There are always the Steven Stamkos’ and the Sidney Crosby’s who are first round, and in this case first overall, draft picks that turn out to be fantastic and produce season after season, but it's important to look at those rare players who were not picked in the first round, or even the second round, and yet still produce at a high level, year after year. Much like the “Tom Brady” effect in the NFL – as he was picked in the 6th round, 199th overall in 2000 – there are those special few in the NHL. Some of the guys on this list find themselves in the top ten in various statistics in the NHL, despite being low level picks. Of course, there are also the guys who entered the league in the unconventional way of not being drafted who are still performing well, like Martin St. Louis for example (56 points so far, 12th overall in the NHL), but this is a list of the draft surprises.
For those of us who have seen “Moneyball,” we all know the science that goes into scouting players and how they are ranked before the draft starts. For the most part, we only hear about the mistakes that are made when the supposed top players in the draft end up falling flat. This list will do the opposite, as it will serve as a tip of the hat to those guys who saw something special in these players that everyone else overlooked. This is also a hat tip to those players who clawed their way into the NHL in the final rounds of the draft and produced season after season of fantastic hockey. They made their way up to earning the big bucks in the NHL with multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts that are usually reserved for players the caliber of Alexander Ovechkin.
10 Jamie Benn, LW, Dallas Stars - $5.25 Million
This Victoria BC native is our first glimpse at the talent pool that is often left to the later rounds of the draft. Benn was drafted in the 5th round, taken 129th overall in the 2007 draft. This season, with the Dallas Stars, Jamie Benn has scored 22 goals and helped out with 29 assists. He also finds himself at 8th overall in the NHL for shots on goal proving he is not to be taken lightly by the opposition just because of his low draft pick status. At 24 years old, he has time to prove that he can continue this kind of form in seasons to come, and continue to give hope to the young players who are worried about living in the shadow of Taylor Hall or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as they get finally snatched up in the 6th round of the draft.
9 Francois Beauchemin, D, Anaheim Ducks - $3.5 Million
Another Canadian finds his way on to our list in the 9th spot. Francis Beauchemin is a veteran in the NHL now at 33 years old, but is still producing solid numbers. Although he has only found the back of the net once and managed 10 assists in his 50 games so far this year, he has proved that he is a great guy to have on the ice if your team needs a goal, as he is currently ranked 3rd overall in the NHL for plus/minus with an incredible +27 rating. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t picked until the 3rd round after 74 guys before him in 1998.
8 Brian Campbell, D, Florida Panthers - $7.1 Million
Brian Campbell should definitely be a source of inspiration for all those players picked in the low rounds, as he currently takes home more than most of the top scorers in the NHL. As a defenseman, Campbell’s goals don’t stack up too high (5 so far), but he has helped out with 20 assists on the season. This is probably due to his amazing amount of time on the ice. He is currently 2nd overall in the league for average ice time with 27:41 per game. This is certainly a lot of trust to put in a guy who wasn’t necessarily considered to be all that great, as he was only drafted in the 6th round, 156th overall.
7 Dustin Byfuglien, D, Winnipeg Jets - $5.2 Million
6 Valtteri Filppula, C, Tampa Bay Lightning - $5 Million
While his point totals don’t rack up among the top players in the league, 20 goals and 21 assists can hardly be sniffed at on a team that boasts a roster with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis hogging all the glory. 41 points is also not too shabby for a guy who wasn’t picked in the 2002 draft until the 3rd round at 95th overall. His sniping skills certainly put that choice into question when you look at the stats. Filppula finds the back of the net just about 1 time in every 5 shots that he takes, which is good enough to put him in the top 25 in the NHL overall for shot percentage.
5 Henrik Zetterberg, LW, Detroit Red Wings - $6.08 Million
Henrik Zetterberg is the first example on this list of the quality scouting and training techniques that the Detroit Red Wings camp offers. Another one of our lowest draft picks - 7th round, 210th overall - Zetterberg was just about cast aside at the 1999 entry draft but has since proven himself to be one of the most useful all around players in the league. Just this season, he has produced 16 goals and 32 assists (enough to be in the top 20 in the NHL for assists) as well as currently sitting at +19, which is 22nd overall in the NHL. This is by no means the first season that Zetterberg has produced good results, and at 33 he is a veteran of the NHL and has certainly earned the $6.08 million salary he currently takes home.
4 Ben Bishop, G, Tampa Bay Lightning - $2.3 Million
Ben Bishop is the first and only goaltender on this list. While his $2.3 million dollar salary does not exactly stack up next to the rest of the guys on this list, at 27 years old and with just 2 years left on his contract before he becomes an unrestricted free agent, the Lightning might have to break the bank if they want to hold on to him. Bishop’s stats on this season speak for themselves. He currently has 28 wins in 44 games (3rd overall), a .933 save percentage (2nd overall), a 1.98 goals against average (3rd overall), and four shootout wins (4th overall). How is it possible that a guy who was left until the 3rd round at 85th overall can produce statistics as good as this?
3 Patrick Sharp, LW, Chicago Blackhawks - $5.9 Million
Patrick Sharp was not picked until the 3rd round, at 95th overall in 2001, and has racked up an amazing tally of 28 goals and 30 assists this season, which puts him at 6th overall in the NHL for total points. The 32 year old sniper is finding the back of the net more often than many of the young prospects who were snatched up in the opening seconds of the draft each year. As a reward for his stellar play this season, he was selected to the Canadian national hockey team and will likely share a line with teammate Jonathan Toews.
2 Joe Pavelski, C, San Jose Sharks - $4 Million
First of all, a guy who is tallying the kind of points that Joe Pavelski is, should not be making only $4 million a year, and that’s why next year his salary will shoot up to $6 million. Pavelski has found the back of the net 29 times, which is 4th overall in the NHL this year, and has complemented this feat by adding 25 assists. That’s not bad for a guy who was worried he would be the last kid picked at the 2003 entry draft when he wasn’t taken until the 7th round at 205th overall.
1 Pavel Datsyuk, C, Detroit Red Wings - $6.7 Million
At 35 years old, Pavel Datsyuk is like the Tom Brady of hockey. He is the guy who keeps performing at a much higher level than anyone ever thought possible of him. Datsyuk was picked – all those years ago in 1998 – in the 6th round at 171st overall and like Zetterberg is just another example of how great the scouting program of the Detroit Red Wings is. Just this season, Datsyuk has managed 15 goals and 18 assists in only 37 games played. If he had been fit to play all season, he would be on pace with the first rounders at the top of the NHL for points overall. His yearly consistency is why he was able to earn a significant pay raise to $7.5 million dollars next year. Datsyuk has been consistent for so long, and he shows no signs of slowing down.