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Where you're drafted means nothing once puck drops

by Brian Duff
This past Saturday was merely a one-night snapshot of this still-young NHL season, but what a reminder it was of how critical scouting, player development, and good fortune are for teams to have success.

* Rangers call-up P.A. Parenteau, No. 264 by Anaheim in the 2001 Entry Draft, provided the shootout winner against Ottawa.

* Paul Gaustad, No. 220 by Buffalo in 2000, tipped home the winner at Philadelphia.

* Tomas Vokoun, No. 226 in 1994, backstopped the Panthers to a shootout win against the Islanders.

* Henrik Zetterberg, No. 210 in 1999, carried the Red Wings past Anaheim with a three-goal, two-assist night.

* Undrafted Pascal Dupuis scored the overtime winner for Pittsburgh against Boston.

* Undrafted Jed Ortmeyer scored the winner in regulation for San Jose in St. Louis, while Evgeni Nabokov, No. 219 in the 1994 Entry Draft, was the game's first star.

* Nashville's Pekka Rinne, No. 258 in 2004, blanked the Canadiens.

* Radim Vrbata, No. 212 by Colorado 10 years ago, had the winner for Phoenix against Dallas.

* And the 12-game night was capped by Jannik Hansen, who had the winner for Vancouver in a rout of Colorado. Only four players were drafted after Hansen (No. 287) in 2004.

Nine games out of 12 featuring these types of players, players who overcame great odds to become not only occasional heroes, but in the case of a few, legitimate NHL stars.

Calder conjecture -- So as the quarter pole of the 2009-10 season comes and goes, the early evaluations of first-year players and projections for who may win the Calder Trophy as top rookie continues.

First-round picks like John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Tyler Myers, James van Riemsdyk, and Michael Del Zotto (to name just a few) are living up to, or exceeding, expectations; but it's hard not to be equally impressed by the underdogs, the unheralded, the undrafted, or relatively unknown.

Jason Demers with the Sharks, a 21-year-old defenseman who was selected No. 186 in 2008, has been a consistent performer from Day One of training camp, and has earned about 16 minutes of ice time per night -- not to mention power-play time -- on one of the best teams in the NHL.

Davis Drewiske, same division, same position. This undrafted King leads his blue line in plus/minus, turns 25 next week, and has already been rewarded contractually for his fine start this season, also is averaging 16 minutes per game.

Beyond those two, you have players like James Wright (No. 117 by Tampa Bay in 2008), Jamie Benn (No. 129 by Dallas in 2007), Tom Wandell (No. 146 by Dallas in 2005), Buffalo's Tim Kennedy (No. 181 by Washington in 2005) and Rangers free-agent grab Matt Gilroy who have been able to round out this high-end freshman class with significant role play.

Do any of them have a chance at the Calder? Probably not.

Since 2000, the only non-first round picks to win the award are goaltenders -- Steve Mason, Andrew Raycroft, and the aforementioned Nabokov. Zetterberg, however, was a runner-up in 2003.

But do they have a future?

Based on the early returns, absolutely!

Quick hits -- The toughest challenge we seem to face in our business right now is providing an accurate assessment of where teams are likely headed. Who could possibly have these answers?

Here's my five toughest teams to read:

Buffalo -- For all the hype about Ryan Miller, and their improved defensive play, the fact of the matter is their high-end players are nowhere close to being consistent threats, and until they are, expect the Sabres to be in a dogfight for a playoff spot like all the rest.

Rangers -- Can you imagine where this team would be without Marian Gaborik? I'm still not sure they're going to be much -- if at all -- better than a year ago.

San Jose -- Yes, they lead the League, but did you notice what they were guilty of -- TWICE -- last week? Coughing up two-goal leads -- first to Dallas, then to Chicago!

Dallas -- In September, I didn't like them at all. In October it started to change. And now it's hard to overlook Brad Richards and recent wins against San Jose and Detroit. But ...

Anaheim -- Granted they seem to be an easier read right now, as in we seem to know which direction they are going. But I still think they are capable of so much more. Will they get it all together in time? Sounds crazy to say in mid-November, but the Ducks are already a long way out.

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