I am not sure if NHL general manager love or hate second round draft picks. I am leaning toward love.
In the 2015 NHL Entry Draft 24 of the 31 players chosen in the second round were drafted by teams that acquired the pick through a trade. That compares to nine in the first round, 17 in the third round, 10 in the fourth, eight in the fifth, four in the sixth and nine in the seventh.
Of the players drafted in the second round in 2015, only Daniel Sprong, chosen 46th by the Pittsburgh Penguins, has played in the NHL thus far. Which is pretty good when you consider none of the players selected in the second round from the 2014 draft have played a single game in the NHL to date.
The cost of acquiring a player a team hopes will put it over the top in the race for the Stanley Cup in any given year is quite often a second round draft choice.
Why is that?
“Teams expect to get a player who will make an impact in the first round,” said an NHL scout. “Quite often teams feel pressure to pick the player who is the most highly regarded when it is their turn to pick in the first round because they don’t want to be criticized for taking a chance. In the second round teams tend to be a little more creative and go off the map to get a player they really like even if he isn’t ranked as high by other teams.”
That’s why second round picks are so coveted around the trade deadline. I suspect the trade conversation goes something like this:
“We’ll give you Player A for Player B, but we also need a pick.”
“Okay, you get Player B and a third?”
“Nope. That doesn’t work. We need a second.”
“Are you nuts? No can do.”
“Well, we have 23 other teams offering us a player who is as good as your player plus a second. Take a hike.”
“Wait a minute! We’ll give you the second.”
“It’s a deal.”
Draft picks, it seems, are nameless and faceless assets so GMs are not so reluctant to move them. At the time a GM decides to trade one, he has no affinity or emotional tie to the pick.
You may end up with Brandon Saad, who helped the Chicago Blackhawks win two Stanley Cups in his first three years in the league, or Dave Baseggio who was chosen 68th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 1986 and never played a game in the NHL.
Any way you slice it, the NHL Entry Draft is a crap shoot. You can get a gem or a dud in any round, even the first. You can pick Alexandre Daigle as the first overall pick as the Ottawa Senators did in 1993 and pass on Chris Pronger, who went second overall to the Hartford Whalers, and had himself a Hall of Fame career.
That said, there have been some terrific second round picks over the years. Saad was an excellent pick for the Blackhawks. Boston could have had him with the 40th pick, but went with Alexander Khokhlachev instead. Khokhlachev has played nine NHL games over three seasons and remains in the AHL with Providence.
Other great second round picks include:
P.K. Subban, 43rd by Montreal in 2007.
James Neal, 33rd by Dallas in 2005.
Patrice Bergeron, 45th by Boston in 2003.
Duncan Keith, 54th by Chicago in 2002.
Slava Kozlov, 45th by Detroit in 1990.
Adam Foote, 27th by Quebec in 1989.
Joe Nieuwendyk, 27th by Calgary in 1985.
Claude Lemieux, 26th by Montreal in 1983.
In 1994 the New Jersey Devils chose centre Patrick Elias in the second round with the 51st overall pick. All he has done is help the franchise win two Stanley Cups while carving out what should be a Hockey Hall of Fame career. The selection of Elias in the second round took some of the sting out of having picked Vadim Sharifijanov in the first round, 25th overall. Sharifijanov, after all, played just 92 games in the NHL scoring 16 goals and 37 points.
My personal favorite second round pick is Chris Chelios, chosen 40th in 1981. What makes Chelios so interesting is not only the fact he played 1,651 games in the NHL winning three Cups and played until he was 47 years old, it is the fact he was Montreal’s fifth pick that year. Prior to choosing Chelios the Habs drafted Mark Hunter (7th), Gilbert Delorme (18th), Jan Ingman (19th) and Lars Eriksson (32nd). Hunter and Delorme were decent picks; Ingman and Eriksson never made it to the NHL.
First round draft choice get the headlines, but for me the real action begins in the second round.