The teen talent raid of 2003 in Nashville, Tenn., was without a doubt the best in recent years. At least 25 of the 30 first-rounders that year will be skating in the NHL next season.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was taken first by Pittsburgh, forward Eric Staal was snapped up next by Carolina and big centre Nathan Horton was grabbed by Florida.
Calgary didn’t pick till ninth and still got tough-as-nails defenceman Dion Phaneuf. New Jersey, selecting 17th, was able to land Zach Parise. That draft was so deep that Anaheim was able with the 19th and 28th picks to snag Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who played large rolls in the Ducks’ march to the championship this spring.
Patrice Bergeron (Boston), Matt Carle (San Jose) and Shea Weber (Nashville) didn’t go until the second round, and they’ve emerged as solid big-leaguers.
There are more to come from that class.
Los Angeles took defenceman Brian Boyle out of a U.S. high school in the 26th slot in ’03. He went on to Boston College and is just now readying to play in the NHL. He’s six foot seven and 235 pounds, so nobody is going to fail to spot him when he cracks the Kings’ lineup.
Boyle is a good example of how the draft often is more about building for the future rather than getting immediate help. Few 18-year-olds can step directly into the NHL.
There are exceptions, of course. Alex Ovechkin, the first teen taken in 2004, was an instant star with Washington, although he had to wait a year because of the lockout that wiped out 2004-2005. Sidney Crosby, who went No. 1 in 2005, well, we’ve all heard of him.
Most of the players selected in Columbus will go back to their Canadian junior teams for further polishing, play U.S. college hockey, or stay with their European clubs until they are ready to move to the big league.
Only two of the 30 players taken in the first round last year – Jordan Staal by Pittsburgh and Phil Kessel by Boston – became prominent NHL regulars in 2006-2007. Only a handful of the 2005 first-rounders are on NHL rosters today.
As managers, coaches and scouts shuffle papers in Columbus, they’ll conveniently forget about their failed picks of the 21st century.
The Edmonton Oilers had high hopes for Jesse Niinimaki when they took him 15th overall in 2002. He’s never played a big-league game. The Finnish centre was playing somewhere in Germany last winter.
The New York Rangers felt Hugh Jessiman would make it when they took him ninth in 2003. The American right-winger was a bust. He split last season between the AHL and the ECHL.
There have been some valuable late-round nuggets in recent years.
Nick Tarnasky, a tenacious centre who played junior in Lethbridge, Alta., was a ninth-rounder, 287th overall, in ’03, and he was a regular with the Tampa Bay Lightning last season.
Peter Prucha was the 240th player selected in 2002, by the Rangers. The Czech eventually made his NHL debut in October 2005. He scored 30 goals in his rookie season and added 22 last season.
Chris Campoli was the 227th player taken in 2004, by the New York Islanders, and the native of Toronto as been a blue-line regular for the last two years.
Some of the first teens selected in Columbus will be interviewed, photographed and played up by the media, and then disappear for years.
The NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau has Kyle Turris of New Westminster, B.C., listed as the No. 1 North American skater. He’s enrolling at the University of Wisconsin and, unless he quits school before getting a degree, he won’t surface as a pro until 2011. Same for highly-rated American James vanRiemsdyk, who says he’ll play college hockey at New Hampshire.
A few of the teens who’ll go undrafted in Columbus because teams don’t see them succeeding will one day land free-agent deals and make names for themselves, leaving GMs wondering why their scouts didn’t recommend them.
Dustin Penner was ignored five years ago, and a lot of teams would have liked to have had him last season.
Anaheim signed him in 2004 and he skated on the line with Getzlaf and Perry that hammered playoff opponents all spring. Penner will get his day with the Stanley Cup. He’ll take it to his home town of Winkler, Man., and every youngster who gets passed over in the draft this week should paste a picture of Penner with the Cup on his wall to remind himself all is not lost.