By Neil Becker
It’s no secret that drafting well is a key blueprint towards building a Stanley Cup contender.
History has shown that many NHL teams who have done their homework and drafted well have evolved over time into serious Stanley Cup contenders.
Presently, this can be seen with the current back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning who last year defeated the Montreal Canadiens to clinch their second straight Cup. Reasons for those two Cups can be seen up and down their roster with former first-round picks such as captain Steve Stamkos, defenceman Victor Hedman, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, and forwards Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov to name a few.
Stamkos, selected first overall in the 2008 entry draft, is a two-time Rocket Richard trophy winner. Throughout his career, this future Hockey Hall of Famer has, heading into the 2021/22 season, scored 439 goals and 866 points in only 841 regular season games.
Another key Tampa Bay first-round selection, taken second overall in the 2009 draft, was 6’ 3”, 223- pound Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman. This former 2018 Norris Trophy winner leads the blueline year after year in minutes and provides a physical and offensive element to his game. Since becoming a Lightning, Hedman has totalled 114 goals and 518 points in 816 games played. It’s safe to say that Tampa wouldn’t have won the Cups without this workhorse on the blueline.
As all hockey fans know, clutch goaltending is essential to winning the Cup. Tampa Bay, who for years struggled in net, fixed this problem when in 2012 they drafted future star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy 19th overall. This Russian goalie, who in 2019 won the Vezina Trophy, was unstoppable in helping the Lightning win those consecutive Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021. When following that magical run, he was awarded the Conn Smythe Award.
Vasilevskiy has played 302 regular season games with Tampa where he has posted 190 wins, 26 shutouts and a 2.51 GAA.
As mentioned, other significant first-round Tampa Bay selections who played major roles in the team’s recent success include forwards Brayden Point, who was taken 79th overall by Tampa in the 2014 draft, and forward Nikita Kucherov, who was selected 58th overall in the 2011 draft.
Looking back through history, two other squads who enjoyed recent Stanley Cup success were the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, who, like the Lightning, have successfully built through the draft.
The Penguins, who most recently captured the Stanley Cup in 2009, 2016 and 2017, were led by star forward Sidney Crosby, selected first overall by Pittsburgh in the 2005 draft. Affectionately known as ‘Sid the Kid’, this generational talent came into this 2021/22 season having scored 486 career goals and 1,325 points. Other past top-round picks who have helped Pittsburgh be successful include former 2004 second overall selection, Evgeni Malkin. This Russian star forward, who is affectionately known as ‘Gino,’ was an instant sensation in Steel town and, at 35 years of age, came into the season having scored 424 goals and 1,104 points in only 940 career games.
Malkin was on fire during the 2009 playoff run as he scored 14 goals and 36 post-season points in winning the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Similar to the Lightning, Pittsburgh found their future Hall of Fame goalie in the draft when, in 2003, they picked from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Marc-Andre Fleury. During his 13-year tenure with the Penguins, Fleury was instrumental in coming up with pressure saves in helping them capture the Cup. Following that final season in Steele town, Fleury was selected in 2017 to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, where he played four seasons before competing this year for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Meanwhile, the Capitals were destined for greatness when in 2004, they officially drafted first overall star Russian forward Alex Ovechkin, who, like Crosby a year later, was seen as being a can't miss generational talent. Ovechkin, affectionately known as the 'Great 8' or 'Ovi', has gone on to score more than 700 career goals and is currently in hot pursuit of the number one goal scorer of all time, Wayne Gretzky. A couple of years after Ovechkin's draft, they selected in 2006 fourth overall, Swedish star forward Nicklas Backstrom, who in over 1,000 games has gone on to score 258 goals and 980 points.
Another of the many standout Capitals draft selections is goaltender Braden Holtby who was chosen 93rd overall in the 2008 draft. These players are just three of many draft picks who helped make Washington a serious Stanley Cup contender and who finally, in 2018, experienced the thrill of lifting the Stanley Cup.
Heading into the 2021-22 season, many young talented teams have made themselves contenders through several past drafts. Teams such as the Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs have a collection of young talent who are now just entering their primes.
