The Entry Draft remains 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 a franchise back for a long time.
The five teams in the Southeast Division seem to have found a great deal of success drafting forwards, whether it was Ron Francis
in 1981 or Alex Ovechkin
Every team has had its ups and downs since the draft began in 1963. Here's a look at the hits (and some of the misses) for the five Southeast teams on Draft Day.
Best first-round pick: Ilya Kovalchuk (2001)
-- The Thrashers have made the playoffs just once since entering the NHL 10 years ago, but it would be hard to blame their struggles on Kovalchuk, the first pick of the '01 draft, who's turned into one of the most dynamic scorers in the NHL. At age 26 he's had five consecutive 40-goal seasons (including two 52-goal efforts) and is just three goals shy of 300. Barring injury, he figures to finish his career with well over 500 goals; if the Thrashers can get enough of a supporting cast around him, his skills figure to be more appreciated.
Honorable mention: Dany Heatley (2000), Zach Bogosian (2008)
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Michael Garnett (2001)
-- One reason the Thrashers have spent most of their first decade in the NHL's netherworld is a lack of success in rounds 2-4 of the draft. Garnett, a third-rounder (No. 80) who played 24 games in 2005-06 when injuries decimated Atlanta's goaltending corps, is the best player in team history drafted in Rounds 2-4. Add up the games played by every player taken in those three rounds and you get a grand total of 90.
Honorable mention: Ondrej Pavelec (2005)
Best later-round pick: Tobias Enstrom (2003)
-- A small, offensive defenseman from Sweden taken in the eighth round (No. 239), Enstrom didn't come to North America until 2007, but has been an effective player in his two NHL seasons. He made the All-Rookie team in 2007-08 and has been the Thrashers' most effective offensive defenseman almost from the day he arrived. Despite his lack of size, Enstrom has not missed a game in two NHL seasons.
Honorable mention: Garnet Exelby (1999), Darcy Hordichuk (2000)
Biggest disappointment: Patrik Stefan (1999)
-- Stefan spent six seasons with the Thrashers and played 455 NHL games, but never came close to putting up the kind of numbers Atlanta expected after he was picked first in the draft. Stefan never totaled more than 14 goals or 40 points in a season, was a plus player just once in Atlanta and was plagued with concussion-related problems. He spent a season in Dallas and signed in Switzerland but played only three games before retiring in 2007.
Honorable mention: Luke Sellars (1999), Alex Bourret (2005)
Best first-round pick: Ron Francis (1981)
-- "Ronnie Franchise" got two Stanley Cup rings with Pittsburgh in the early 1990s, but he spent two-thirds of his 23 NHL seasons with the Hartford Whalers/Hurricanes franchise, piling up points -- and goodwill -- along the way. Only Wayne Gretzky
has more career assists than the No. 4 pick, and only Gretzky, Gordie Howe
and Mark Messier
finished with more points.
Honorable mention: Bobby Holik (1989), Chris Pronger (1993), Eric Staal (2003)
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Kevin Dineen (1982)
-- Dineen, a third-round pick (No. 56), made an immediate impression by scoring 25 goals as a rookie, and then added 33, 40, 25 and 45 in his next four seasons while becoming one of the premier power forwards in the NHL. He never reached 30 goals after his 30th birthday, but remained in the NHL for a long time as an effective checker who could score a little bit, and he always was willing to do what was needed to win. He finished with 355 goals and 760 points in 1,188 games.
Honorable mention: Geoff Sanderson (1990), Sami Kapanen (1995)
Best later-round pick: Ray Ferraro (1982)
-- Those who only know Ferraro as a television analyst missed seeing one of the most popular players in NHL history. Ferraro, a fifth-round pick (No. 88) by the Whalers, was a 30-goal scorer in his second NHL season and had 41 three seasons later. The Whalers traded him to the Islanders in 1990, and he became immensely popular on Long Island while continuing to serve as an effective second-line center. He played 1,258 games for six teams, putting up 408 goals and 898 points in 18 seasons.
Honorable mention: Joe Reekie (1985), Manny Legace (1993)
Biggest disappointment: Jeff Heerema (1998)
-- You don't expect to get a career minor-leaguer with the 11th pick in the draft, but that's what the Hurricanes got when they chose Heerema in 1998 after a 32-goal season with Sarnia of the OHL. Heerema spent two more seasons with Sarnia, then played seven seasons in the minors, earning only a 10-game stretch with Carolina in 2002-03 and 22 games with St. Louis the following season. He's played the past two seasons in Germany.
Honorable mention: Christopher Govedaris (1988), Nikos Tselios (1997)
Best first-round pick: Ed Jovanovski (1994)
-- The Panthers made Jovanovski the first pick in the '94 Entry Draft; he turned pro two seasons later and was instrumental in Florida's stunning run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers dealt him to Vancouver in 1999 as part of the Pavel Bure
deal, and he later signed with Phoenix as a free agent. Throughout his career he's been a productive top-pair defenseman, though he's never put up the kind of offensive numbers some expected.
Honorable mention: Rob Niedermayer (1993), Radek Dvorak (1995), Jay Bouwmeester (2002)
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Kristian Huselius (1997)
-- Like the Thrashers, the Panthers haven't done particularly well in Rounds 2-4. Their best selection from these rounds has been Huselius, a second round (No. 47) choice, who had a couple of 20-goal seasons for the Panthers but then struggled and was sent to Calgary. His best season came with the Flames in 2006-07, when he was 34-43-77. He had 25 goals and 66 points for Calgary the following season, then went 21-35-56 for Columbus in 2008-09, giving him 153 goals and 365 points in 567 NHL games.
