Nash (2002) -- The Jackets knew what they were doing when they chose Nash with the first pick in '02. Despite playing on a team that has struggled to score, Nash has 194 goals in six seasons and is coming off a career-best 40-goal, 79-point performance in 2008-09, helping the Jackets to their first playoff berth. As his team continues to improve, so will Nash.
Honorable mention: Rostislav Klesla (2000), Pascal Leclaire (2001), Nikolai Zherdev (2003)

Best pick, rounds 2-4: Dan Fritsche (2003)
Columbus has had little success drafting after the first round -- as evidenced by the second-round choice of Fritsche (No. 46), a hard-working Ohio native who had 29 goals in parts of four seasons with Columbus before being traded to the New York Rangers last summer and to Minnesota during the season.
Honorable mention: Tim Jackman (2001), Kris Russell (2005)

Best later-round pick: Mark Methot (2003)
Expansion teams need to find late-round gems -- and the Blue Jackets have failed miserably in this area. Among the few later-round players to see any kind of substantial  playing time is Methot, a sixth-rounder (No. 168) six years ago who became an NHL regular this season, playing 66 games and scoring his first 4 NHL goals after going scoreless in 29 games in two previous call-ups.
Honorable mention: Petteri Nummelin (2000), Lasse Pirjeta (2002)

Biggest disappointment: Alexandre Picard (2004)
The Jackets still are waiting for Picard, the eighth pick in the '04 Draft, to show the kind of scoring touch he had in junior (39 and 40 goals, respectively, in his last two seasons). He hasn't scored more than 15 goals in three minor-league seasons and has not scored in 58 NHL games over four seasons. Though Picard will turn 24 in early October, his window of opportunity is starting to close.
Honorable mention: Gilbert Brule (2005)


Best first-round pick: Steve Yzerman (1983) -- The Wings actually wanted to choose Pat LaFontaine, who had played in the area and, management felt, would help sell tickets. But he was taken No. 3, leaving Yzerman for the Red Wings at No. 4. All Yzerman did was become the face of the franchise for a generation of Detroit fans, morphing from a high-scoring center on some non-winning teams to one of the best two-way centers on a franchise that won three Cups in six years.
Honorable mention: Marcel Dionne (1971), Mike Foligno (1979), Keith Primeau (1990)

Best pick, rounds 2-4: Nicklas Lidstrom (1989) -- It's a tough call -- the Wings took another likely Hall of Famer, Sergei Fedorov, in the fourth round -- but the six-time Norris Trophy winner ranks as the biggest prize in one of the great drafts of all time. A third-round pick (No. 53), Lidstrom has been nearly flawless since arriving in the NHL in 1991. He owns four Stanley Cup rings, is the only European captain of a Cup winner, needs three points for 1,000 and is in the conversation when the topic turns to the greatest defensemen of all time.
Honorable mention: Sergei Fedorov (1989), Chris Osgood (1991)

Best later-round pick: Henrik Zetterberg (1999) -- Getting Zetterberg in the seventh round (No. 210) was like finding a $100 bill lying on the sidewalk. As is the case with fellow late-round gem Pavel Datsyuk, Zetterberg is a perfect fit for the Wings' puck-possession system -- offensively skilled, defensively responsible and tremendously hockey-smart. There is nothing he can't do on the ice.
Honorable mention: Tomas Holmstrom (1994), Pavel Datsyuk (1998)

Biggest disappointment: Kory Kocur (1988) -- Joey Kocur's cousin was a scorer, not a fighter -- the Wings chose him No. 17 after a 34-goal season with Saskatoon, and he put up 45 goals and 102 points in 1989-90 before turning pro. But Kocur's scoring touch in junior never translated to the pros -- he scored 18 and 8 goals, respectively, in two AHL seasons before being sent to IHL Fort Wayne, where he had 25 and 21 goals before calling it a career in 1993.
Honorable mention: Curtis Bowen (1992), Jesse Wallin (1996)


