December 10, 2009
(No, the first decade of the 21st century doesn't technically end until 2011. Save your bellyaching. But we've had nine NHL seasons and one stolen from us since 1999-2000, and Yahoo! Sports has decided it's time to rank the best and worst of the last "decade." Enjoy, and snark freely in the comments.)
The draft is a crapshoot. You draft a guy and just hope he doesn't embarrass you; or, worse, get you fired. A lot of high picks work out OK at worst. But, very occasionally, you will get the big-time draft bust that has people wondering just what kind of chemicals influenced you to take a guy that never even came over from Russia fifth overall.
But it will always be incredibly easy to sit there and second-guess every team in the league. Y'know like, "What are they thinking letting Henrik Zetterberg(notes) slip to the 42nd round?" or whatever people say. That's why I don't think it's really fair to compare a guy to guys that were picked after them. If we redid most drafts, you'd get at least one guy from the fourth round on up that would wind up in the top 10. Again, crapshoot.
But some picks wind up so stunningly bad that, even in a vacuum, you can't see them as anything but disastrous for the team that wasted a top-10 pick on some guy with one NHL game. Some picks are just so unbelievably good that, like Zetterberg, who was a seventh-round pick in 1999 and therefore just missed being the runaway winner of this list, you just have to sit there groovin' on how your team passed up a multiple-time all-star five times.
Here we go then: the five best and worst draft picks this decade ...
Part 1: The five worst
The late 1990s and early part of this decade were a bad time to be a Flames fan, and not just because Calgary was one of the worst teams in hockey in the standings. The way they were run behind the scenes may have been even worse. This was the last, great blunder of an era in which every pick was meant to be a new hope -- and they always ended up as a phantom menace.
Krahn's junior numbers were great, of course, but when he got to the pros, he was a disaster. He started in the ECHL, then played five straight seasons in the AHL before being sent back to the ECHL. He did finally get into an NHL game last season at the tender age of 26 with Dallas, giving up three goals on nine shots in 20 minutes of mop-up duty against the Blackhawks.
But hey, he's setting the world on fire in the AHL this year so it all worked out. Right?
Pouliot was obviously a well-regarded prospect out of the Sudbury Wolves, having scored 29 goals and 67 points in 67 games in his draft year. He won a gold medal for Canada at World Juniors. And then he never really got any better after that.
Another 65-point season in juniors gave way to an entirely uninspiring AHL career of 84 points over parts of three seasons totaling 143 games, and a downright ugly NHL career of 9-9-18 in 65 career games. That's why he was traded to the Canadiens on Nov. 24 for the similarly disappointing Guillaume Latendresse(notes). He has yet to play for the Habs while he works through a wrist injury.
Even if he does make it to the Canadiens and starts playing like a fourth overall pick (not likely), the Wild can console themselves knowing they also threw away early-to-mid-firsts on AJ Thelen(notes) and James Sheppard(notes) the year prior to and after drafting Pouliot ... so at least this wasn't an isolated incident.
3. Petr Taticek, Florida Panthers (1st round, 9th overall in 2002)
This pick really scrapes the depths of awfulness. No other way to say it. Apart from two seasons of good-not-great play in the OHL, this guy has literally never had a semi-respectable season in his entire career.
At no point in the seven seasons in which he has played professional hockey has Taticek, who actually plays forward, picked up a double-digit goal total. That is, of course, if you discount the two goals he scored for the Laredo Bucks of the Central Hockey League, which I swear is a league that exists, on top the nine he scored with San Antonio in the AHL. He now plays in Switzerland where he has racked up 34 big points over the last three seasons.
Any time you have a top-10 pick that plays for literally 17 minutes and 33 seconds in the NHL, you have made a colossal error. But it's not all bad; look at this sweet fanpage for him.
Sure, he competed in 179 games in the NHL. And sure, he got in a couple fights and played some physical hockey. But the drop-off from Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) to Jason Spezza(notes) to a guy who scored 11 points for the team who drafted him? That's not so good.
It wasn't all bad for the Bolts, I guess, since they traded him to Columbus for Darryl Sydor(notes) in 2003-04, and Sydor went on to be a rock in the playoffs for them; but maybe we shouldn't buy Jay Feaster's hype that his team "paid a heavy price" in giving up the largely-useless Russian center. Interesting to note that Svitov scored almost as many points in Columbus that year (eight over 29!) as he did in his parts of two seasons with Tampa.
After scoring 18 big points in 76 games in 2006-07 and signing a two-year extension with Columbus on July 2, he jumped to Avangard Omsk of the KHL six weeks later and will likely never see North America again, except on a map.
