Best NHL Draft Steals
You don't always have to go in the first, second, or even third round to be successful. Here are the ten best NHL draft steals in history.
We all know the dynamos that went early in the first round in NHL entry drafts throughout history. Bonafide superstars that changed the game forever with names that include Mario Lemieux, Mike Modano, Steve Yzerman, Paul Coffey, Jaromir Jagr, Ray Bourque, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, etc. These players were pegged to be game-changing talents and lived up to the bill and then some.
But what about the players that were not as popular with the scouts? Not all franchise players were selected in the first round. Shockingly, some fell to the last few rounds before being picked. They changed the game all the same, just with a bigger chip on their shoulders. These are the best NHL draft steals in history, and have fans still scratching their heads as to how they weren't picked earlier.
Henrik "The King" Lundqvist has been the face of the New York Rangers for the last decade and a half. The star goaltender has recorded 11 30-win seasons and has a Vezina Trophy under his belt. He's led the Rangers to a Stanley Cups Finals appearance and has regularly carried them through the playoffs.
It is hard to imagine Lundqvist going lower than the top-five in the draft, but that's just what happened. The Swede went 205th overall in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL entry draft. It's even more shocking to think that Rick DiPietro went first overall in the same draft, creating A Tale of Two Cities-like situation in New York. After making his debut in 2005, he never looked back and has been one of the best goalies to ever play.
Is it a Henrik thing? Do general managers not like the name? Fellow Swede Henrik Zetterberg joins Lundqvist as one of the biggest NHL draft steals named Henrik. The lifelong Detroit Red Wing was actually picked 210th, five spots after Lundqvist in the 1999 draft. The current Detroit captain has played 15 glorious seasons in the NHL, with 337 goals and 623 assists for 960 points and has a Conn Smythe in his trophy case to go with his Stanley Cup. There has been speculation about when Zetterberg will retire, but as a hockey fan, I hope that day is as far away as it can be.
Maybe it's just a Swedish thing? Nicklas Lidstrom was taken 53rd overall in the third round, it's not as bad as his countrymen before him, but it was still far too late. What's truly remarkable about Lidstrom, is that the Swedish defenseman won his first Norris at age 31, then went on to win five more for third most all-time. He also has four Stanley Cups, 1,142 career points, and a Conn Smythe. One of the greatest defenseman to ever lace em up, Lidstrom not going in the first round is a travesty, but I'm sure it doesn't bother him or Red Wings fans too much.
Finally, a non-Swede is one of the biggest NHL draft steals. Pekka Rinne, the proud Finn, was drafted 258th overall in the eighth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Nashville Predators. He has three 40-win seasons to his name and has been the backbone for Nashville since 2008.
First in Predators team history in wins (311), shutouts (51), and save percentage (.919), Rinne has been everything general manager David Poile could have hoped for. He is a big reason for the success of the team, leading to why the Predators has some of the NHL's best fans, and why "Smashville" has become a hotspot for hockey.
Luc Robitaille won the Calder Trophy his rookie year and immediately let the league know he would be one of the NHL draft steals to be remembered. The game's top-scoring left winger had eight seasons with at least 40 goals, and 11 with at least 30, not bad for a guy taken in the ninth round (171st overall).
Wayne Gretzky takes the lion's share of credit when it comes to bringing hockey to California, but Robitaille may have contributed more. With 14 of his 19 playing years in Los Angeles, Robitaille definitely left a sizable footprint in California's hockey history.
The Swedes just aren't getting any respect from NHL scouts. Daniel Alfredsson was taken in the sixth round, 133rd overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 1994 entry draft. Eighteen seasons later, he had 1,108 career points and recently got his jersey number retired by the Ottawa organization where he made his mark. Keep disrespecting the Swedes, and they'll keep making you pay.
Kudos to the Calgary Flames for selecting the diamond in the rough that was Brett Hull. However, they decided to incinerate that luck by dealing him to the St. Louis Blues in what is one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. Hull had five seasons with at least 50 goals, with three reaching the 70s, and one hitting 86 (the third highest ever in one season).
He finished with 741 goals, fourth all-time, and 1,319 points. It's amazing how Hull dropped to the sixth round, 117th overall with the offensive ability that he possessed. When you think about NHL draft steals, you don't envision one of the league's most prolific scorers to be included.
The new definition of "two-way" center in the NHL dictionary, Pavel Datsyuk was filthy. One of the most skilled players with the puck, his hands were made of satin and his hockey IQ was off the charts. Selected 171st overall, the Red Wings proved they really know what they're doing when it comes to drafting talent.
He won three straight Selke awards, four straight Lady Byng awards, and had some of the most amazing shootout goals you'll ever see. The trio of Zetterberg, Lidstrom, and Datsyuk were at the forefront of the Red Wings dynasty and kept the team competitive after numerous stars retired in the late 90s and early 2000s. All three share the honor of being a part of the biggest steals in hockey history.
It's hard to imagine the league's third-leading scorer of all-time being one of most famous NHL draft steals, but here we are. Mark Messier was selected in the third round by the Edmonton Oilers and has since become one of the most successful and iconic players ever. Number 11 was a part of some of the greatest teams to ever win the Stanley Cup alongside other legends like Wayne Gretzky, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, and Jari Kurri. He then went on and willed the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years (and the only one since).
While the third round isn't too late, considering Messier's career and what he accomplished, even if he was picked second overall he would have made this list. Hopefully, his career in hockey is not over. I am crossing my fingers he becomes head coach of the Rangers, as he would instill his unmatched competitiveness and leadership to a team that desperately needs both.
The seventh round or later seems to be the best place to acquire franchise talent after the first round. Doug Gilmour was picked 134th overall by the St. Louis Blues who then traded him to the Calgary Flames. In true Flames fashion, the talented forward was then dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs. at age 28.
Gilmour went on to have his best seasons back-to-back in Toronto, recording 127 and 113 points respectively. His 1,414 points place him 19th all-time in NHL history. Needless to say, I think every franchise that moved him sorely regretted it.
The most unorthodox goaltender to ever play the game, Dominik Hasek is obviously one of the best NHL draft steals. He was drafted in the tenth round and is arguably the greatest goaltender to ever play. The six-time Vezina Trophy winner (most ever under the current voting rules), is also the only goaltender to win the Hart Trophy twice.
The Czech netminder's win total doesn't jump out at you, most likely due to his debut coming at age 25. But make no mistake, he is in a class all his own. His .922 save percentage is still the best for goaltenders who have played more than 200 games and his 81 shutouts are sixth all-time. "The Dominator" more than earned his nickname.