For the better part of two seasons, when it comes to prospects the consistent names have been Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Both players stand to be NHL superstars and will almost undoubtedly go first and second overall in some order.
McDavid and Eichel are the type of players teams wait for – the type of player that you “build through the draft” with. But for nearly every team in the league, there’s a selection of undrafted talent that carries some of the load. In certain instances, they’re key cogs. In others, they’re depth players who contribute in ways you can’t find on the score sheet.
For the purposes of cutting out the established NHLers like Martin St-Louis and Mark Giordano, this list of the best undrafted players in the league today are the young guns that have broken into the NHL by unconventional means in the last five seasons:
5. Torey Krug
Krug’s career trajectory went from “Who is he?” to “How did we miss him?” in a hurry. The diminutive defender has a cannon for a shot and made a name for himself on Boston’s first run to the Stanley Cup Final. A product of the Michigan State Spartans, Krug has already amassed 48 points in just 93 games. Not bad for a defenseman.
In his first full season in the NHL, Krug finished fourth in Calder Trophy voting, and followed it up with another stellar playoff run helping Boston return to the Cup final.
4. Danny DeKeyser
Coming out of Western Michigan University, Danny DeKeyser was a highly sought after defenseman as soon as it appeared he was ready to move on from the NCAA. Though he may not the pure scorer that Krug is, there’s little doubt that DeKeyser is just as – if not more – important to the Red Wings blueline.
He eats a lot of minutes for the Red Wings, and coach Mike Babcock has shown a growing confidence in DeKeyser’s ability to defend, even in tight games. At just 24, the Michigan native fits right in for Detroit, and it’s likely he’ll be a fixture for the Red Wings for years to come.
3. Tyler Johnson
You could probably list a dozen teams in the NHL right now that are looking for a good, productive, two-way second line center. The Tampa Bay Lightning plucked theirs right out of the Western League after Tyler Johnson went undrafted.
Johnson, 24, was a consistent scorer in the junior ranks, but the questions were likely about his size. At 5-foot-9, 182 pounds, he’s not the biggest of men, but the Lightning have a pretty good history with small, skilled forwards.
In his first full season, Johnson was a Calder Trophy nominee and finished with 50 points. He even received a third place vote for the Selke. Not bad for a guy 29 other teams passed on.
2. Mats Zuccarello
Not many players get a taste of the Olympics before they set foot in the NHL, but Mats Zuccarello was one of them.
At 22, the Norwegian winger suited up for his country to take on the world’s best at the 2010 Vancouver games, and he didn’t fare too poorly. In four games, Zuccarello pick up a goal and two assists, and got to play alongside All Name Teamer Tore Vikingstad.
Recently, Zuccarello became the most prolific Norwegian goal-scorer in NHL history, and in just five short seasons, he’s creeping up on the all-time points record, as well.
1. Sergei Bobrovsky
This could be a move the Philadelphia Flyers regret for a long time.
Bobrovsky lost any chance at Philadelphia’s starting job to the now-jobless Ilya Bryzgalov, and was subsequently sent to Columbus in exchange for a litter of draft picks. Since arriving in Columbus, the timeline on Bobrovsky reads a bit like this: he took Steve Mason’s job, became one of the best starting goaltenders in the league, won a Vezina Trophy, was voted a first-team all-star, and started his first playoff series.
According to former GM Paul Holmgren, the Flyers had considered drafting Bobrovsky, but decided it would be too difficult to sign him. Four years later, in 2010, they got him under an entry-level deal, and two years later, they traded him. Since then, his career has taken off.
At 26, Bobrovsky still has a lot of games ahead of him. In the last five seasons, he is definitely the best of the undrafted bunch.