The 2003 NHL Entry Draft will probably go down as the best of all time. Literally every one of the first 33 picks have played in the NHL. Every one, that is, except for Hugh Jessiman, who was un-ironically nicknamed "The Huge Specimen" by Ranger fans.
Jessiman turned out to be a huge specimen of something alright.
The tools were there, of course. He was a 6-foot-6, 230-pound right wing for Dartmouth College, and scored 23-24-47 in 34 games as a freshman back in the days when college hockey defenses were remarkably stingy. He was physical and skilled and could not be dislodged from the puck, the kind of MONSTER Pierre McGuire would swoon over. Scouts predictably loved him.
But the next season he only scored 33 points in 34 games, and the one after that, only two in 12. He went pro the next year and made a resounding thud. Over the next two seasons, he scored 77 points while shuttling back and forth between the ECHL and AHL. When he finally got a full year in the AHL in 2007-08 (remember, that's four years after he was drafted), he scored 42 points.
He was traded from the Rangers to the Predators the next season and the change of scenery actually hurt him as he scored 27 points for the Milwaukee Admirals. He has six so far this year.
Why such a detailed recounting of his failure? To illustrate that he has never once, at any level, scored as many points as he did that freshman year at Dartmouth.
Part 2: The five best
In the NFL, they call guys like Ericsson and Hornqvist "Mr. Irrelevant." They were literally the last player taken in their respective drafts, and the fact that they are now regular NHL players, having played in each of their teams' games this season, is really pretty remarkable.
What's even more remarkable is that they're actually pretty decent NHL players. Hornqvist has 11 points this season, ninth on the team and tied for third in goals. Ericsson has 10 points from the blue line. I guess you'd take that out of a guy you picked as a mere formality, huh?
The lesson here: If you're picking last, pick a Swede.
I admit, a second-round pick probably shouldn't be one of the five best picks of the decade, but c'mon, it's Shea Weber! He was the 14th defenseman taken in that excellent draft class, behind names like Suter, Coburn, Phaneuf, Seabrook, Burns, Stuart, Belle, Richmond, Egener, Klein, Ramholt, Smaby and Carle. That's not a bad group to get drafted behind (well, except Egener and Ramholt I suppose), but Weber turned out to be the best of the bunch.
He can score, he's an excellent shutdown defenseman, and basically any time you can get a no-doubt Olympian 49th overall, you're doing alright. In fact, four of the five defensemen Nashville drafted in 2003 have made the NHL.
Getting a 30-goal player in the third round isn't bad. Getting one that physically terrorizes defensemen and goalies alike is a big bonus. Getting one that turns into a killer in the playoffs is remarkable.
You need guys like Franzen on your team because while he's not going to be a superstar, he's a premier second-line guy that's going to score a lot and take some pressure of your top players, and that's almost as important.
Franzen, like Ericsson and Hank Zetterberg, is one of those stereotypical "where'd this Scandinavian guy come from?" Red Wings picks that has every Detroit fan cackling with glee and every other fan kicking themselves that their stupid, stupid team passed on him four times.
Again, a ninth-round pick making the NHL is something to be celebrated in and of itself. A very impressive feat. Sure, Streit only made it to the NHL at the age of 28. But over the course of three seasons in Montreal, Streit became one of the best defensemen in the Eastern Conference and, in his final year with the team, scored 14 goals and 39 assists.
But some called him a product of the system since the Habs had the best power play in the league that year and some scoffed when the Islanders signed him to big money long-term. So he proved the doubters wrong by scoring three more goals and only six fewer points in seven fewer games, and finished a plus-5. ON THE 2008-09 ISLANDERS.
Streit was an unbelievable pick.
Yeah, I know that most goalies that are taken in the late rounds are more or less just long-shots you pick to fill space on your draft board; and you're doing backflips if he turns into anything approaching a decent guy that can maybe threaten to make an NHL roster some day.
Most teams would be thrilled to have a seventh-round goalie turn out to be an NHL backup. So how about pulling down one of the top-five goalies in the league over the last four years?
Lundqvist is unquestionably excellent. He's never finished the season with a GAA above 2.43 and never had a save percentage below .912. At 27 years old, he already has 21 shutouts. Even more impressive is that he's been in the top 10 in shots faced in each of the last four seasons.
Look, I don't have to sell you on the guy. You'd love Henrik Lundqvist if your team picked him first overall. So that the Rangers got him after 204 other players got picked is what makes him the best draft choice by anyone this decade.