Recap Of The Last 20 Years Of The NHL Entry Draft

Photo: @Capitals

In our latest post to prepare you for next week’s draft, NoVa Caps examines the NHL entry drafts of the current millennium, gives a short summary of each year and a tag line, many times based on who the top pick was expected to be. 

The scope of this piece is limited to drafts after 2000, although a great tag line could have been done for the 1999 draft: “Trades for Swedish Twins”, as the draft was best known for the Vancouver Canucks acquiring the second and third overall picks and using them to draft the Sedin twins.

2000 – Unstable Rock on the Island, Heat in Atlanta, and Many Busts

In this draft, the Islanders drafted goalie Rick Di Pietro with the first pick overall, passing up forwards Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik. The Isles expected Di Pietro to be their franchise goaltender and signed him to a super long contract, but he could not stay healthy. Di Pietro was clearly not the rock on which to build a franchise.

Dany Heatley, drafted at #2, was great for a while but declined from a 39 goal a year scorer in 2009-10 to goal totals in the 20’s range the next two years to just 11 in 2013-14.  Heatley played just six NHL games in 2014-15 and that was the end of his NHL career.

The draft was relatively shallow with regards to talent, with many first round busts, especially in the middle of the round. Eight players drafted in Round 1 played less than 80 games. One additional first rounder never played in NHL.

It turns out the best goalie who came out of the draft was Henrik Lundqvist, who was chosen in the seventh round. The player in that draft who played the most games was a late first rounder named Justin Williams who was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers.

2001 – Ilya’s Coming

This draft could be described by the song “Eli’s Coming”, a song made famous in the 1960’s by a group called “Three Dog Night”.  The song was about a guy named Eli, who tended to break the hearts of girls.

The top prospect in that 2001 draft was Ilya Kovalchuk, whose first name was the Russian form of Elias, of which Eli could be used as a short form. He ultimately did break hearts, first of Atlanta Thrashers fans, since he did not sign a contract extension in 2010 with them.
He was then traded to the New Jersey Devils, and broke the hearts of Devils fans when he bolted from New Jersey for the KHL after the 2012-13 season. He returned to the NHL for the 2019-20 season.

Jason Spezza, who was drafted with the second overall pick, also had a good career, as did Mikko Koivu, who the Minnesota Wild drafted with the sixth pick.  Overall, this was another relatively shallow draft which included several first round busts.

2002 – Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, and Injuries Upon Injuries

With the top pick being Rick Nash, whose surname means “living by the ash tree”, and the fact that so many first rounders drafted that year had careers that ended prematurely due to injury, prompted the “ashes to ashes” title.

Nash was the most productive player in the draft, from the goal scoring standpoint, but his career ended after the 2017-18 season, before his 34th birthday, due to concussions.

Many other early picks in the draft, including Joni Pitkanen, Ray Whitney, and Jeffrey Lupul, had promising careers derailed by injuries.  In this draft, the last player drafted, Jonathan Ericsson, was still active in the NHL after many of the first rounders were gone.

The draft was also the draft where the two most productive forwards after Nash were two guys named Alexander, born just two days apart, Alexander Steen and Alexander Semin. The former is still active in the NHL. This was a year where the St Louis Blues had no first round picks but when they won their Stanley Cup in 2019, they had two first rounders from that draft on their roster, Steen and Jay Bouwmeester, both of whom were acquired in trades. The best player selected in the draft was a second round pick, defenseman Duncan Keith.

2003 – A Flurry of Talent had Flowered

This draft was a relatively deep draft and one where the Pittsburgh Penguins chose their long time goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury.  This was the draft where the Florida Panthers kept trying to select a promising forward from Moscow, Russia, who had been born just two days later than the age cutoff; that is, a player had to be born before September 15, 1985 to be eligible for selection.

Numerous future stars were drafted in the first round and a fair number in the second round, too. It was a great first round for both the Philadelphia Flyers and the Anaheim Ducks, each of whom drafted cornerstone players for their future teams. The Flyers drafted Jeff Carter and Mike Richards and the Ducks drafted Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.

It was an embarrassment for the New York Rangers, who drafted Hugh Jessiman. He was the last player from his draft class to make his NHL debut and ultimately played the least number of games of all the draftees of that first round, playing in just two games and they were for the Florida Panthers.

