10 Years of Drafts – Part 2

Part 2 of 3.

If you missed Part 1, you can read it here. Basically I am taking a look back at the drafts from 1998 to 2008.  For this post, I am focusing on 2002, 2003 and 2004.

A quick reminder of what information I am posting for each draft year:

  • 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.

Without further ado, I present to you

2002 Draft – Toronto

# Drafted
% Never Played
Highest Pick to Never Play
I wish the Habs had Drafted…
…instead of
15- Jesse Niinimaki (Edm)
2-54 Duncan Keith (Chi)
2-45 Tomas Linhart

2002 is the year of Too-Little-Too-Late Chris Higgins, who was picked just after Alexander Semin and before…well…actually no one that I wish was a Montreal Canadien today. This was not a stellar draft year, as is evident by the high percentage of players who have yet to play an NHL game. Edmonton, for the 2nd time in 5 years picked a player at lucky spot number 15, and it is a bust. That’s four #15 picks in a row that have failed to play an NHL game.

But the real question is: Whatever happened to young Jesse Niinimaki? When the scouting reports came out, Niinimaki was not ranked very high on the European list. In fact, if you read Oiler fan message boards from around the time is he was drafted, the consensus was that the Oilers *again* went off the board and tried to hit a home run. Experiment failed. After a very brief stint in the AHL (read: 24 games, 1 goal), he went back to Europe and had been bouncing around teams and leagues ever since.  Apparently, when he was playing in the AHL he wanted a one way contract from the Oilers. Oilers didn’t give it to him, so he went back to Europe and re-entered the NHL draft again in 2006.  He went undrafted. The only consistent comment I read about him was that he lacked the work ethic and discipline to make it to the NHL, and according to the Edmonton journal, Niinimaki never developed the grit Edmonton was hoping for. Jesse Niinimaki currently plays for the Ilves Tampere of Finland’s SM Liga.

My wish pick was Duncan Keith, picked only nine spots after the Habs chose Tomas Linhart. Linhart has never played in the NHL, Keith just won a Stanley Cup… damn the luck of it all.

2003 Draft – Nashville

# Drafted
% Never Played
Highest Pick to Never Play
I wish the Habs had Drafted…
…instead of
12- Hugh Jessiman (NYR)
8-239 Tobias Enstrom  (Atl)
7-217  Oskari Korpikari

Finally, we reach the 2003 draft aka The Draft Where the Habs Could Have Had [insert name here]. I am not an Andrei Kostitsyn hater, but I do have to admit that this is the draft that first got me thinking about drafting in general. With the 10th pick, the Habs could have had almost anyone, and yet they went with Andrei. What was it in the scouting report that made AK46 a better choice than Jeff Carter (or Ryan Getzlaf, Zach Parise, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, omg this list just keeps going!). But don’t fret Habs fans, at least we aren’t Rangers fans. With the 12th overall pick, New York chose the one guy who has yet to play and NHL game! In fact, the 2003 crop of first rounders have all (with the exception of Jessiman and Shawn Bell), gone on to have successful NHL careers. At least Shawn Bell’s played a few games…

Hugh Jessiman wasn’t supposed to be a bust. He’s big, he can score, he can skate, yet even though he is now with his third NHL team, no one has called him up for a single game. Based on my internet readings (here, here and here), it seems like a season ending ankle injury while at Dartmouth in 2004/2005, coupled with the fact that he then went straight to the AHL after his injury put his development back and he has not really caught up since. He is now property of the Chicago Blackhawks, and they (like the Rangers and Predators before them) have asked that he change his game to become more of a role player. So from being deemed a top 6 power forward, it looks like the only way Jessiman will make his way into the NHL is by fighting. He should call Matt Hendricks up for tips

Onto Enstrom vs Korpikari. The latter plays in the Finnish SM-Liga and the former is one of the leading defenseman in the NHL. Tobias Enstrom is by far one of my favorite defenseman not on the Habs. It took awhile for him to develop, but so did Markov. Enstrom is a one-man assist machine and his broken finger injury not only hurts my heart, it hurts my fantasy pools as well. With his very friendly $3.75 million cap hit he would make a lovely addition to the Habs. To bad the Thrashers might actually make the playoffs this year and won’t be selling off any of their assets.

2004 Draft – Raleigh

# Drafted
% Never Played
Highest Pick to Never Play
I wish the Habs had Drafted…
…instead of
12- AJ Thelen (Min)
3-97 Johan Franzen  (Det)
3-84  Alexei Yemelin

I call this year, “the double class”. Right after these poor souls were drafted, the NHL locked-out it’s players and hockey fans everywhere were left with a long, hockey-less winter. So while Ovi was the 2004 1st pick and Crosby was the 2005 1st pick, both had entered the NHL at the same time. Though they obviously both made the team, the rest of the 2004 and 2005 class had to fight for their place with double the number of other rookies.

AJ Thelen, Minnesota’s 12th pick, may be the 2004 highest drafted player to never have played an NHL game, but he isn’t the biggest bust. The Ranger’s 5th pick (Al Montoya) and LA’s 11th pick (Lauri Tukonen) both only played 5-games in the NHL. But the rule is “highest drafted player to never play an NHL game”, and so it is AJ Thelen we will learn more about (and besides, it is a very scandalous story!).

AJ Thelen had a VERY good rookie season playing for Michigan State University (MSU) – he had 29 points in 42 games and was named the CCHA’s Best Offensive Defenseman Award winner. Thelen, a Minnesota native, looked to be a great pick for the Wild. However, things took 180-degree turn in his sophomore year. After missing team meetings, and getting caught for drinking underage, he was kicked out of the MSU hockey program. It seems he did not have a good relationship with his coach, and the coach won. From there, he left MSU for the WHL, and played one game in the AHL for the Wild`s farm team. Sadly, injuries such as knee problems and  several concussions have hampered his career thus far. HockeyDB profile shows him only playing a total of 10 games in the AHL over the span of 5 years. He now plays for the Kalamazoo Wings in the ECHL.

For my draft wish, I wish the Habs had taken Franzen ( and his 5-goals the other night) over Yemelin and his love-affair with the KHL. In terms of actual skill and ability to play at the highest lever, I say that Franzen and Yemelin are on par. In fact, we could use both those guys on the Habs right now. Franzen on a wing with Gomez and Kostitsyn might actually produce a goal or two, and I’d take Yemelin over Weber on defence and the powerplay any day. Both these third round picks are great players, it`s just that one came over from Europe and the other likely never will.


That concludes part 2 of this series. Part 3 should be published sometime next week…

2 comments for “10 Years of Drafts – Part 2

  1. February 7, 2011 at 9:40 am

    I really hope so….these 1st round bust stories actually make me a little sad. I feel for these kids who worked so hard their entire life.

    I don’t know Jessiman as a player, never seen him play, but it seemed from what I read that he had the physicality and skill to make it, and like you say, he was unlucky with injuries.

    Do you think he’ll make it up as a Top 6, or be a role player?

  2. abario
    February 5, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    I really believe that Hugh Jessiman will play in a NHL game soon, he’s been playing great and he works really hard. He’s been unlucky with a couple of injuries, if given the right opportunaty at a team, he will kick but…

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