The NHL Entry Draft is a time when fans from all 32 teams are glued to their televisions in anticipation of what young developing talent of tomorrow will be joining the organization.
Prior to COVID, fans from different cities would often get together at draft parties to watch and cheer their team’s selections.
Due to the current situation with COVID-19, the 59th annual NHL Draft, which took place from June 23-24, 2021, was held virtually. This draft featured an assortment of promising teenage starts such as defenceman Luke Hughes and Owen Power, and star forwards Kent Johnson and Mason McTavish, to name just a few.
Drafting first were the re-building Buffalo Sabres, who did the expected in selecting first overall defenceman Owen Power. This 18- year-old phenom, who finished first in the 2021 NHL Draft Rankings, stands at a hulking 6’ 5” and weighs 214 pounds. Last season, his freshman year with the University of Michigan, Power scored three goals and totalled 16 points, along with a +16 in 26 games. On the international front, Power has quite the standout resume which includes helping Team Canada strike gold at the 2021 IIHF World Championship.
In February, this star-studded blueliner, known for his hard shot and breakout passes, will be playing for Team Canada at the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Holding down the draft’s second selection was the expansion Seattle Kraken who made franchise history by selecting with their first-ever pick, University of Michigan forward Matthew Beniers.
Last season Beniers made a solid impression during his rookie collegiate campaign with the University of Michigan. The 6’ 1” 176-pound 18-year-old player averaged a point per game, registering ten goals and 14 points in 24 games played. He also showed to be an all-around player as he posted a +21 plus/minus.
On the International circuit, Beniers has quite the resume, which includes helping the United States win the Bronze at the 2019 and 2021 IHF World Championship. He also played a crucial role in helping the United States win gold at the 2021 World Junior Championships.
Beniers, who is back this year playing for Michigan, was named to represent the United States at the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in January.
Picking third were the Anaheim Ducks, who added to their rich talent base by drafting 18 -year-old, 6’ 2”, 207-pound centreman Mason McTavish. When mid-August rolled around, McTavish agreed to a three-year entry-level contract.
During his draft year, McTavish impressed in the Swiss League, where, playing for EHC Olten, he more than held his own by scoring nine goals and 11 points in 13 games.
McTavish couldn’t have asked for a better NHL debut. Making that debut in the 2021/22 season opener against the Winnipeg Jets, he made franchise history by becoming the first Ducks player at 18 years and 256 days, to score in his debut, which ended up being a 4-1 win. In what’s been a thrilling season, he has scored two goals and three points in nine games with the Ducks and totalled two points with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls. Following his stint with San Diego, McTavish joined the OHL’s Peterborough Petes, where, in five games, he has scored six goals and seven points.
Next up was the New Jersey Devils, who selected 18-year-old U.S.A. born defenceman Luke Hughes with the fourth pick. Two years earlier, at the 2019 entry draft, New Jersey selected 1st overall Luke’s brother, centreman Jack Hughes who is currently having a breakout season.
During the past two seasons playing in the USHL for the U.S. National Development Team, Luke Hughes proved dominant in playing a two-way game which saw him in those couple of years score eight goals and 28 points.
Hughes, who is 6’ 2”, 176 pounds, is currently playing for the University of Michigan. He has scored eight goals and 20 points in his first 22 games.
Selecting fifth were the Columbus Blue Jackets, who drafted NCAA Michigan 19-year-old centerman Kent Johnson. This phenom, who measures at 6’ 1”, 165 pounds, was ranked at third position among North American Skaters by Central Scouting. He has been described as a dynamic playmaker with great vision.
Last season, as a Freshman with Michigan, Johnson tallied nine goals and 27 points in 26 games. His solid performance didn’t go unnoticed as he made it on the All-Big Ten Freshman Team. Looking to build on his solid freshman season, Johnson has scored six goals along with 29 points in 21 games this year for Michigan.