2004 – The Russians Are Coming and They are Great

In this draft, two future generational players from Russia were available, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Malkin. The former, a winger, was more hyped than the latter, who was a center.

Ovechkin was expected to be a generational player, on the order of a Wayne Gretzky or a Mario Lemieux and was tagged as “Alexander the Great” even before he had played a single game.

But the pickings were slim after the first two picks. The third overall pick, a defenseman named Cam Barker, was out of the NHL after the 2012-13 season. Time proved that none of the forwards drafted after Ovechkin or Malkin had production anywhere close to either of them.  The most notable defenseman selected in that draft was Mike Green who was selected late in the first round.

2005 – Snake Bit at the Crossroads

This was the draft of Sidney Crosby, a generational player, was available. He was far and away the best player in a somewhat shallow draft.

The second best player was Anze Kopitar, who the Los Angeles Kings drafted with the 11th pick. Bobby Ryan, whom the Anaheim Ducks drafted with the second pick, was also a very productive player.

This draft was an embarrassment for the Washington Capitals, who squandered opportunity to add players as part of their rebuild, as they drafted two defensemen in the first round, Sasha Pokulok and Joe Finley, the former who never made it to the NHL and the latter who played just 21 NHL games, none with Washington.

The Caps later acquired two of the first rounders chosen in that draft, forward T.J. Oshie and defenseman Matt Niskanen, both who were members of their Stanley Cup winning team in 2018.

This was a year where the draft order was in “snake” format, with the team having the last pick of the first round getting the first pick of the second round and so on. The rules of the draft selection order would definitely anger any fans of the Washington Capitals or Florida Panthers, convincing them the rules were rigged in favor of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Bruins picked up two important players known for playing physical and scoring goals, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic.

2006 – Singing the Blues on Missed Centers

2006 was a draft where many good forwards, especially at center, were available along with one defenseman, Erik Johnson.

The St Louis Blues, who drafted first that year, drafted Johnson. Due to an injury, Johnson did not live up to initial hype and was eventually traded.  The Blues would have likely been better off drafting one of the centers who was available.

Jordan Staal, the first center chosen, was probably not the best choice.  Jonathan Toews or Nicklas Backstrom, picked right after Staal, would have been better choices, as would Claude Giroux, who was drafted towards the end of the first round.

The first half of the first round produced many strong players but there were several busts selected in the latter portion of that round, too. In a redraft, Johnson would likely have gone early in the first round but not first overall. The worst thing about the draft for Blues fans was the fact that Toews helped lead the Blackhawks to multiple Stanley Cups while the Blues still struggled.

2005-06: The NHL Season That Encouraged Tanking

2007 – Chicago Raises Kane

This was the draft where Patrick Kane was perceived to be the best player available and events proved that assessment correct. The pick (along with the pick of Jonathan Toews, the prior year) became the cornerstones of the Chicago Blackhawks offense and their future Stanley Cup wins.

The fact that Chicago won that draft lottery instead of the Philadelphia Flyers, who had finished with the worst record in the NHL in 2006-07, would really make a Flyers fan cry.

There were other good forwards available in that draft, but none as good as Kane. James Van Riemsdyk, Kyle Turris, Logan Couture, Max Pacioretty, and David Perron were all available.

Perron was like that “bad penny” for the St Louis Blues in the sense that he would always return. The Blues traded him, but he returned to them in free agency. Then the Blues exposed him to the expansion draft where the Vegas Knights selected him, but after a season, he returned to the Blues in free agency. Perron’s true blue loyalty to the team that drafted him was rewarded with a Stanley Cup.

This was also the draft that proved NHL scouts are not very good at evaluating defensemen. The Canadiens picked two of the best defenseman in that draft, Ryan McDonagh in Round 1 and P.K Subban in Round 2, but neither are still with Montreal. Another good defenseman was Kevin Shattenkirk.

2008 – Ontario Blues and Elite Defensemen

It was back in 2001 (or thereabouts) when a quartet of Toronto hockey fathers, Steven Del Zotto, Chris Stamkos, Joe Pietrangelo, and Tommy Robertson, decided to put together their own summer league hockey team for their 11 year old sons, as they were tired of the fact that all the summer hockey programs in Toronto were just interested in making money.