Honorable mention: Kevin Weekes (1993), Rhett Warrener (1994)
Best later-round pick: Filip Kuba (1995)
-- Florida drafted Kuba in the eighth round (No. 192) in '95. He spent two seasons bouncing between the Panthers and the minors before winding up with Minnesota in the expansion draft. He became a solid top-four defenseman and had a career-high 40 points with Ottawa in 2008-09.
Honorable mention: Peter Worrell (1995), Jaroslav Spacek (1998)
Biggest disappointment: Denis Shvidki (1999)
-- Florida took the Russian-born right wing No. 12 after he had 35 goals and 94 points for Barrie of the OHL in 1998-99. He improved to 41-65-106 with the Colts in 1999-2000, and then had 15 goals in 34 games for Louisville of the AHL in 2000-01, earning a half-season in Florida, where he scored six goals for the Panthers. But after bouncing between the Panthers and the minors for three more seasons, scoring just 5 goals in 33 games, Shvidki went back to Russia and has played there for the last five seasons.
Honorable mention: Mike Brown (1997), Peter Taticek (2002)
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Best first-round pick: Vincent Lecavalier (1998)
-- He may not be the "Michael Jordan of hockey," as former Tampa owner Art Williams proclaimed when the Lightning took Lecavalier with the first pick in the draft 11 years ago, but Lecavalier has become one of the NHL's elite players. He's scored 25 or more goals for six consecutive seasons, including a League-high 52 in 2006-07, and was a key to Tampa Bay's run to the 2004 Stanley Cup. At 29, he already has surpassed the 300-goal mark for his career.
Honorable mention: Chris Gratton (1993), Daymond Langkow (1995), Steven Stamkos (2008)
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Brad Richards (1998)
-- The Lightning chose Richards two rounds (No. 64) after taking Lecavalier, his teammate with Rimouski of the QMJHL. Richards, now with Dallas after a 2008 trade, hasn't put up Lecavalier-like numbers, but he's a solid No. 2 center who has six 20-goal seasons, four 70-point seasons and a Conn Smythe Trophy after scoring 26 points in 23 games during the Lightning's run to the 2004 Cup.
Honorable mention: Aaron Gavey (1992), Shane Willis (1997)
Best later-round pick: Pavel Kubina (1996)
-- Tampa Bay took Kubina, a defenseman from the Czech Republic, in the seventh round (No. 179) in 1996 -- and by 1999 had a top-four defenseman with size and a big shot. He has hit double figures in goals five times -- including 17 in 2003-04. He signed with Toronto as a free agent in 2006 and has produced 40 points in each of the past two seasons.
Honorable mention: Paul Ranger (2002). Nick Tarnasky (2003)
Biggest disappointment: Alexander Svitov (2001)
-- Talk about a swing and a miss. The Lightning took Svitov with the No. 3 pick in 2001, brought him to North America for the 2002-03 season, and then dealt him to Columbus the next season. Svitov split time between the Jackets and their AHL team in Syracuse before returning to Russia as a free agent in 2007.
Honorable mention: Mario Larocque (1996), Nikita Alexeev (2000)
Best first-round pick: Alex Ovechkin (2004)
-- As good as the Caps thought Ovechkin could be when they picked him No. 1 five years ago, he's been better. Ovechkin is the most feared gunner in the NHL, having led the League in goals in each of the last two seasons. He's also become a physical force who's more than willing to run over an opponent, and he brings a joy to the game few players ever have matched. At 23, he's one of the cornerstones of the League.
Honorable mention: Mike Gartner (1979), Scott Stevens (1982), Olaf Kolzig (1989)
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Michal Pivonka (1984)
-- The Caps selected Pivonka with their third-round choice (No. 59) in 1984, but had to wait three seasons for the Czech center to make it to North America. Pivonka never became the star some thought he'd be, but he was a solid player for 13 seasons in Washington, putting up four 20-goal seasons, four 50-assist seasons and five 60-point seasons. Injuries cut short his career.
Honorable mention: Steve Konowalchuk (1991), Jan Bulis (1996)
Best later-round pick: Peter Bondra (1990)
-- The collapse of the Iron Curtain opened a new world of hockey talent. The Capitals found one of the gems when they used an eighth-round pick (No. 156) to nab Bondra, a Ukrainian-born Slovak who had starred in the Czech League. After scoring just 12 times as a rookie, Bondra began a streak of 14 straight seasons with at least 20 goals, highlighted by 52-goal performances in 1995-96 and 1997-98, when he helped lead Washington to the Stanley Cup Final. He finished his career with 503 goals, 472 as a Capital.
Honorable mention: Andrew Brunette (1993), Richard Zednik (1994)
Biggest disappointment: Alexander Volchkov (1996)
-- The Russian-born center was picked No. 4 in 1996 after a 37-goal season with Barrie of the OHL. He had 29 goals and 82 points for the Colts in 1996-97, then turned pro -- and saw his scoring touch completely disappear. He never scored more than 11 goals in the minors and played only three games with the Capitals. He returned to Russia in 2000 and was out of hockey a season later.
Honorable mention: Nolan Baumgartner (1994), Brad Church (1995)