Holding down the sixth pick were the Detroit Red Wings, who looked to the Swedish hockey leagues in drafting hulking 6’ 5” 207-pound 18-year-old defenceman Simon Edvinsson. A resident of Onsala Sweden, Edvinsson played 10 games last season with Frolunda HC and 14 in the Hockey Allsvenskan league with Vasteras IK.
Edvinsson had one assist in the ten games with Frolunda, which was followed by five assists in 14 games playing for Vasteras IK. This season, he has scored one goal and 12 points in 26 games with Frolunda. His game has been compared to current Vancouver Canucks defenceman Oliver Ekman Larsson who has had an impressive career.
The San Jose Sharks, who were sitting in the seventh position, also looked to Sweden, where they chose 19-year-old speedy left winger William Eklund. This 5’ 10”, 176-pound player who played out of Djurgardens IF in the Swedish Hockey League last year scored 11 goals and 23 points in 40 games played. NHL Central Scouting ranked him as the top international prospect heading into the 2021 draft.
“He’s still the draft’s most gifted offensive forward, and probably its most credible dual-threat score,” according to Elite Prospects Draft Guide.
This year, on October 16, 2021, Eklund made his much-anticipated NHL debut, where he drew an assist in a 4-3 victory against the Winnipeg Jets. Eklund played nine games for the Sharks, earning four assists, before returning to the Swedish Hockey League.
Drafting eighth overall was the Los Angeles Kings, who looked to the Ontario Hockey League in drafting 18-year-old Barrie Colts defenceman Brandt Clarke.
Due to COVID-19 cancelling last year's OHL campaign, this 6' 2", 188-pound player went to Slovakia, where playing for HC Nove Zamky Mikron HC, he scored five goals and 15 points along with 41 penalty minutes in 26 games played. Serving this season as Barrie's captain, Clarke has so far enjoyed a solid season that has seen him produce eight goals and 43 points along with 14 penalty minutes in 35 games played. On the International front, Clarke scored two goals and seven points in seven games to help Canada win gold at the 2021 World U-18 Championship.
Originally, the ninth selection belonged to the Vancouver Canucks before trading it in a deal with the Arizona Coyotes. Arizona looked towards the Western Hockey League (WHL), where they drafted 18-year-old right winger Dylan Guenther. Standing at 6’ 2” and 175 pounds, Guenther was looked upon by NHL Central Scouting Bureau as the fifth-best North American talent made available. Last year, this Edmonton Alberta native played 12 games for the Oiler Kings, where he totalled 12 goals and 24 points along with two penalty minutes in 12 games played. Including last year, Guenther has totalled 41 goals and 87 points along with 24 penalty minutes in 78 games played with the Oil Kings. A big achievement came in 2021 when Guenther produced four goals and seven points in helping Canada win gold at the World U-18 2021 Championships.
He is currently enjoying a monster season with the Oil Kings, which has seen him score 22 goals and 44 points in 31 games.
The first Canadian team to select were the Ottawa Senators, who with the 10th selection, drafted 19-year-old right winger Tyler Boucher. This 6’ 1” 205 pounder, who is the son of former NHL goalie Brian Boucher, was ranked at number 25 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. Earlier this season, Boucher competed in 17 games for Boston University where he scored two goals and three points along with 34 penalty minutes.
After the Arizona Coyotes forfeited the 11th overall pick, attention turned to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who, with the 12th selection, looked to the USHL in choosing 18-year-old Sioux Falls Stampede centreman Cole Sillinger. During his draft year, Sillinger’s stock rose as he not only scored 24 goals and 46 points in only 31 games but was also unanimously named 2021 USHL Rookie of the Year.
Sillinger, who is 6 feet tall and 201 pounds, comes from rich hockey bloodlines. His father Mike played over 1,000 NHL games with the Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues, New York Islanders and Nashville Predators.
Heading to the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Sillinger was ranked by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau as the 10th most skilled North American player. He has scored seven goals and 15 points in 40 games played with the Blue Jackets this season. Columbus originally obtained this 12th overall pick from the Chicago Blackhawks in a blockbuster trade that involved defenceman Seth Jones being shipped from Columbus to the Black Hawks.