Hence, they started their own program, with an interest of being fun for the kids and to foster competition. In addition to including their own kids, they recruited a local superstar from that age group named John Tavares. The Ontario Blues team was founded, with the team wearing the blue note logo of the St Louis Blues.

As it turns out, several members of that Blues’ team were drafted in the 2008 draft, to include Steven Stamkos, who was chosen with the first pick overall.  Other members of that Blues team drafted in the first round in 2008 included Alex Pietrangelo, Cody Hodgson, and Michael Del Zotto.

The goalie, Michael Hutchinson, was drafted in the third round. Tavares was drafted with the first pick the following year.  The Ontario Blues were probably a great example of synergy in that they amplified each other’s talents.

Pietrangelo, an Ontario Blue, ended up becoming a member of the St Louis Blues, and would still wear the blue note. Pietrangelo was not the only elite defenseman drafted in that draft. Other defensemen included Drew Doughty, John Carlson, and Erik Karlsson.  Thus, 2008 was the year of the Ontario Blues and elite defensemen.

2009 – A Heathen and a Heath Man and Later Blues

The New York Islanders would get the first pick and the Tampa Bay Lightning would get the second pick, as both teams had bottomed out. The Islanders drafted John Tavares, whose last name means “heathen” while the Lightning drafted defenseman Victor Hedman, whose last name means “heath man”.

Tavares and Hedman both lived up to expectations. There were many other solid picks in the early part of the first round, including Matt Duchene, Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn, Oliver Ekman-Larsen, and Nazem Kadri.

The Colorado Avalanche drafted Matt Duchene (Round 1) and Ryan O’Reilly (Round 2). Both developed into great offensive players, but neither is still with the Avalanche.

The St Louis Blues drafted David Lindblad, who never played a single game for the Blues and was traded the following year to Ottawa for one of their first round picks in the 2010 Draft.  Lindblad ultimately was the only player the Blues drafted that year who played in the NHL.

It was a relatively productive draft for the Washington Capitals, who ended up with three players who’ve carved out decent NHL careers: Marcus Johansson, Dmitry Orlov, and Cody Eakin.

One notable feature of this draft was that seven Swedish players were drafted in the first round, the most notable being Victor Hedman, Oliver Ekman-Larsen, and Marcus Johansson.

Evaluation of Forwards from 2009 Draft

2010 – Taylor and Tyler and Late Arriving Russians

The top two prospects that year were Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. As expected, they were the first two drafted, with Edmonton drafting Hall and Boston drafting Sequin. Boston had the #2 because Toronto had earlier traded the selection in the Phil Kessel deal.

It was a year that made scouts wonder what was in the water in May of 1992, since several future stars turned out to be born that month (Brett Connolly, Jeff Skinner, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Mark Stone).

It was a year that Russian players fell to a lower position, since scouts were paranoid that they might not want to leave Russia and continue to play in the KHL. Thus, Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov were drafted later than their talent would warrant.

The Blues waited until the 2012-13 season for Tarasenko while the Caps had to wait even longer for Kuznetsov, since he did not come over until the tail end of the 2013-14 season. It was like waiting for Godot.

The top two picks in this draft were both ultimately traded away from their original teams – by the same person, Peter Chiraelli, who had held the posts of General Manager for both the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers at different points.

Evaluation of Forwards from 2010 Draft

2011 —  Top Heavy Nuge and a Second Round Russian Gem

This draft was perceived as very top heavy, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins the consensus #1 pick and a handful of other players considered as good prospects, including Gabriel Landeskog, Adam Larsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sean Couturier, and Doug Hamilton.

Once again, the Edmonton Oilers won the lottery for the first pick overall. The pickings after pick #20 were perceived to be comparatively slim. So what happens? The most productive player from that draft, in both goals, assists, and total points, was Nikita Kucherov, who was chosen during the second round and had not even made the Top 30 picks in any of the mock drafts.

Kucherov performed better in his NHL career than Vladislav Namestikov, whom Tampa Bay had chosen with their first pick. Brandan Saad, who Chicago chose in the second round was also better than their first round pick and has as many career goals as Nugent-Hopkins. That was a draft that featured plenty of first round busts after the tenth pick overall.