Best first-round pick: Scott Hartnell (2000) -- Hartnell, picked No. 6 in 2000, is a good player who appears to be getting better as he enters his late 20s -- he's coming off his first 30-goal season and had a career-best 60 points in 2008-09. Unfortunately for Nashville, he's been a Philadelphia Flyer for the past two seasons. Hartnell brings a mixture of skill and physicality that plays well for any team.
Honorable mention: David Legwand (1998), Scottie Upshall (2002), Ryan Suter (2003)

Best pick, rounds 2-4: Shea Weber (2003) -- Weber was the third of Nashville's second-round picks (No. 49) in 2003, but easily the best of the three. Blessed with one of the NHL's biggest shots, Weber had 17 goals in 2006-07, slumped to six in an injury-plagued 2007-08, then scored 23 this past season while making the All-Star Game for the first time -- all before he turned 24. Weber has the potential to be one of the NHL's elite defensemen.
Honorable mention: Adam Hall (1999), Kevin Klein (2003)

Best later-round pick: Martin Erat (1999) -- Erat, a seventh-rounder (No. 191) 10 years ago, has turned out to be a much better point producer than expected after coming out of junior hockey. The Czech Republic native has averaged 52 points over the last five seasons despite not seeing a lot of power-play time. Erat is the kind of consistent player coaches love -- and he appears to have a little more offensive upside.
Honorable mention: Karlis Skrastins (1998), Pekka Rinne (2004)

Biggest disappointment: Brian Finley (1999)
-- The Preds took Finley with the sixth pick in 1999 expecting he would be their goaltender of the future, but it never happened. He was forced to sit out the 2001-02 season due to a groin problem and had recurring injury problems throughout his career. Despite success in the AHL, Finley didn't get into an NHL game until 2002-03 and didn't get a start until '05-06, when he surrendered seven goals in his lone appearance for the Predators. Boston signed him that summer, but he played little and didn’t get another contract.
Honorable mention: Jonas Andersson (1999), Timofei Shishkanov (2001)


Best first-round pick: Rod Brind'Amour (1988) -- The Blues took Brind'Amour, a center, from Junior 'A' hockey, with the No. 8 pick in 1988 -- and he's still going strong more than two decades later, though it's nearly that long since he's played for the Blues. St. Louis traded him to Philadelphia in 1991 after he dropped from 26 goals and 61 points as a rookie to 17 and 49. The Flyers dealt him to Carolina in 1999-2000, and Brind'Amour has continued to put up points (443-722-1,165) while becoming one of the NHL's best in the faceoff circle.
Honorable mention: Bernie Federko (1976), Perry Turnbull (1979), Barret Jackman (1999)

Best pick, rounds 2-4: Brian Sutter (1976) -- The oldest of the Sutter clan was the first to make the NHL when he was selected in the second round (No. 20). As with all of the Sutters, he was a tough, hard-nosed player (1,786 penalty minutes), who also had plenty of skill. Brian had five consecutive seasons of 30 or more goals (six in his career), and made three All-Star Games before retiring in 1988 with 303 career goals.
Honorable mention: Steve Staios (1991), Igor Korolev (1992)

Best later-round pick: Doug Gilmour (1982) -- The Blues took the undersized center in the seventh round (No. 134) after a 46-goal, 119-point season for Cornwall of the OHL, then saw him put up 70 goals and 177 points in his final junior season. Gilmour was an instant hit as a rookie -- St. Louis fans loved his feistiness, and he could put the puck in the net. The Blues traded him to Calgary after five seasons -- providing the Flames with a key piece of their Cup-winning team in 1989. He played 1,474 games with seven teams, piling up 450 goals and 1,414 points before retiring in 2003.
Honorable mention: Paul MacLean (1978), Cliff Ronning (1984)

Biggest disappointment: Marek Schwarz (2004) -- The Blues took Schwarz, a Czech goaltender, with the 17th pick in '04, but he's running out of chances to make the NHL. Schwarz has yo-yoed between the Blues and the minor leagues since turning pro in 2006, earning only six appearances for St. Louis -- including a pair of relief stints totaling 15 minutes this past season. With Chris Mason a solid No. 1 and other netminders in the system, Schwarz's time may be growing short.
Honorable mention: Keith Osborne (1987), Shawn Belle (2003)

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