NHL teams expect their top draft picks to become impact players, if not stars. Teams that struggle often are the ones who have swung and missed a couple of times on high draft picks.
But as the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins showed in winning the Stanley Cup the past two years, getting production from players picked at the draft who were household names only in their own households is important as well.
Chicago had three of its own first-round picks -- Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook -- in the lineup for its Cup-winning victory against the Philadelphia Flyers last year. But the Hawks that night also had two players -- Dustin Byfuglien and Troy Brouwer -- who were picked in the seventh round or later: Byfuglien was chosen No. 245 in 2003, while Brouwer was No. 214 in 2004. Adam Burish, who played earlier in the Final but sat out the final three games of the series, was taken with the 282nd pick in 2002.
The Bruins had a host of players who were taken in the lower end of the Entry Draft -- most notably Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas, who went in the ninth round (to Quebec) in 1994. Others Bruins who went late in the draft before coming to Boston included Tomas Kaberle, Andrew Ference and Michael Ryder (eighth round), Shawn Thornton (seventh round) and Dennis Seidenberg (sixth round). In fact, the Bruins had just four first-round picks on their roster, and of that group only rookie center Tyler Seguin actually was drafted by Boston.
But finding late-round talent is nothing new in today's NHL.
Detroit's nucleus includes stars such as Pavel Datsyuk (No. 171 in 1998) and Henrik Zetterberg (No. 210 in 1999). San Jose's Joe Pavelski (No. 205 in 2003) is among a number of Sharks who weren't high draft picks.
A host of other players have turned into solid contributors, and even stars, despite being a long way from the glamour of the first round. That list includes Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, taken with the 205th pick in the 2000 draft. Since coming to the NHL from Sweden in 2005, Lundqvist has been a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist.
In fact, though they may not be as plentiful as first-round stars, you can make a pretty good 20-man NHL team out of players taken in the very late stages of the draft:
All Bargain-Basement team (active players taken No. 200 or later):
G -- Tim Thomas (1994, Quebec, No. 217); Henrik Lundqvist (2000, N.Y. Rangers, No. 205); Pekka Rinne (2004, Nashville, No. 258)
D -- Tomas Kaberle (1996, Toronto, No. 204); Dustin Byfuglien (2003, Chicago, No. 245); Mark Streit (2004, Montreal, No. 262); Sami Salo (1996, Ottawa, No. 239); Kimmo Timonen (1993, Los Angeles, No. 250); Tobias Enstrom (2003, Atlanta, No. 239); Dennis Wideman (2002, Buffalo, No. 241)
C -- Joe Pavelski (2003, San Jose, No. 205); Maxime Talbot (2002, Pittsburgh, No. 234); Kyle Brodziak (2004, Edmonton, No. 214)
LW -- Henrik Zetterberg (1999, Detroit, No. 210); Tomas Holmstrom (1994, Detroit, No. 257); Matt Moulson (2003, Pittsburgh, No. 263)
RW-- Patric Hornqvist (2005, Nashville, No. 230); Steve Sullivan (1994, New Jersey, No. 233); Radim Vrbata (1999, Colorado, No. 212); Troy Brouwer (2004, Chicago, No. 214)
But shopping in hockey's bargain bin is one thing; finding a gem in the NHL's version of a rummage sale is quite another.
Not that there isn't some bona fide talent still out there after all 30 teams have finished drafting -- Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi, who led Chicago to the Cup last year, and Tampa Bay's Dwayne Roloson, who got the Lightning to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals this past spring -- are proof that Stanley Cup winners don't need a big-name pedigree.
For every Niemi and Roloson, there are dozens of players who never make it. Still, the ranks of the undrafted include such stars of the past as Ed Belfour and Adam Oates, so teams still have plenty of incentive to keep looking.