Nothing can excite a fan-base at this time of year like having a top-two or -three draft pick and knowing several future franchise players will be ripe for the picking to help reverse a franchise’s fortunes.
Nobody knows this more than Penguins fans, who watched their team pluck four such players between 2003-06 in goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
(1st overall, ’03) and centers Evgeni Malkin
(2nd overall, ’04), Sidney Crosby
(1st overall, ’05) and Jordan Staal
(2nd overall, ’06).
Superstars such as Fleury, Malkin, Crosby and Staal go a long way to helping turn around struggling franchises, but for a team to get all the way over the hump to contender status – and then stay there – scouting departments must be able to unearth talent from all seven rounds of the draft to accumulate the assets necessary to build a championship contender.
Sure, having the “Big Four” was a major reason the Penguins successfully navigated their way through the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs and took home the prestigious silver chalice, but that celebratory parade down Boulevard of the Allies would not have taken place without key contributions from a trio of late round selections.
When the Detroit Red Wings were doing a decent job containing the likes of Crosby and Malkin in the Final, high-energy forwards Maxime Talbot (8th round, 2002) and Tyler Kennedy
(4th round, 2004) stepped up in Games 6 and 7 to score gigantic goals. Kennedy notched the game-winner in the pivotal Game 6 which knotted the series at 3-3, while Talbot (not that anyone will ever soon forget) tallied both Pittsburgh goals in the decisive Game 7 victory at Joe Louis Arena.
Kennedy and Talbot are able to be remembered as Cup Final heroes is due in large part to the alertness of former Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi (5th round, 1998) in the waning seconds of Game 6.
With Fleury out of position after making a save, Scuderi instinctively dove into the crease and made a pair of saves on Detroit’s Johan Franzen to preserve the Penguins’ 2-1 lead during the final minute of regulation.
Further proving the case that quality players can be found in any round, the Penguins’ championship roster had the following late-round steals originally drafted by others teams: Matt Cooke
(Vancouver; ’97, 144th overall), Craig Adams
(Hartford; ’96, 223rd overall), Miroslav Satan (Edmonton; ’93, 111th overall) and Hal Gill (Boston; ’93, 207th overall).
This year’s Stanley Cup champion, the Chicago Blackhawks, also fielded a team loaded with late-round success stories.
Forwards Patrick Sharp (Philadelphia; 95th overall, ’01) and Dustin Byfuglien (Chicago; 245th overall, ’03) tied for the team goal-scoring lead with 11 markers, while half of the blue line was comprised of late-rounders who developed into solid performers including Brian Campbell (Buffalo; 156th overall, ’97), Brent Sopel (Vancouver; 144th overall, ’95) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (Chicago; 108th overall, ’05).
Other late-round sensations to slip through the cracks and raise the Cup with the Blackhawks were forwards Troy Brouwer (Chicago; 214th overall, ’04), Adam Burish (Chicago; 282nd overall, ’02) and Kris Versteeg (Boston; 134th overall, ’04).
Chicago was far from the only team to watch later-round draft picks star during the ’10 postseason.
St. Louis Blues netminder Jaroslav Halak, whose play between the pipes for Montreal this past postseason was among the chief reasons the storybook Habs were able to survive seven-game series with the Washington Capitals and Penguins during the first two rounds, was the 271st pick of the ’03 draft. Halak was the 25th goaltender taken in ’03, but only Fleury has outperformed him to this point.
|Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy scored a pair of huge goals in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final to help earn Pittsburgh a championship. Credit - Getty Images |
San Jose center Joe Pavelski, whose back the Sharks leaned on through the first two rounds, is also an ’03 alum. A member of Team USA’s silver medalist squad at the 2010 Olympics, Pavelski, the eighth pick of the seventh round and the 205th overall selection, led the Sharks in goals (9) and points (17).
Vancouver stayed in the postseason dance for 12 games, but that was just long enough for former Penguins forward and 1998 5th round (San Jose; 145th overall) selection Mikael Samuelsson to make his mark with eight goals and 15 points while skating on the Canucks’ top line alongside Henrik and Daniel Sedin following Alexandre Burrows’ struggles to find the back of the net.
Halak, Pavelski and Samuelsson are current examples of how teams can strike it rich in the latter stages of the draft, but hockey history is loaded with examples of players who out-produced their overall draft slot.
A couple of recent Hall of Fame inductees who experienced long waits to hear their names called on draft day were Luc Robitaille (Los Angeles; 171st overall) and Brett Hull (Calgary; 117th overall) in 1984. Hull (741 goals) and Robitaille (668) finished their careers ranked 1st and 3rd among goals scorers from the ’84 draft, with Penguins owner Mario Lemieux (690) separating the two.
While the names are not nearly as recognizable and the journey might take a bit longer, it’s easy to see how late-round draft picks are capable of making an impact on the NHL scene. Teams that have the greatest success in the later rounds are the ones who have the most prolonged success. Keep this in mind as the Penguins continue stockpiling talent into their system late into the day on June 26.