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The smartest teams make every draft pick count

by John Kreiser
NHL teams expect their top draft picks to become impact players, if not stars. In fact, picking a few first-rounders who don't make impacts can go a long way in sending a team toward the bottom of the standings.

But as the Chicago Blackhawks showed in winning the Stanley Cup this spring, getting production from players picked at the draft who were household names only in their own households is important as well.

Chicago had three of its own first-round picks -- Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook -- in the lineup for the Cup-winning, 4-3 overtime victory against the Philadelphia Flyers. But the Hawks that night also had two players -- Dustin Byfuglien and Troy Brouwer -- who were picked in the seventh round or later: Byfuglien was chosen No. 245 in 2003, while Brouwer was No. 214 in 2004. Adam Burish, who played earlier in the Final but sat out the final three games of the series, was taken with the 282nd pick in 2002.

The Hawks are just the latest example of the importance of adding those under-the-radar players in building a winning team in today’s NHL.

Detroit's nucleus includes stars such as Pavel Datsyuk (No. 171 in 1998) and Henrik Zetterberg (No. 210 in 1999). San Jose's Joe Pavelski (No. 205 in 2003) was the Sharks' big gun through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

A number of other players have turned into solid contributors, and even stars, despite being a long way from the glamour of the first round. That list includes Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, taken with the 205th pick in the 2000 draft. Since coming to the NHL from Sweden in 2005, Lundqvist has been a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist.

"Henrik is the shining example of why you leave no stone unturned and why each pick is so, so important," Rangers Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark said recently.

In fact, though they may not be as plentiful as first-round stars, you can make a pretty good team out of players taken in the very late stages of the draft:

All Bargain-Basement team (players taken No. 200 or later in the Draft):

G -- Evgeni Nabokov (1994, San Jose, No. 219); Henrik Lundqvist (2000, N.Y. Rangers, No. 205)
D -- Tomas Kaberle  (1996, Toronto, No. 204); Jonathan Ericsson (2002, Detroit, No. 291)
D -- Mark Streit  (2004, Montreal, No. 262); Sami Salo (1996, Ottawa, No. 239)
F -- Henrik Zetterberg  (1999, Detroit, No. 210); Troy Brouwer (2004, Chicago, No. 214)
F -- Tomas Holmstrom  (1994, Detroit, No. 257); Dustin Byfuglien (2003, Chicago, No. 245)
F -- Patric Hornqvist (2005, Nashville, No. 230); Paul Gaustad (2000, Buffalo, No. 220)

But shopping in hockey's bargain bin is one thing; finding a gem in the NHL's version of a leftover sale is quite another.

Not that there isn't some bona fide talent still out there after all 30 teams have finished drafting -- Hawks goaltender Antti Niemi is living proof that Stanley Cup winners don't need a big-name pedigree -- but for every Niemi, there are dozens of players who never make it.

Still, the ranks of the undrafted include such stars of the past as Ed Belfour and Adam Oates, so teams still have plenty of incentive to keep looking. Here's a list of some pretty good players who never had their named called on Draft Day:

All-Undrafted team:

G -- Antti Niemi (2008, Chicago, Pelicans Lahti, Finland)
D -- Dan Boyle (1998, Florida, Miami University)
D -- Brian Rafalski (1999, New Jersey, HIFK Helsinki, Finland)
F -- Martin St. Louis (1998, Calgary, University of Vermont)
F -- Jason Blake (1999, Los Angeles, University of North Dakota)
F -- John Madden (1997, New Jersey, University of Michigan)

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