Many hockey players end up making the league within just a few years of being drafted, some of them making an impact as early as their first one for their respective club. For those taken in the very early part of the NHL Entry Draft, it’s more or less the expectation thrust on their shoulders from day one. That said, there are always some players who start off being virtually unnoticed after they’ve been drafted in the later rounds – if they’re even drafted at all – and then end up having a much bigger impact on their NHL club’s fortunes than even they could have foreseen years earlier. On this list, we’ll be focusing on exactly those kinds of players as we count down the top 10 highest-paid NHL late bloomers currently active in the league.
Some would fall under the category of players who would be considered draft steals, others are ones who went completely under the radar, but the main thing these players have in common is not only that they made their splash in the NHL in a huge way once they made it, but also that they’ve done so while making huge paychecks for NHL standards. Certain players like Martin St. Louis were turned away by a number of different teams until signing for one (in his case, the Calgary Flames) and then being released by that team, only to sign for another and become a superstar. Long story short, no NHL player has the same journey on the road to the biggest league in hockey, and it’s the different stories about everyone’s path towards an NHL job that makes not only the player more interesting, but the league as a whole. Here are the 10 highest-paid NHL late bloomers, ranked based on their salary for the 2014-15 season.
10 Mark Giordano - Calgary Flames - $4 million
Arguably one of the most important players on the Flames’ roster, their captain Mark Giordano – who makes $4 million this year – had a pretty unconventional path toward the NHL. Playing in the OPJHL during his draft year of 2002, he was ready to go to business school at York University in Toronto before the Flames offered him an invite to their summer camp at the 11th hour. He started off mostly in the AHL with a few NHL games in his first game before playing 48 the following season with Calgary. Contract issues led him to play with Dynamo Moscow in 2007-08 before returning to the Flames the following year, where he’s blossomed into a top-quality defenseman.
9 Teddy Purcell - Edmonton Oilers - $4.5 million
A native of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Teddy Purcell didn’t really get his career going until the season following what would have been his draft year (2003), starting off in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League before going to the USHL and then the University of Maine. He eventually found his way into the Los Angeles Kings’ system in the 2007-08 season, but didn’t really hold down a regular place beyond half a season with the Kings. Traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010, Purcell would enjoy more individual success, scoring 65 points in the 2011-12 season. Currently with the Edmonton Oilers, Purcell has a salary of $4.5 million this season.
8 Alex Burrows - Vancouver Canucks - $5 million
Alex Burrows would have been draft-eligible in 1999, but didn’t even get his junior career going until 2000-01, when he played for the Shawinigan Cataractes, followed by two full seasons in the ECHL. However, his performances in the league bagged him a two-way contract with the Vancouver Canucks, going between the Canucks and their AHL affiliate at the time, the Manitoba Moose, in 2005-06. Now making a salary of $5 million this year, Burrows has since developed into a tough but offensively solid player for the Canucks as a consistent linemate with the Sedin twins, as well as playing in two World Championships for Canada.
7 Johan Franzen - Detroit Red Wings - $5 million
Despite the fact that he’s now one of the most reliable forwards for Detroit, even if he’s not one of the more high-scoring ones, Johan Franzen wasn’t even playing hockey during his draft year of 1998 – in fact, he’d been suspended an entire year following an altercation with a referee. After a few seasons with Linkopings HC in his native Sweden, a recommendation from a Detroit Red Wings European scout led to the Red Wings drafting the then 24-year-old Franzen in 2004. Making $5 million this year, Franzen has established himself as being a go-to guy for the Red Wings during the playoffs, once getting 18 points in 12 games for Detroit in the 2010 postseason.
6 Martin St. Louis - New York Rangers - $5 million
He might be one of the most electrifying forwards in the league even at age 39, but Martin St. Louis’ diminutive stature of 5’8” was seen as too much of a crutch early on in his career. Despite scoring big points in college with the University of Vermont, St. Louis was released from a tryout with the Ottawa Senators in 1997 before joining the Calgary Flames the following year. He played 56 games as a Flame in 1999-00 before being released and joining the Tampa Bay Lightning the following year. What would come after? Two Art Ross trophies, a Hart trophy, an Olympic Gold Medal and a Stanley Cup. A $5 million salary this season isn’t too bad, either.
5 Matt Moulson - Buffalo Sabres - $ 6 million
He might be struggling to put up points for the lowly Buffalo Sabres right now, but he’s put up big ones in the past for the New York Islanders, and Matt Moulson is still a pretty solid NHL winger. The fact that he makes $6 million this year emphasizes that. However, in his draft year of 2003, the former Cornell University player wasn’t taken until the 263rd overall pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who ended up releasing him. Signing with the Los Angeles Kings in 2006, Moulson was never able to hold down a regular NHL job with the Kings, and signed with the New York Islanders – initially for just a year – in 2009. He found solid chemistry with John Tavares, and put up three straight 30-goal seasons with the Isles.
4 Mark Streit - Philadelphia Flyers - $6.25 million
Starting off in his native Switzerland, Mark Streit got a small amount of interest from North America – eventually manifesting into a season where he played with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons – but went back to Switzerland eventually, where he became a star defenseman. The Montreal Canadiens took notice, and drafted him at the age of 26 in the 2004 draft at 262nd overall. He spent three seasons with the Habs, scoring 62 points in 2007-08 before signing with the Islanders as a free agent the following summer, which saw him become the highest-earning Swiss athlete after Roger Federer. Currently with the Flyers, Streit makes $6.25 million this season.
3 Dan Girardi - New York Rangers - $ 7 million
Barely a presence for the OHL’s Barrie Colts in his draft year of 2002, Dan Girardi ended up being snubbed from an NHL draft altogether, but hit his stride in junior as a member of the Guelph Storm and eventually the London Knights before earning a contract with the New York Rangers. However, Girardi didn’t truly find his groove until the 2007-08 season, where he’d play all 82 games for three straight seasons. Now making a salary of $7 million this year, Girardi has since become an alternate captain for the Rangers and played in the 2012 NHL All-Star Game.
2 Zdeno Chara - Boston Bruins - $ 7 million
One might say it’s a bit debatable for Zdeno Chara to be on this list, since he got drafted into the league in the third round of the 1996 draft and it didn’t take him too long to make the NHL as a member of the New York Islanders. That said, he didn’t produce more than 11 points a season with the Isles, and was later dealt to Ottawa in 2001 in the Alexei Yashin trade. What followed was four successful seasons as a Senator before signing with the Boston Bruins in 2006 – which led to a Stanley Cup victory in 2011. With big things still expected of the Bruins this year, Chara is making $7 million this season.
1 Henrik Lundqvist - New York Rangers - $11 million
He hadn’t established himself as an Elitserien-level goaltender in his native Sweden yet when he was drafted 205th overall by the New York Rangers in 2000, but becoming the number one goalie for Frolunda over five seasons helped him get recognized on an international level – not to mention his stellar performances at the 2004 IIHF World Championships that saw Sweden take the silver medal. From the 2005-06 season onward, Henrik Lundqvist has been the Blueshirts’ undisputed number one goaltender, culminating in a Vezina Trophy win in 2012 as well as a trip to the Stanley Cup final this past season. With that in mind, it’s not hard to see why King Henrik has a salary of $11 million this year.