The Blackhawks are looking to go up 3-0 in the Stanley Cup final Wednesday night and they do so with some decidedly late draft choices playing major roles.
With all due respect to the Pat Kanes (first overall in 2007) and Jonathan Toewses (third overall, 2006) of the world, championship teams are built on depth and Chicago is, not surprisingly, one of the NHL’s deepest squads.
The Hawks have had some draft-day steals in years past, unearthing gems like Steve Larmer 120th overall in 1980 and Dominik Hasek 199th in 1983. While perusing Chicago’s roster recently, we noticed some seriously late picks littered throughout its lineup and thought it worthwhile to make a note of some of the belated selections they’ve made in recent years who are still active and playing well, whether with the Hawks or not.
That said, here’s what we call THN.com’s Top 10 active Chicago draft-day beauts:
10. Adam Burish, RW, Chicago
One of Chicago’s ‘Killer Bs,’ Burish was drafted in the ninth round, 282nd overall, in 2002. He’s a fourth-liner playing about five-and-a-half minutes a game this post-season, but after missing 65 games recovering from knee surgery, playing in the Cup final is an accomplishment in itself.
9. Kent Huskins, D, San Jose
Huskins never actually saw time with the Hawks, but was drafted by Chicago 156th overall out of Clarkson University in 1998. Huskins won a Cup with Anaheim in 2007 and averaged 17:29 on-ice minutes this season with San Jose, playing all 82 games with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
8. James Wisniewski, D, Anaheim
The current Anaheim Duck was picked 156th overall by the Hawks in 2002 and spent parts of four seasons with Chicago before being moved to Anaheim for Samuel Pahlsson in 2009. Wisniewski had 30 points in 69 games with Anaheim this season.
7. Troy Brouwer, LW, Chicago
Taken 214th overall by Chicago in 2004, Brouwer found his touch in his second NHL season, scoring 22 goals and 40 points. He’s played well in the playoffs at times, too, and has four points in the first two games of the final.
6. Michael Leighton, G, Philadelphia
Oh, the irony. Leighton was picked in the sixth round, 165th overall in 1999 and played 43 games combined for the Hawks in 2002-03 and ’03-04. He’s a 2010 Flyers playoff hero who – at the very least – began the Cup final as his team’s starter. In between he’s seen action with nine teams in the American League and NHL. He’d be higher on this list with a little more career stability.
5. Niklas Hjalmarsson, D, Chicago
The 108th selection in 2005 is now a top-four blueliner for the Stanley Cup favorite. Hjalmarsson is averaging 21:17 in ice time during the post-season, third on the Hawks. He’s plus-7 and has seven points in the playoffs.
4. Craig Anderson, G, Colorado
Anderson was chosen 73rd overall in 2001 and was in the Vezina Trophy discussion for the first two-thirds of this season. Anderson saw action in 56 games for Chicago before moving on to Florida and then the Avalanche. He’ll have to prove he’s more than a one-year wonder to move up here.
3. Dave Bolland, C, Chicago
The playoffs have been somewhat of a coming-out party for the 32nd pick of the 2004 draft. “Early second-rounder” you say, “that’s not a gem.” But considering just 30 percent of second-rounders become anything resembling regular NHLers – let-alone emerging two-way threats like Bolland – any NHLer drafted from 31st to 60th has beat the odds.
2. Duncan Keith, D, Chicago
Another guy from Round 2, the undersized Olympian and Norris Trophy nominee was picked 54th overall in 2002 after his freshman year at Michigan State. Fifteen blueliners were picked before Keith that year, including Jay Bouwmeester third overall. Who’d you rather have?
1. Dustin Byfuglien, LW, Chicago
Chosen 245th overall in 2003, Byfuglien entered Chicago’s system as an offensively inclined defenseman from the Western League’s Prince George Cougars. He was also pushing 300 pounds at the time…seriously. Now a trim(ish) 250-pound(ish) winger who still fills in on defense when needed, Byfuglien is coming into his own as an NHL power forward. He’s still built more like a linebacker than a hockey player, but he has good puck skills, a better-than-average shot and can skate like the wind for a man his size. Anytime an eighth-rounder makes the show, he’s done well; if he plays like Byfuglien, he’s done great.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
If you enjoy this feature, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine for the exclusive countdown, Starting From 5, and other great features from the world of hockey.