It doesn’t matter how impressive your scouting staff is, if you have any serious expectations of finding a serviceable skater with the very final selection in the draft, you’re fooling yourself. At that point, you’re simply rolling the dice.
Amazingly, however, there’s a trio taken in exactly that slot – last overall – who have not only made it to the NHL, but have developed into impact players.
Patric Hornqvist, RW, Nashville (Drafted 230th overall in 2005 by Nashville)
After being sent down and recalled three times from the Predators’ American League affiliate in Milwaukee last season, Hornqvist spent the summer working on his skating.
It would appear the effort paid off as the 22-year-old looks to be a permanent fixture in Honky Tonk Town after an impressive pre-season that caught the attention of coach Barry Trotz.
Hornqvist, who spent three seasons with Djurgarden of the Swedish Elite League after being drafted, put up two goals and a team-leading seven points in five practice games, then posted an assist in the Preds regular-season opener, a 3-2 shootout win over the Stars on Saturday.
At 5-foot-11 and less than 200 pounds, Hornqvist isn’t going to overpower opponents, but the youngster has the ability to generate offense, something Nashville could certainly use after finishing 24th in goals-for in 2008-09.
Jonathan Ericsson, D, Detroit (Drafted 291st overall in 2002 by Detroit)
The Red Wings have a knack for finding late-round gems in the draft and Ericsson certainly looks like another. It’s been a long AHL apprenticeship for the 25-year-old, with three seasons spent mostly with Grand Rapids under his belt.
But, after showing well in 22 playoff games in last year’s run to the Cup final (scoring four goals and eight points to go with a plus-9 rating), Ericsson is a good bet to stick with the big club for the duration this season.
With a 6-foot-4, 206-pound frame and an impressive array of hockey skills, Ericsson has all the tools to be a top-pair blueliner; at this point it’s just a matter of putting it all together consistently.
The Red Wings surely hope Ericsson and fellow Swede Niklas Kronwall will become the new faces of their vaunted blueline for years, even after Nicklas Lidstrom gets his place in the Hall of Fame.
Kim Johnsson, D, Minnesota (Drafted 286th overall in 1994 by New York Rangers)
The Wild certainly thought highly of the skilled Swede (see a trend with this list?), giving the then-UFA a four-year, $19.4-million contract that will expire after this campaign.
After playing a pair of seasons in New York starting in 1999-00, Johnsson was part of the deal – along with Jan Hlavac and Pavel Brendl – that brought Eric Lindros to Broadway from Philadelphia. Johnsson’s most productive seasons came during his four-year stay with the Flyers; he posted 40 goals and 147 points in 291 games.
Johnsson, 33, has been a rock on the Minnesota blueline during his tenure and, though he’s certainly on the downside of a career that’s quietly spanned 10 seasons, he’s sure to grab one more NHL payday before taking his leave to the land of Blue and Gold.
And while he may not get a Stanley Cup before he retires, Johnsson will certainly head into the sunset as the best, last pick in NHL history.
THE FINAL WORD
The success oddity of the final draft selection extends to the coaching ranks, too. Hurricanes bench boss Paul Maurice was tabbed by the Flyers 252nd overall in 1985, but an eye injury he sustained in junior derailed his playing career.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears Thursdays.
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