When teams gather this weekend in Columbus, Ohio for the NHL Entry Draft, they’ll come with laptops and folders crammed with statistical data and biographical information on more than a thousand amateur players from Chilliwack to Chelyabinsk.
And as Friday drags into Saturday, as the draft numbers grow higher and scouts dig deeper through their copious files, each team will walk away hoping they selected at least one diamond in the rough in the later rounds.
And it sure wouldn’t be the first time.
Despite all the hype surrounding first-round picks – those who have succeeded (Sidney Crosby) and those who haven’t (Alexandre Daigle) - some of the NHL’s top players have tumbled to the late rounds.
The reason? The inexact science of drafting 18-year-olds and trying to project how they will mature physically and mentally three, four or five years into the future.
According to Scott Luce, the Panthers’ director of scouting, what you’re drafting “is not necessarily what you’re getting four or five years down the road.”
Panther GM and coach Jacques Martin added; “When you draft these kids they’re only 18. They still have two years of eligibility or they go to college.”
That’s why for Martin, Luce and the Panthers, the players they choose in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds of this weekend’s draft will be every bit as important as the player they chose first.
If you need any proof, consider the Red Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Datsyuk was selected in the sixth round of the 1998 Draft with the 171st overall selection while Zetterberg was taken in the seventh round of the ’99 Draft with the 210th pick.
All the two did this year was combine to score 60 goals.
And former Panther Pavel Bure was drafted 113th overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 1989 Draft.
Doug Gilmour, who played 1,474 games and scored 450 goals, was taken in the seventh round with the 134th pick of the ’82 Draft. Luc Robitaille, who scored 668 goals, was chosen in the ninth round (171st pick) of the 1984 Draft while the Senators’ Daniel Alfredsson lasted into the sixth round (133rd overall) of the ‘94 Draft.
Not all these late-round surprises have to be superstars. Consider Kim Johnsson, a serviceable defenseman who played 76 games this season with the Wild. Johnsson was the last player (286th) taken in the ’94 Draft.
There’s plenty of diamonds in the rough out there. The trick this weekend will be finding them.