2012 – Fail With Nail and Other Failures

Prior to the draft, the slogan for tanking teams was “Fail for Nail”, as Nail Yakupov was considered the consensus #1 pick. He had a decent rookie year but could not recapture his form since then.

Another top prospect was his junior team teammate, Alex Galchenyuk. Both Yakupov and Galchenyuk were selected early, as expected, but the teams drafting at positions 4 through 10 chose defenseman, causing the next best offensive prospect, Filip Forsberg, to drop to #11 and unexpectedly, ending up with the Washington Capitals.

The draft was known for multiple failures in drafting and developing players on multiple fronts. Montreal could not settle whether Galchenyuk should be a center or a winger and eventually traded him. He was unable to find a good role with any of his subsequent teams.

The Caps traded Forsberg in one of their worst trades in recent memory.  They also messed up the development of Tom Wilson, using him as a fourth line enforcer during the early part of his career.

Notable defensemen drafted that year included Morgan Rielly, Jacob Trouba, Matt Dumba, and Hampus Lindholm, who were drafted during that early run of defensemen.

Evaluation of Forwards Selected in 2012 Draft

2013 – Fathers and Sons, Common Hometowns and Win With MacKinnon

Prior to this draft, the slogan for tanking teams was “No Winnin’ for MacKinnon”, although many observers ranked defenseman Seth Jones as the best player available. He was ultimately chosen with the fourth overall pick.

The theme of this draft could be “Fathers and Sons and Other Connections”. This was a draft where several good players were available at the front of the draft who had connections to other players, either genetically or from the same home town.

Nathan MacKinnon was from Sidney Crosby’s home town. Alexander Barkov was the son of a former Russian Superleague player turned coach and had some similarities to Alex Ovechkin, even if he was born and raised in Finland.

Seth Jones was son of an NBA player. Elias Lindholm and Andre Burakovsky, drafted later in round, were sons of former NHL players from Sweden. Valeri Nichushkin was from the same home town as Evgeny Kuznetsov and, like Kuznetsov and another former NHLer player, Alexander Semin, learned hockey at the hockey school in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

Evaluation of Forwards Selected in 2013 Draft

2014 – Nummer Drei ist Der Best and Some Pasta

This was a draft where the player career outcomes did not conform to the pre-draft rankings at all.  Prior to the draft, the cry of tanking teams was “be bad for Ekblad” in honor of defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who was ultimately chosen first.

The best player in the draft, as far as NHL points earned, was the player drafted at #3 overall, Leon Draisaitl. The best goal scorer in the draft was David Pasternak, who was drafted at slot #25, proving once again why the Boston Bruins seem to stay near the top of the league – by drafting better than most other teams and leaving the teams who drafted prior to Boston wondering how they missed him.

There were some players chosen prior to Pasternak who could be considered busts. But then there were other players chosen in that round who are proving to be good players, including William Nylander, Nicholaj Ehlers and Jakub Vrana.

Detroit drafted Dylan Larkin after other teams missed him and in his early career, showed Detroit’s great scouting ability, before the team fell apart.  The best of the later round picks was Braydon Point, without question.

2015 – Tank to the Bottom for McDavid

This was the draft of the much anticipated player, Connor McDavid, who was reputedly the best prospect since Sidney Crosby.  The Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes waged a battle for the bottom, as both teams barely topped 50 points. But due to the rules that called for a lottery, neither ended up with the first pick overall. Instead, the Edmonton Oilers, with the third worst record, drafted first and chose McDavid.

Buffalo drafted Jack Eichel, who was the consensus second-best player available, as their consolation prize. Arizona drafted Dylan Strome who was nowhere near as good a player drafted after him, Mitch Marner.

The draft was a relatively deep draft where all players selected in the first round made it to the NHL, and some very good players were found in the second round. Boston had drafted three players midway through the first round, but two of them were comparative busts, who played six games or less in the NHL, while the other one was Jacob DeBrusk who is currently a regular in their lineup. That proved that even Boston who had gotten one of the best players in the prior year’s draft with a late first round pick isn’t always perfect.

2016 – Auston from the Desert and the St Louis Junior Blues

Similar to the 2004 draft, there was a consensus #1 pick who had missed the age cutoff of the prior year’s draft by two days. Back in 2004, it was Alexander Ovechkin. This year, it was Auston Matthews, a center from the Phoenix, Arizona region.  Other hyped prospects included Finnish forwards, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi.

