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Top Defenseman Come From Draft, But Not Necessarily Early

Back in December we examined the success rates of centers and defenseman drafted in the top five. The percentage of accomplished forwards were much higher than blueliners. To the point that we should all be crossing our fingers George McPhee drafts a center first. TSN’s Director of Scouting Craig Button published his latest rookie mock draft. Not much has changed as centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier remain his top two picks. Button slotted the Golden Knights with the third pick and selected center Gabe Vilardi. The 17 year-old is a brilliantly skilled prospect who plays for the Windsor Spitfires. Vilardi fits that franchise center we can all hope turns into talent like Anze Kopitar. After the Golden Knights select their offensive star in the first round they will have to address the backend.

There are really good players in this draft. There’s gonna be really good players that have a significant impact in the National Hockey League. The problem is, is that the last two drafts with McDavid, Eichel, Matthews, Laine were exceptional. You go back and look at the other players from those draft, they didn’t make it in their first year. It’s gonna take some time. There’s really good players here and you got to find them. I don’t think they’re depth players, I think there are really good players in the draft. -Craig Button, TSN

Button is convinced there are plenty of pro-level prospects beyond Patrick and Hischier. Especially, some under the radar defensive players. On TSN Toronto, Button was asked about teams addressing defensive needs in the offseason. The analyst suggested teams have better luck finding blueline talent in the draft as opposed to free agency.

You have to draft a defenseman that you think could be a top three guy. Number one defenseman are rare. They’re like true number one centers. And just go back and look where they are, they’re right at the top of the draft.” -Craig Button, TSN

If you look around the league, number one defenseman are mainstays. Top D-men will either stay with the team that drafted them or sign a monster free agent deal. I can’t imagine The Creator agreeing to the contract the Wild’s Ryan Suter made. Luckily, that deal was signed under the previous CBA. Although stay tuned, in 2019, players would like to throw out the term limits.

Having an elite defenseman can also determine how successful a club will be. The only issue is their availability, great blueliners are hard to come by, and for a reason. It’s why some teams like Chicago, LA and Pittsburgh have had monumental, continued, success. All three Cup winners drafted their top defenseman. And it continues from there. Check out the last ten teams that won the Stanley Cup. Half were led by homegrown talent and only two were drafted in the first round.

TeamPlayerAcquired 
Penguins (2016, 2009)Kris Letang2005 3rd Round (62nd Overall)
Blackhawks (2015, 2013, 2010)Duncan Keith2002 2nd Round (54th Overall)
Kings (2014, 2012)Drew Doughty2008 1st Round (2nd Overall)
Bruins (2011)Zdeno CharaFree Agent, 20065yr/$37.5 mil
Red Wings (2008, 2002)Nicklas Lidstrom1989 3rd Round (53rd Overall)
Ducks (2007)Scott NiedermayerFree Agent, 20054yr/$27 mil
Hurricanes (2006)Aaron WardTraded from Bostonfor Patrick Eaves and 4th Round Pick
Lightning (2004)Dan BoyleTraded from Floridafor 5th Round Pick
Devils (2003)Scott Niedermayer1991 1st Round (3rd Overall)
Avalanche (2001)Rob BlakeTraded from Los Angelesfor two 1st Round Picks

Only Doughty and Nierdermayer were drafted by their cup winning team in the first round. Crazy to think Lidstrom and Keith were drafted after the first round. McPhee is well aware he’ll have to build a strong defensive unit. Best part is, he may not need to gamble away his first pick. More than half of the league drafted their current number one defenseman. You’ll notice the disparity of rounds elite defenseman were chosen.

TeamPlayerAcquired 
AnaheimHampus Lindholm2012 1st Round (6th Overall)
ArizonaOliver Ekman-Larsson2009 1st Round (6th Overall)
BostonTorey KrugFree Agent, 2011Entry Level
BuffaloRasmus Ristolainen2013 1st Round (8th Overall)
CalgaryMark GiordanoFree Agent, 20093yr/$2.6 mil
CarolinaJustin Faulk2010 4th Round (37th Overall)
ChicagoDuncan Keith2002 2nd Round (54th Overall)
ColoradoTyson Barrie2009 3rd Round (64th Overall)
ColumbusSeth JonesTraded from Nashvillefor Ryan Johansen
DallasJohn Klingberg2010 5th Round (131st Overall)
DetroitMike GreenFree Agent, 20153yr/$18 mil
EdmontonAdam LarssonTraded from New Jerseyfor Taylor Hall
FloridaAaron Ekblad2014 1st Round (1st Overall)
KingsDrew Doughty2008 1st Round (2nd Overall)
MinnesotaRyan SuterFree Agent, 201213yr/$98 mil
MontrealShea WeberTraded from Nashvillefor PK Subban
NashvilleRoman Josi2008 2nd Round (38th Overall)
New JerseyAndy GreeneFree Agent, 2006Entry Level
New York IslandersNick LeddyTraded from Chicago (with Kent Simpson)for T.J. Brennan, Ville Pokka and Anders Nilsson
New York RangersRyan McDonaghTraded from Montreal (with Chris Higgins and Pavel Valentenko) for Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto
OttawaErik Karlsson2008 1st Round (15th Overall)
PhiladelphiaShayne Gostisbehere2013 3rd Round (78th Overall)
PittsburghKris Letang2005 3rd Round (62nd Overall)
San JoseBrent BurnsTraded from Minnesota (with with 2012 2nd round pick)for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and 2011 1st round pick
St. LouisAlex Pietrangelo2008 1st Round (4th Overall)
Tampa BayVictor Hedman2009 1st Round (2nd Overall)
TorontoMorgan Rielly2012 1st Round (5th Overall)
VancouverAlex Edler2004 3rd Round (91st Overall)
WashingtonJohn Carlson2008 1st Round (27th Overall)
WinnipegDustin ByfuglienTraded from Chicago (with Brent Sopel, Ben Eager and Akim Aliu)for Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb, Jeremy Morin 2010 1st and 2nd round picks

As you can see the variety of players who lead their teams defensive zone. Some are first round picks but a few later round players are potential Hall of Famers. Evidence proves it’s risky to draft a defenseman with a top five pick. On the other hand, history shows the draft is the best way to build a defensive core. While we all think the expansion draft will be light offensively, it will unquestionably be bone-dry of superstar defenseman. Targeting defensive players later in the entry draft could be the right strategy for Vegas. Waiting for talent beyond the first round would follow a positive trend. Just remember, until the Golden Knights draft a top defenseman, Vegas won’t have one. It’s not a good look drafting a first round bust on their first go around. We want McPhee to score top shelf so the other GMs get nervous.

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1 Comment

  1. Phisig150

    Soundss like we’ll have alot of decent defenseman options potentially in the expansion draft. The wait on a defenseman seems very similar to wait on a running back in the NFL draft. All about maximizing draft value. Another great draft article. Keep em’ coming.

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