NHL draft: Which teams have fared the best and worst in the salary-cap era?

Creating a pipeline of young players has become more and more important since the implementation of the salary cap in the NHL, which makes drafting well crucial.

The NHL draft has always been a momentous event on the league calendar due to its ability to change franchises' trajectories at the drop of a hat.

In recent years, the consequences of drafting well or making poor selections have been felt more than ever due to the salary cap. Teams no longer have the ability to spend their way out of talent shortages, and if you aren't building a strong prospect pool, your chances of creating a sustainable contender are slim.

The Vegas Golden Knights' Stanley Cup win is a notable counterexample to that notion, but the majority of recent champions feature homegrown cores. With the 2023 NHL Draft coming up on June 28, we thought it would be instructive to take a look at which teams have drafted the best and worst since the cap came into play in 2005.

Some franchises shine at the NHL draft while others tend to make plenty of mistakes. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)
Some franchises shine at the NHL draft while others tend to make plenty of mistakes. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

There's plenty of baked-in subjectivity to an exercise like this, but the primary metrics we looked at were number of NHL players drafted and the number of games and points those players generated. The points total doesn't fully capture the contribution of defensemen, and goaltenders are in a category of their own, of course. There is also a discrepancy between the quality of picks teams have had at their disposal in the salary-cap era.

Mitigating factors like these were considered before labelling any team one of the best or worst drafters. When you see the number of NHL players developed and games/points from those players below, keep in mind that the average for this time period is 53.8 players, 11,698.1 games and 5,007.5 points. The most recent expansion teams — the Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken have been excluded.

It's also worth noting that we simply don't know how some of the most recent drafts will pan out, and that could change the picture significantly in the years to come. With all those disclaimers out of the way, let's give teams that have drafted well some flowers and shame the franchises that have done the opposite:

The best of the best

Los Angeles Kings

Picks: 133

NHL players: 65

Games: 17,302

Points: 6,505

Why they are in this category: The Kings have drafted the second-most NHLers since 2005, and those guys have played 746 more games than any other team's draftees. There's plenty of quality to go along with the quantity, too. Los Angeles built multiple Stanley Cup winners around players like Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, and Alec Martinez.

It also selected some impact guys better known for their exploits elsewhere, like Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. There are a couple of missteps here, such as drafting Thomas Hickey fourth overall in 2007, but even he put together a 456-game NHL career.

Some other teams have drafted more superstars, but the Kings deserve credit for constantly churning out NHL-calibre talent.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Picks: 133

NHL players: 56

Games: 12,615

Points: 6,249

Why they are in this category: Although the Lightning have become infamous for trading away picks in recent years, good things happen for them when they hold onto their selections. They've hit at the top of the draft with guys like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman and made inspired picks outside the first round, including Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, and Brayden Point.

Tampa Bay also deserves kudos for its willingness to draft goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy in the first round in 2012. That's a move many teams would be reluctant to make, and it landed them a franchise netminder who's held down the position since 2016-17.

Big hits have been more elusive recently, but this team's drafting is a huge reason it went to the Stanley Cup Final four times during the salary-cap era with two wins.

The Lightning have found consistent success at the NHL draft since the salary cap came into existence. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Lightning have found consistent success at the NHL draft since the salary cap came into existence. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

St. Louis Blues

Picks: 126

NHL players: 56

Games: 15,638

Points: 6,060

Why they are in this category: The Blues might be a surprising name to see here, but they rank third in games and many of their top draftees did their best work elsewhere, like T.J. Oshie, Vince Dunn, and Tage Thompson.

The Blues have done a fantastic job of finding NHL talent even if they rarely pick Hall of Famers. Because the team has been consistently competitive, it rarely has high picks, with just two top-10 selections to its name. You could certainly quibble with Erik Johnson as the first-overall pick in 2006, but the Blues nailed it with Alex Pietrangelo at fourth overall in 2008.

The team's improbable Stanley Cup victory in 2018-19 was largely driven by homegrown talent outside of Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O'Reilly. Four of the team's top five point scorers in the playoffs were drafted by St. Louis — as was red-hot goaltender Jordan Binnington.

The worst of the worst

Detroit Red Wings

Picks: 145

NHL players: 50

Games: 12,454

Points: 4,744

Why they are in this category: Detroit has done an excellent job of compiling draft picks in recent years, but the team has converted them into NHL players at the lowest rate in the league (34.48%). The team hasn't had many high picks to work with, but the Red Wings have still done very little with what they've had.

No one Detroit has picked since 2005 could be considered a superstar and the team didn't find a single goaltender who played more than three games in the NHL.

Dylan Larkin was an excellent choice in 2014 and Moritz Seider is a needle-mover, but when guys like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist are some of your best choices in nearly two decades, you're not in a good spot.

Vancouver Canucks

Picks: 114

NHL players: 40

Games: 6,644

Points: 2,954

Why they are in this category: By the raw numbers, Vancouver is the worst of bunch. No team has picked fewer NHLers or gotten fewer games or points from their draftees since 2005.

Vancouver has missed on some high picks, too, with three of its top-10 selections turning into Cody Hodgson, Jake Virtanen, and Olli Juolevi.

The only thing holding the Canucks back from total draft infamy is the quality of some of their most recent selections. The team found legitimate stars in Elias Petterson and Quinn Hughes, while the trio of Thatcher Demko, Brock Boeser, and Bo Horvat have produced in significant roles.

If we did this exercise again in 10 years, the Canucks might look better, but for now their results are grim.

Olli Juolevi only has three points to his name at the NHL level. (AP Photo/Peter Power)
Olli Juolevi only has three points to his name at the NHL level. (AP Photo/Peter Power)

Calgary Flames

Picks: 111

NHL players: 46

Games: 8,642

Points: 4,229

Why they are in this category: The Flames have unearthed some star players like Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau, but they've had far more misses than hits.

Between 2005 and 2010, just one of their first-round picks played more than 100 games in the NHL and that was Mikael Backlund, who was far from a franchise changer.

Calgary didn't consistently take full-on busts in later drafts, but its history is littered with players who didn't live up to their draft status like Sam Bennett, Sven Baertschi, and Juuso Välimäki.

The Flames have also struggled to find a goaltender, with whiffs in the first and second rounds (Leland Irving and Mason MacDonald). The best netminder Calgary has taken recently is career backup Laurent Brossoit, although back-to-back AHL goaltender of the year Dustin Wolf (7th round, 2019) could change that narrative.

A class of their own

Edmonton Oilers

Picks: 123

NHL players: 54

Games: 14,371

Points: 7,104

Why they are in this category: The Oilers are pretty difficult to place. No team has gotten more points from homegrown players since 2005, but it's tough to give them too much credit for taking Connor McDavid, Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, or Taylor Hall.

Grabbing Leon Draisaitl with the third-overall pick in 2014 was a heck of a move and Jordan Eberle was a nice pick at 22 in 2008, but a lot of Edmonton's hits have come from that top spot. The Oilers have also whiffed on high picks like Nail Yakupov (1st overall), Jesse Puljujarvi (4th overall), and Magnus Pääjärvi (10th overall).

The Oilers probably should have done more with the bounty bestowed upon them. The are likely closer to the worst drafting team than the best, but when considering they've picked two top-five NHL players, it's tough to put them in the cellar.