This was also the first year that the first three picks would be chosen in the lottery, as a means to discourage the blatant tanking for Connor Mc David that had happened the prior year. As it turned out, Toronto, the team who finished last overall, won the lottery and could choose Matthews, but Winnipeg moved up significantly.

The first round that year featured numerous prospects from the St Louis area, who had played in their Junior Blues program, most notably Matthew Tkachuk. That was a draft where more first round players had connections to the St Louis area than were born in Canada.

Jakub Chychrun, a defenseman, was actually a close friend of Logan Brown, one of the St Louis area players, as their fathers had played in the NHL together.  The first round featured numerous sons of NHL players, including Tkachuk, Chychrun, Brown, Alexander Nylander, and Kieffer Bellows.

Matthews proved to live up to the hype. Laine did well but Puljujarvi has disappointed. Tkachuk also appears to be having a great NHL career although his fellow junior Blues have struggled.

2017 – Makar of Karma

The results of the new anti-tanking rules were more obvious this year when New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Dallas got the first three picks to leapfrog the Colorado Avalanche, who were truly awful during 2016-17.

But it appeared the Hockey Gods were looking out for the Colorado Avalanche and the Vancouver Canucks after all.  Colorado ended up with defenseman, Cale Makar, with the fourth pick, who is likely the best player from that draft and would likely go first in a redraft, although he did not play in the NHL right away but went to play hockey in college.

Vancouver ended up with Elias Petersson with the fifth pick, who is the leading goal scorer among drafted players so far and who is close to passing the overall productivity of the player drafted at #1 overall, Nico Hischier.

The Flyers ended up with Nolan Patrick, who missed the 2019-20 season due to migraine issues. Dallas ended up with defenseman Miro Heiskanen, who has played one more season than Makar and is comparable in goal scoring although Makar has compiled assists at a higher rate.

This draft class is a relatively shallow class as many of the first rounders have either not appeared in the NHL or have appeared in only a token number of games.

2018 – Free Falling

This was the year that the cry of tanking teams was “Free fallin’ for Dahlin” even if defenseman Rasmus Dahlin’s last name has the accent on the second syllable.  Buffalo, who missed out on Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, finally won a lottery and chose him.

The Carolina Hurricanes won the second slot and drafted Andrei Svechnikov. Brady Tkachuk, drafted at fourth overall, has proven to be one of the best players in the draft in spite of the fact that many pundits thought his pre-draft ranking was only due to his family connections (brother Matthew and father Keith). Oftentimes, younger brothers of established NHL stars do not live up to their elder sibling’s hype.

It is too soon to evaluate this draft as only four players have played in at least 100 NHL games so far. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who Montreal drafted at third overall, has also played in 100 games. Quinn Hughes, whose rookie year was 2019-10 and was drafted at seventh overall, appears to be the best player, outside of the top four picks and may even prove to be better.

2019 – Lose For Hughes But Give Due to the Elder Brother

This was the year that the cry of tanking teams was “Lose for Hughes” as center Jack Hughes was the consensus #1 pick overall.

But as it turned out, his older brother, Quinn, a defenseman drafted the prior year, had a much better rookie year and was a finalist for the running for the Calder Trophy. It is too soon to evaluate this draft as only the top three picks in that draft have played more than 60 NHL games and no player has more than 25 NHL points so far.

Those who argue for raising the minimum draft age to 19 would have a good case to make due to the relatively low impact that the players drafted in 2019 had during the 2019-20 season.

2020 – Ashes to Ashes

The consensus number one pick is Alexis LeFreniere. Fun fact, his last name means “from the Ash grove” which is similar to the meaning of the surname “Nash” which was the last name of Rick Nash, the first pick of the 2002 draft. Does that mean the top pick in the 2022 draft will have the last name of Lamm or some other name that refers to sheep, just to come full cycle.

Related Reading
Washington Capitals Draft Class Grades
A Retrospective On The Last Decade of Draft Picks by the Washington Capitals
Draft Picks of the Caps and Blues Part 1
Draft Pick of the Caps and Blues Part 2
21st Century Capitals — Draft Picks Since 2000

by Diane Doyle





About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
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