The Chicago Blackhawks are the latest team to prove that success in the NHL begins with a good day (or two) at the draft table.
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 teams in the Southeast Division on Draft Day.
Best first-round pick: Ilya Kovalchuk (2001) -- The Thrashers have made the playoffs just once since entering the NHL, but it would be hard to blame their struggles on Kovalchuk, who's turned into one of the most dynamic scorers in the NHL. At age 27, he's had six consecutive 40-goal seasons (including two 52-goal efforts) and surpassed the 300-goal mark this past season before being dealt to New Jersey. Barring injury, he figures to finish his career with well over 500 goals. 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. Garnett, a third-rounder who played 24 games when injuries decimated Atlanta's goaltending corps in 2005-06, is the best player in team history drafted in Rounds 2-4. Add up the games played for the Thrashers by every player taken in those three rounds -- including Garnett -- and you get a grand total of 114. Honorable mention: Ondrej Pavelec (2005)
Best later-round pick: Tobias Enstrom (2003) -- Enstrom, a small offensive defenseman from Sweden, didn't come to North America until 2007, but he's been an effective player in his three 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 three NHL seasons, and his 44 points in 2009-10 was a career best. 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 No. 1 in the 1999 Entry Draft. Stefan never had 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 there before retiring in 2007. Honorable mention: Luke Sellars (1999), Alex Bourret (2005)
CAROLINA HURRICANES/HARTFORD WHALERS
Ron Francis (Click image to enlarge)
Best first-round pick: Ron Francis (1981) -- "Ronnie Franchise" got his two Stanley Cup rings with Pittsburgh in the early 1990s, but he spent 16 of his 23 NHL seasons with the Whalers/Hurricanes franchise, piling up the points -- and goodwill -- along the way. Only Wayne Gretzky has more career assists than Francis, and only Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Mark Messier finished with more points. He's still with the 'Canes as an assistant coach. Honorable mention: Bobby Holik (1989), Chris Pronger (1993), Eric Staal (2003)
Best pick, rounds 2-4: Kevin Dineen (1982) -- Dineen, a third-round pick by Hartford, made an immediate impression by scoring 25 goals as a rookie, 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 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 today as a television analyst missed seeing one of the better players in NHL history. A fifth-round pick by the Whalers, he 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 the Island while continuing to serve as an effective No. 2 center. He wound up playing 1,258 games for six teams and putting up 408 goals and 898 points in 18 seasons. Honorable mention: Joe Reekie (1983), Manny Legace (1993)
Biggest disappointment: Jeff Heerema (1998) -- You don't expect to get a career minor-leaguer with the 11th pick in the Entry Draft, but that's what the Hurricanes got when they chose Heerema in 1998 after a 32-goal season for Sarnia of the OHL. Heerema spent two more seasons with Sarnia, then played seven seasons in the minor leagues, 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 three seasons in Europe. 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 years later and was instrumental in Florida's stunning run to the 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, where he remains today. Throughout his career he's been a productive top-pair defenseman -- though he's never put up the kind of offensive numbers some people 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, 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 and 23-40-63 for Columbus during the last two seasons, giving him 176 goals and 428 points in 621 NHL games. Honorable mention: Kevin Weekes (1993), Rhett Warrener (1994)
Best later-round pick: Filip Kuba (1995) -- Florida waited three years for Kuba, a Czech defenseman, to come to North America after drafting him in the eighth round. 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 before missing much of this past season with injuries. Honorable mention: Peter Worrell (1995), Jaroslav Spacek (1998)
Biggest disappointment: Denis Shvidki (1999) -- Florida took the Russian-born right wing 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 6 goals. 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 played there for five seasons. Honorable mention: Mike Brown (1997), Petr Taticek (2002)
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Vincent Lecavalier (Click image to enlarge)
Best first-round pick: Vincent Lecavalier (1998) -- He may not be the "Michael Jordan of hockey," as former Bolts owner Art Williams proclaimed when he took Lecavalier with the No. 1 pick in the Entry Draft, but Lecavalier has become one of the NHL's elite players. He's scored 24 or more goals for seven 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 30, 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 after taking Lecavalier, his teammate with Rimouski of the QMJHL. Richards, now with Dallas after a 2008 trade, is coming off a 24-goal, 91-point season with the Stars. He's had seven 20-goal seasons and has topped 70 points in five of his last seven seasons. He also won the Conn Smythe Trophy after scoring 26 points in 23 games during Tampa Bay's run to the 2004 Cup. Honorable mention: Aaron Gavey (1992), Shane Willis (1995) Best later-round pick: Pavel Kubina (1996) -- Tampa Bay took Kubina, a defenseman from the Czech Republic, in the seventh round, 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 Tampa Bay's Cup season of 2003-04. He signed with Toronto as a free agent in 2006, was dealt to Atlanta for 2009-10 and has remained a consistently productive player on the blue line. 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, left him at home in Russia for a couple of years, then brought him to North America in 2002 -- only to deal him to Columbus the following season. Svitov fared no better with Columbus, splitting time between the Jackets and their AHL team in Syracuse before returning to Russia in 2007. Honorable mention: Mario Larocque (1996), Nikita Alexeev (2000)
Alex Ovechkin (Getty Images)
Best first-round pick: Alex Ovechkin (2004) -- As good as the Caps thought Ovechkin might be when they picked him No. 1 five years ago, he's been better. Ovechkin is the most feared gunner in the NHL, having topped 50 goals in four of his five NHL seasons. He's also become a physical force who's more than willing to run over an opponent and brings a joy to the game that few players have ever matched. At 24, he's one of the faces of the NHL. 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, but had to wait three years 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 a decade in Washington, putting up four 20-goal seasons, four 50-assist seasons and five seasons in which he had 60 or more points. After scoring 81 points in 1995-96, injuries over the next three seasons 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 to NHL teams. The Capitals found one of the gems when they used an eighth-round pick to nab Bondra, a Ukraine-born Slovak who had starred in the Czech League. After scoring just 12 times as a rookie, Bondra began a streak of 14 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, 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. Volchkov never scored more than 11 goals in the minors and wound up playing only three games with the Capitals. He returned to Russia in 2000 and was out of hockey a year later. Honorable mention: Nolan Baumgartner (1994), Brad Church (1995)