The draft is a crapshoot. It always has been.
Sure, the top prospects typically pan out and reward the teams that spend first-round picks on them. But after those initial 32 slots, all bets are off. Some teams swing for the fences in the later round and strike out dramatically. Others crush one into the upper deck.
Let's take a look at the best picks from rounds five to seven over the past decade and appreciate the teams who turned risky projects into massive home runs.
Connor Hellebuyck - 5th round, 130th overall (2012)
Picked By: Winnipeg Jets
Rarely does a team head into the fifth round in search of their franchise goaltender. And yet that's exactly what the Winnipeg Jets got in Connor Hellebuyck back in 2012, plucking the netminder from the NAHL on the second day of the draft and, unbeknownst to them, kicking off a developmental path that would one day lead him to become one of the NHL's elite.
Goalies sure are weird, aren't they?
Hellebuyck has been nothing short of revelatory for the Jets in the decade since that fateful June day. The Michigan native took home the Vezina Trophy in 2019-20 after a phenomenal season and just recently notched his 200th win in under 400 career games, providing the entire Jets franchise with a steady backbone, regardless of the quality of the roster around him.
When it comes to late-round picks, you can't get much better than Hellebuyck.
Now if only the Jets could build around him.
Brandon Hagel - 6th round, 159th overall (2016)
Picked By: Buffalo Sabres
Is Brandon Hagel a superstar? No, not really. But the guy did just make it to the Stanley Cup final after scoring 25 goals and also happened to be dealt at the trade deadline for a package headlined by two first-round picks.
How many sixth-rounders can say the same? Exactly.
It's just a shame the Sabres weren't the ones to reap the rewards.
After failing to sign Hagel before his rights expired, the Sabres allowed the diminutive winger to hit the open market and eventually latch on with the Chicago Blackhawks' AHL affiliate. From there, Hagel earned himself more and more playing time for the Rockford Ice Hogs before eventually breaking into the NHL at a time when the Blackhawks sorely needed him, playing his first full season in 2021 and looking comfortable despite the organizational debacle surrounding him.
Fast forward to today, and Hagel is a valued depth piece on a Tampa Bay Lightning squad gearing up for its fourth-straight trip to the Cup final. And at a cap hit of $1.5 million, he's a pretty darn valuable one, too.
Not bad for an unsigned sixth-rounder.
Jesper Bratt - 6th round, 162nd overall (2016)
Picked By: New Jersey Devils
As we just learned, if you strike gold in the sixth round, it's probably a good idea to hang on to it.
It's pretty nuts that the Devils managed to find Jesper Bratt at pick 162. The 23-year-old is now coming off a near-point-per-game season in 2021-22 despite having very little talent around him, all while looking destined to become a consistent 30-goal guy for the foreseeable future, and is already equally capable of doing damage at even-strength and on the power play.
That's pretty valuable, no?
Well, with the Devils reportedly having a hard time finding common ground on an extension with Bratt as he sits in RFA purgatory, the talented young Swede could be on the move, and undoubtedly for a package of draft picks far higher than the one he was chosen with.
Whichever team lands Bratt will be extremely lucky. But not as lucky as the one that took a chance on him deep into the second day of the draft back in 2016.
Pierre Engvall - 7th round, 188th overall (2014)
Picked By: Toronto Maple Leafs
Seventh-rounders almost never make it to the show. It's why the few ones that do tend to receive a ton of attention, having somehow worked their way from being a final-round flier to earning a spot in the best hockey league in the world.
That's exactly what Pierre Engvall did after the Maple Leafs nabbed him 188th overall in 2014, gradually building his skating prowess in Sweden before joining the AHL's Toronto Marlies and completely transforming himself from a perimeter-hugging sniper into a dependable two-way threat with offensive pop.
It wasn't always easy with Engvall, of course. The lanky Swede took a winding road on his developmental journey that, at one point, saw the Maple Leafs nearly give up on him entirely in 2020. But Engvall stuck with it, breaking out in 2021-22 with 15 goals and 35 points in 78 games while becoming a fearsome penalty killer and a key cog in Toronto's machine.
It just goes to show that if you take a shot on talent and are patient with it, it can pay off in the long run. Engvall certainly did.
Kirill Kaprizov - 6th round, 135th overall (2015)
Picked By: Minnesota Wild
Ok, so Kaprizov is obviously not your typical sixth-rounder.
With the threat of Kaprizov never reporting to the team that drafted him being very real due to his KHL contract status back in 2015, many front offices opted for safer picks over the explosive Russian star.
But the Wild were willing to wait. It wasn't always easy, and there were a few contentious moments after Kaprizov would return to Russia year after year. But in the end, the Wild got the new face of their franchise in the second-to-last round of the draft and immediately revelled in the results once he arrived in North America, as Kaprizov just followed up a Calder-winning rookie year by scoring 47 goals and 108 points in 81 games while logging close to 19 minutes per night and finishing seventh in overall Hart voting.
For the guy picked 135th overall? Yeah, you'll probably take that.
It's likely that if Kaprizov went unselected in 2015, his name would have rocketed up draft boards the following year. But that's not how things went down. The Wild took a risk, one that potentially could have left them empty-handed, and it paid off.
Better than they likely ever could've predicted, too.