The second Canadian team to draft was the Calgary Flames, who were holding the 13th overall selection, picked 5’ 10”, 183- pound right winger Matthew Coronato from the USHL’s Chicago Steel. Coronato, known for his dynamic goal-scoring abilities, was coming off a historic second season with the Steel. In what was a 2020/21 season to remember, Coronato totalled a franchise record of 48 goals in 51 games. This Huntington N.Y. resident, who was 18 years old upon being drafted, has, over the past two years, scored 66 goals and 125 points along with 126 penalty minutes in 96 games with the Steel. Playing this year for Harvard, this future Calgary Flame has so far produced nine goals and 17 points along with eight penalty minutes in his first 20 games.
Buffalo was next on the clock, with the 14th pick originally belonging to the Philadelphia Flyers. Looking towards the Swedish Hockey League, the Sabres selected 18-year-old 5’10’’ 161-pound right-winger Isak Rosen.
During his draft year, Rosen had an assist and a penalty in 22 games played with the Swedish Hockey League’s Leksands IF squad. A resident of Solna Sweden, Rosen also played 12 games last year for the Lekands IF J20 league, where he produced seven goals and 12 points along with six penalty minutes. This season, Rosen has played 28 games for Leksands IF, where he scored two goals along with four points. He also competed in eight games for the Leksands IF Jr. circuit, where he scored four goals and nine points. Another stop included seeing him debuting with Mora IK of the Swe-1 league.
Drafting at number 15 was the Detroit Red Wings, who chose from the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, 18-year-old goalie Sebastian Cossa. Cossa, who is 6’ 6” and 212 pounds, is coming off a truly historical season to remember.
In making a loud statement, Cossa opened up some eyes as he set a franchise record by winning his first 17 starts. Overall, he had a 17-1-1 record and finished first in three WHL goalie categories, including G.A.A. at 1.57 and number one in shutouts at four and save percentage at .941. This year with the Oil Kings, Cossa has a 21-6-3 record with a 2.45 G.A.A. and two shutouts.
Drafting next were the New York Rangers, who at number 16 selected 19-year-old Flint Firebirds (OHL) left winger Brennan Othmann. Last season, this 6-foot 175 pounder played in the Swiss League, where he produced seven goals and 16 points along with 64 penalty minutes in 34 games played with EHC Olten
Othmann impressed on the international stage, where he produced three goals and six points along with six penalty minutes to help Canada strike gold at the 2021 World U18 Championships. As the calendar turns to February, it’s been a dominating season for Othamnn, who has scored 29 goals along with 55 points and 31 penalty minutes in 35 games for the Firebirds.
Next up to the draft was the 2019 Stanley Cup Champions St. Louis Blues, who, with the 17th pick, chose from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Rimouski Oceanic 18-year-old forward Zachary Bolduc. Measuring at 6’1” and a solid 174- pounds, this centreman with Rimouski is known for his hard shot and ability to overpower players. This season, which is his third in the QMJHL, Bolduc has produced 15 goals, 35 points and 16 penalty minutes in 29 games played with the Quebec Remparts.
Choosing 18th were the Winnipeg Jets, who selected 18-year-old centreman Chaz Lucius from the USA National Development Team. Measuring at 6 foot 1 and 185 pounds, Lucius didn’t start his draft season due to knee surgery until February. Showing to be fully recovered he returned and produced 13 goals along with 18 points and six penalty minutes in only 12 games. This year, he is playing for the University of Minnesota, where he has scored eight goals and 16 points along with four penalty minutes in 19 games played.
Next up were the Nashville Predators, who drafting 19th, selected 18- year-old Fedor Svechkov. Last season, this-6 foot, 187-pound player split the campaign with Lada Togliatti from the Supreme Hockey League and Lada Togiliatti from the MHL, (Russia’s Junior league), where he totalled 15 points in as many games.
Svechkov has also has had some international success, including scoring 10 points in seven games to help Russia win silver at the 2021 IIHF World U18 Championships.
