New York Islanders
It is always a momentous occasion when a player gets drafted into the NHL, an 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 eventually retires. Nova Caps examined the players remaining from players in the drafts from the last part of the 20th century and early part of the 21st century prior to the 2020-21 season but there have been updates since then.
1996 Draft – There remains just one player from the 1996 NHL Entry Draft who played in the NHL during the 2020-21 season: defenseman Zdeno Chara, who was selected by the New York Islanders in the third-round with the 56th overall pick. He has played for the Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins, and Washington Capitals in his two decade-plus career, including 14 seasons with the Boston Bruins, all as their captain, including a Stanley Cup win in 2011. Last season, he played with the Capitals, and signed a one-year contract with the New York Islanders in free agency, his original team, since he wished to remain on the East Coast as his family still resides in Boston. If he plays in 44 games this season, he would rank first in Games Played by a defenseman and would pass Chris Chelios, who currently ranks first.
1997 Draft – Only two players from the 1997 NHL Entry Draft were still active at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Both players spent most of their careers with the San Jose Sharks and were both closely identified with the franchise. Thornton was drafted by the Boston Bruins, playing in Beantown from 1997-98 through the early part of the 2005-06 season when he was traded to the Sharks, where he remained through the 2019-20 season. He played with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2020-21 season and currently plays with the Florida Panthers. Marleau was drafted by San Jose and was a constant in the Sharks’ lineup until he left after the 2016-17 season. He played two seasons for Toronto, returned to the Sharks in 2019-20, had a brief stop with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and returned to the Sharks again for 2020-21; he currently remains an unrestricted free agent. If Marleau, who now has played in more NHL games than any other player, does not sign a contract for 2021-22, Joe Thornton will be the last player skating from the 1997 draft.
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: 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 2020-21 season, goaltender Ryan Miller (fifth-round, 138th overall). He announced his retirement after the 2021-21 season. Fellow goaltender Craig Anderson was drafted but did not sign and was redrafted in the 2001 Draft. Miller’s retirement means there are no more players that are active from that draft year. 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).
Jae C. Hong / Associated Press
2000 Draft – No players from the 2000 NHL Entry Draft played in the NHL during the 2020-21 season. Four players from that draft were active during 2019-20: 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 and Engelland both retired immediately after the 2019-20 season. Hainsey did not sign a contract for 2020-21 and announced his retirement on April 1, 2021. He took on a new role with the NHL Players Association at that same time. Lundqvist signed a contract for the 2020-21 season with the Capitals, but was unable to play due to a heart condition. He announced his retirement during the 2021 offseason and will have his jersey number retired with the New York Rangers at the start of 2022.
Anthony J. Causi/New York Post
2001 Draft – Four players from the 2001 NHL Entry Draft played in the NHL during the 2020-21 season: forward Jason Spezza (second pick overall), forward Mikko Koivu (sixth pick overall), goaltender Craig Anderson (second-round, 73rd overall), and goaltender Mike Smith (fifth-round, 161st overall). (Note: Anderson originally was drafted in the 1999 NHL Draft, did not sign, and was redrafted in 2001.) Koivu, after a long career with the Minnesota Wild, retired after playing just seven games with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2020-21. Anderson played the 2020-21 season with the Washington Capitals, was on their Taxi Squad for much of the season, and signed a contract with the Buffalo Sabres. Smith signed a two-year contract to remain with the Edmonton Oilers. Spezza signed a one-year contract to remain with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Three players now remain: Spezza, Anderson, and Smith. Spezza is the last remaining position player from that draft.
2002 Draft – Four players from the 2002 NHL Entry Draft played in the NHL during the 2020-21 season: defenseman Duncan Keith (54th overall), forward Frans Nielson (87th overall), forward Valtteri Filppula (95th overall), and goaltender Curtis McElhinney (176th overall). Keith, after a long career with the Chicago Blackhawks, was traded to the Edmonton Oilers. Nielsen’s contract with the Detroit Red Wings was bought out and, as of this writing, he is an unrestricted free agent. Filppula’s contract with the Detroit Red Wings ended in 2020-21 and he has now signed a contract with Genève-Servette HC of the Swiss National League, so that is likely the end of his time in the NHL. McElhinney announced his retirement when 2021-22 training camp began.
Assuming that Nielsen does not sign a new contract for the 2021-22 season, it appears that Duncan Keith will be the last remaining skater from his draft class left in the NHL. The last players from the first round of that draft left were Jay Bouwmeester (third pick overall) and forward Alexander Steen (24th overall), both were forced to retire before the 2020-21 season due to health issues. As Steen played the entire 2019-20 season and four playoff games and Bouwmeester was felled by a heart condition in February 2020, Steen was the last first-rounder left.
2003 Draft – 19 players from the 2003 NHL Entry Draft played in the NHL during the 2020-21 season: goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (first pick overall), forward Eric Staal (second pick overall), defenseman Ryan Suter (seventh pick overall), Braydon Coburn (eighth pick overall), Jeff Carter (11th pick overall), Dustin Brown (13th pick overall), Zach Parise (17th pick overall), Ryan Getzlaf (19th pick overall), Brent Burns (20th pick overall), Corey Perry (28th pick overall), Loui Ericksson (33rd pick overall), Patrice Bergeron (45th pick overall), Shea Weber (49th pick overall), David Backes (62nd pick overall), Brad Richardson (163rd pick overall), Nate Thompson (183rd pick overall), Joe Pavelski (205th pick overall), Jaroslav Halak (271st pick overall), and Brian Elliott (291th pick overall).
Backes announced his retirement after the 2020-21 season while Weber will not be able to play during 2021-22 due to injury and may not be able to play hockey again. Staal and Coburn are still unrestricted free agents, at the time of writing. The remaining players have contracts and intend to play in 2021-22. The 2003 draft class, perceived to be a deep draft in talent, has many more players that are still active than the draft immediately prior. But many players from that draft have had their roles reduced from their peak. It appears the number of players left in the NHL for the 2021-22 season is now down to 15.