10 Years of Drafts – Part 1

A look back at 10 years worth of drafts, from 1998 to 2008. It is a rather long post, so I will divvy it up into three separate posts. This is part 1 of 3

The reason this post came about was two-fold. Firstly, I have always been, and always will be intrigued with the art of drafting. One of my favorite internet activities is looking back at past drafts, seeing who was picked where, asking whatever happened to so and so, etc… Secondly, and more selfishly, I like to look at the odds of making it in the NHL. Don’t worry, I don’t have any delusions that a pro hockey team will come knocking on the door of a 31 year old woman who plays in a rec. league, but I often joke with friends that my future son will be an NHLer. I usually speak about it in jest, because as you will see below, chances are that EVEN if the future son is good enough to get drafted, there’s less than a 50% chance he will ever actually get to play a single NHL game.

I used the 1998 to 2008 drafts for this post. I didn’t use 2009 or 2010 because the stats of players who haven’t yet played are very high, nor do I have a draft wish-list, because the majority are prospects I have yet to hear of. (I am just casual fan after-all and not an amateur scout!)

For each year, I give the following information:

  • Number  of players drafted (which strangely fluctuates from year to year!)
  • Percentage of players drafted  that have yet to play a single NHL game. I didn’t omit players who played one or two games because I think it’s pretty incredible that they were even able to play in the NHL at all.  If I were to make a calculation of players drafted who actually made a career out of playing NHL hockey, we’d be looking at percentages of less than 20%
  • Highest drafted player to have never yet played a single NHL game – aka the first round bust
  • Player I wish the Habs had drafted instead of….  I never looked at the first round because it was far more fun to look at late round “lucky picks”. Besides, I was in no mood to get into the ” 2003:  Should have picked [insert 20 player names here] instead of Andrei Kostitsyn” debate

note: I used the wonderful www.hockeydb.com for the draft statistics, and good ol’ Google searching to learn more about the players that never were.

1998 Draft – Buffalo

# Drafted
% Never Played
Highest Pick to Never Play
I wish the Habs had Drafted…
…instead of
13- Michael Henrich (Edm)
3-64 Brad Richards (Tampa)
2-45 Mike Ribeiro

In a first round with the likes of Lecavelier, Gagné, Regehr, and the $7-million man Gomez, poor Michael Henrich is the only man left to never have played an NHL game. Henrich was the first ever Jewish player to be drafted in the 1st round. He played 5 seasons in the AHL (including a good stint with the Bulldogs), and now plays for HC Asiago in the Serie A league in Italy. Read his full Wikipedia bio here but an even better read is a 2003 interview he gave to Hockey Future’s. It talks about his struggles, and gives a bit more insight into why this highly drafted player never made it to the NHL.

As for my wish that the Habs had drafted Brad Richards over Mike Ribeiro – I don’t think I need to offer any explanation…

The consolation is that this was the year the Habs picked Markov – good pick Habs! (something I will be unable to say for the remainder of this post).

1999 Draft – Boston

# Drafted
% Never Played
Highest Pick to Never Play
I wish the Habs had Drafted…
…instead of
15- Scott Kelman (Pho)
7-210  Henrik Zetterberg (Det)
7-196 Vadim Tarasov

Interesting fact about the 1999 draft, only one Montreal pick ever ended up playing a game in the NHL (2-58 Matt Carkner), and he was in the box more than he was on the ice… But Montreal wasn’t the only one disappointed that year, as a whopping 62.9% never made it onto NHL ice. The first of these many busts was pick #15 Scott Kelman.

Kelman’s hockey career never took off, he had trouble making it even to the AHL. After bouncing around several leagues and teams, it appears Kelman has stopped playing hockey and now works at his family’s publishing firm (thank-you LinkedIn).

As for the Zetterberg instead of Tarasov, I understand that 7th round picks are long shots, and any number of teams would have drafted Zetterberg higher “had they known”. But this is my “hindsight is 20/20 wishlist”, and imagination rules. Who knows if the Habs would have even developed him properly… Maybe if we had drafted him, it would be Tarasov with a ppg career, and Zetterberg left to only wonder what could have been…

2000 Draft – Calgary

# Drafted
% Never Played
Highest Pick to Never Play
I wish the Habs had Drafted…
…instead of
15-  Artem Kryukov (Buf)
4-118  Lubomir Vishnovsky (LA)
4-114 Christian Larrivee

Yes another bust of a draft for the Habs, with their first round pick going to Ron Hainsey. While he is a serviceable NHL defenseman, he isn’t what I would be proud of having as my first pick.

In what you will see is a disturbing trend, it was again pick #15 that failed to ever appear in an NHL game. Hard to get a clear picture on exactly what happened, but in a nutshell, Kryukov just never came over to North America.

From what I read on russianprospects.com, people were surprised by Buffalo making this pick because Kryukovhas suffered a major concussion. Based on his hockey stats he never really reached his potential after that, and has been shuffling around Russian leagues. Hockey message boards seem to indicate some sort of wishful thinking on the part of Sabres fans who still think he might come over to North America. This is kind of like the Alexei Yemelin story, except with a higher pick, a medical problem, and a lack of ability to play at the highest level.

Onto my draft wish. In looking back at the draft history, the Habs actually had two 4th round picks before Lubomir Vishnovsky was ever taken, neither of the Habs picks have played a game in the NHL (but, to be fair, that is the case with the majority of this round). Vishnovsky was just another one of those great mid-round picks that could have really ended up on any team. I would love to know what goes on behind the scenes when selecting these mid-round players. Did L.A. just have a plethora more information on Vishnovsky? Was he even on the Habs radar?

2001 Draft – Florida

# Drafted
% Never Played
Highest Pick to Never Play
I wish the Habs had Drafted…
…instead of
15-  Igor Knyazev (Car)
6-175  Ryane Clowe  (SJ)
6-171 Eric Himelfarb

2001 ranks as one of my favorite draft years because in round number three, my current favorite Hab was drafted – Thomas Plekanec. I have loved Plekanec since 2008, and nothing made me happier than the 6-year contract he signed with the Candiens over the summer. Other notable Habs selections were “The Traitor who has become nothing” and Alexander Perezhogin. Compared to other recent draft years, the Habs come out with three NHLers, which isn’t too shabby.

You know who isn’t an NHLer? The jinxed 15th overall pick, Igor Knyazev. From what I’ve found, there seemed to be no obvious drawback in drafting him in the middle of the first round. In fact, it’s what most experts predicted. Knyazev was a big 18 year old, who was a solid defensman and apparently very capable of leading the rush. He came over to North America after being drafted and spent two years with Carolina’s AHL affiliate, and then disappeared back into Russia never completing a full season in the Russian Superleague or the KHL. In 2004, Carolina traded him to the Phoenix Coyotes, and that September he signed a contract with the Russian team Voskresensk Khimik.His professional hockey career seems to come to an end in the 2008-2009 season. Except for the contract spats that his junior team in Russia caused when he signed with Carolina, there doesn’t seem to be much more information on why this young man never blossomed into the player so many thought he could be.

In the 6th round of the draft, the Habs picked Eric Himelfarb and Ryane Clowe went only four spots  later to San Jose…what I wouldn’t give to have Clowe skating on the left wing of Plekanec. He’s basically everything the Habs needs right now…big, strong on the puck, and he can score. Damn the luck of it all…

And with that, Part 1 of my look at 10 Years of Drafts concludes. Next time I will have even more sob stories and missed picks :)

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