This season he is playing with St. Peterburg of the KHL. Interestingly, he was the first Russian taken in the 2021 draft.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Wild, selecting 20th, picked 19-year-old Swedish goalie Jesper Wallstedt. Measuring at 6 foot 3 and 212 pounds, Wallstedt, who plays for Lulea HF of the Swedish Hockey League, registered a solid 11-8-3 record last year with two shutouts and a 2.23 GAA. Wallstedt made history by becoming the highest drafted Swedish goalie. Scouts believe that Minnesota got a real steal as Wallstedt was seen as being a top 10 draft pick. He is back playing for Lulea HF of the Swedish Hockey League this season.
Also looking towards Sweden were the Boston Bruins, who, with the 21st selection, chose 18-year-old left winger Fabian Lysell. This 5’ 10”, 176-pound player spent his draft year playing for Lulea HF of the Swedish Hockey League, where, in 26 games played, he scored two goals along with three points and eight penalty minutes. This season Lysell is playing for the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, where he has totalled 13 goals along with 32 points in 30 games played.
Holding down the 22nd draft position were the Edmonton Oilers via an earlier trade with the Minnesota Wild. The Oilers also have a collection of young talented players drafted from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, 19-year-old centre/ right winger Xavier Bourgault. This 6-foot 172-pound athlete had a solid draft year which saw him produce 20 goals and 40 points in 29 games played for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Shawinigan Cataractes. Originally, Bourgault was looked upon by scouts as being the 13th ranked North American player. In his fourth season with Shawinigan, Bourgault has already scored 22 goals, and 42 points in 24 games played this year.
Draft picks 23 through to 25 saw the Dallas Stars select from the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, forward Wyatt Johnston, followed by the Florida Panthers picking at number 24, USHL Chicago Steel forward Mackie Samoskevich. Next up were the Blue Jackets, who with the 25th pick drafted from the AJHL; Brooks Bandits defenceman Corson Ceulemans.
In Johnston, Dallas drafted an 18-year-old, 6’1” 178- pound player who this year has produced 24 goals, 69 points and a +19 in 37 games played with the Spitfires.
Meanwhile, Florida selected a big body in Samoskevich, 18 years old upon being drafted and measuring up to 5’11” and 190 pounds. This centerman is in his freshman year with the University of Michigan and has scored five goals along with 18 points and six penalty minutes.
Holding that 25th selection was the Blue Jackets, who with Ceulemans signed an 18-year-old 6’2”, 198-pound potential star who this season has scored seven goals and 19 points along with 29 penalty minutes in 28 games played.
The final seven first-round picks kicked off with the Minnesota Wild picking at number 26, WHL Winnipeg Ice defenceman Carson Lambos. Lambos, who was 18 years old when drafted, stands at 6’1” and a solid 197 pounds. In showing an offensive flair, he has tallied with the Winnipeg Ice this year seven goals along with 22 points and 24 penalty minutes. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment is having an impressive +27 plus/minus rating.
Selecting at numbers 27 and 28 overall were the Nashville Predators who drafted from the QMJHL Halifax Mooseheads forward Zachary L’Heureux and the Colorado Avalanche, who with the 28th selection chose 6’1”, 181- pound forward Oskar Olausson. Around mid-season, he continued his development with the HV71 Swedish Hockey League, where he scored three goals, four points and four penalty minutes in 16 games played. This year Olausson had great success in scoring 12 goals and 25 points with the OHL’s Barrie Colts. He has also totalled three goals and four points with the Oshawa Generals.
The final four first round draft picks included centreman Chase Stillman who was drafted 29th overall by the New Jersey Devils, followed by another centreman in Zach Dean drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights. The two final picks were the Montreal Canadiens drafting forward Logan Mailloux and, last but not least, the Chicago Blackhawks taking defenceman Nolan Allan with the 32nd pick.
As a hockey fan, it’s always exciting to watch home youngsters over the years develop into superstars. The maturation process might take some time, but history has shown that these players of tomorrow play a major role in leading a team to success.