The Last Men Skating: A Look At Players Who Have Stood the Test of NHL Time

NHL

It is always a momentous occasion when a player gets drafted into the NHL, and event marked every year with coverage of the NHL Entry Draft, which includes the expected anticipation of which player will be drafted first overall. As the years pass, however, players grow old and every player from the draft class that was fortunate enough to reach the NHL retires. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle looks at a handful of players remaining from drafts held at the start of the 21st Century and just before.

1996 Draft – There remains just one player from the 1996 NHL Entry Draft who played in the NHL during the 2019-20 season: defenseman Zdeno Chara, who was selected by the New York Islanders in the third-round with the 56th overall pick. While the Islanders drafted Chara, and he also completed a stint with the Ottawa Senators, he is best known as a member of the Boston Bruins for 14 seasons, serving as captain during the team’s 2011 Stanley Cup run. After 14 years in Boston, Chara signed a contract with the Washington Capitals just prior to the start of the 2020-21 season. The last first-round pick to play in the NHL from the 1996 draft was Dainius Zubrus, who retired after the 2015-16 season. The last second-round pick, Matt Cullen, retired after the 2018-19 season.

1997 Draft – Only two players from the 1997 NHL Entry Draft were still active at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, who are expected to play in 2020-21. Both players spent most of their careers with the San Jose Sharks and were both closely identified with the franchise. Thornton was originally drafted by the Boston Bruins, who eventually traded him to the Sharks, while Marleau was originally drafted by San Jose. Marleau was a constant in the Sharks’ lineup until he left after the 2016-17 season to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs; Marleau has since returned to the Sharks for the 2020-21 campaign, after several stops since leaving Toronto. Thornton signed a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2020-21 season in free agency.

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1998 Draft – No players drafted in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft are active in the NHL. The last three remaining draftees last played in the NHL during the 2017-18 season, including Mike Fisher (drafted in the second-round with the 44th pick by the Ottawa Senators), Francois Beauchemin (third-round, 75th overall), and Brian Gionta (third-round, 82nd overall). None of the first-round picks in 1998 played beyond the 2015-16 season, including Vincent Lecavalier, David Legwand, Brad Stuart, Alex Tanguay, and Scott Gomez.

1999 Draft – Just one player who signed from the 1999 NHL Entry Draft played in the NHL during the 2019-20 season, goaltender Ryan Miller (fifth-round, 138th overall). Fellow goaltender Craig Anderson was drafted but did not sign. Miller re-signed with the Anaheim Ducks prior to the start of the 2020-21 season. The last position player to play from the draft was Derek MacKenzie, who played just one game in 2018-19.  Five players retired after the 2017-18 season: Daniel Sedin (Round 1 – Pick #2), Henrik Sedin (Round 1 – Pick #3), Chris Kelly (Round 3 – Pick #94), Henrik Zetterberg (Round 7 – Pick #210), and Radim Vrbata (Round 7 – Pick #212).

2000 Draft – Just four players from the 2000 NHL Entry Draft played in the NHL during the 2019-20 season. They included defenseman Ron Hainsey (first-round, 13th overall), forward Justin Williams (first-round, 28th overall pick), defenseman Deryk Engelland (sixth-round, 194th overall), and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (seventh-round, 205th overall). Williams announced his retirement almost immediately after the 2019-20 season ended, while Engelland announced his retirement in December. Hainsey signed a contract for the 2020-21 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. While Lundqvist signed a contract for the 2020-21 season with the Capitals, he is unable to play due to a heart condition.

Anthony J. Causi/New York Post

2001 Draft – Six players from the 2001 NHL Entry Draft played in the NHL during the 2019-20 season, including forward Ilya Kovalchuk (first pick overall), forward Jason Spezza (second pick overall), forward Mikko Koivu (sixth pick overall), defenseman Dan Hamhuis (12th pick overall), goaltender Craig Anderson (second-round, 73rd overall), and goaltender Mike Smith (fifth-round, 161st overall). Kovalchuk originally “retired” in 2013 to play in the Kontinental Hockey League, but returned to the NHL for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, before returning to the KHL for the remainder of its 2020-21 season. Hamhuis announced his retirement from hockey, while Anderson signed a Professional Tryout Offer with the Washington Capitals prior to training camp for 2020-21. (Note: Anderson originally was drafted in 1999 Draft, did not sign, and was redrafted in 2001.) Spezza, Koivu, and Smith, have all signed NHL contracts for the 2020-21 season.

2002 Draft – Nine players from the 2002 NHL Entry Draft played in the NHL during the 2019-20 season including defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (third pick overall), forward Alexander Steen (24th overall), defenseman Trevor Daley (43rd overall), defenseman Duncan Keith (54th overall), defenseman Johnny Boychuk (61st overall), forward Frans Nielson (87th overall), forward Valtteri Filppula (95th overall), goaltender Curtis McElhinney (176th overall), and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (291st overall). Bouwmeester had heart issues during the 2019-20 season and is currently an unrestricted free agent; he is expected to retire but that news is not official, and there has been talk of him working as a scout for the St. Louis Blues. Steen, the last remaining first-round pick, retired due to a serious back condition, despite having one year left on his contract; other first-rounders in Daley (will work in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ front office) and Boychuk (retired due to an eye injury suffered during the 2019-20 season) also announced their retirements. Keith, Nielsen, Filppula, and McElhinney are still under contract to NHL teams, although both Nielsen and Filppula both had subpar seasons, and Ericsson is currently an unrestricted free agent, though is likely finished in the NHL. Ericsson was the only player aside from eight others who were still playing in the NHL at the conclusion of last season that were selected in the draft.

Duncan Keith reaching elite career milestones this season | RSN

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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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