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.
|Penguins (2016, 2009)||Kris Letang||2005 3rd Round (62nd Overall)|
|Blackhawks (2015, 2013, 2010)||Duncan Keith||2002 2nd Round (54th Overall)|
|Kings (2014, 2012)||Drew Doughty||2008 1st Round (2nd Overall)|
|Bruins (2011)||Zdeno Chara||Free Agent, 2006||5yr/$37.5 mil|
|Red Wings (2008, 2002)||Nicklas Lidstrom||1989 3rd Round (53rd Overall)|
|Ducks (2007)||Scott Niedermayer||Free Agent, 2005||4yr/$27 mil|
|Hurricanes (2006)||Aaron Ward||Traded from Boston||for Patrick Eaves and 4th Round Pick|
|Lightning (2004)||Dan Boyle||Traded from Florida||for 5th Round Pick|
|Devils (2003)||Scott Niedermayer||1991 1st Round (3rd Overall)|
|Avalanche (2001)||Rob Blake||Traded from Los Angeles||for 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.
|Anaheim||Hampus Lindholm||2012 1st Round (6th Overall)|
|Arizona||Oliver Ekman-Larsson||2009 1st Round (6th Overall)|
|Boston||Torey Krug||Free Agent, 2011||Entry Level|
|Buffalo||Rasmus Ristolainen||2013 1st Round (8th Overall)|
|Calgary||Mark Giordano||Free Agent, 2009||3yr/$2.6 mil|
|Carolina||Justin Faulk||2010 4th Round (37th Overall)|
|Chicago||Duncan Keith||2002 2nd Round (54th Overall)|
|Colorado||Tyson Barrie||2009 3rd Round (64th Overall)|
|Columbus||Seth Jones||Traded from Nashville||for Ryan Johansen|
|Dallas||John Klingberg||2010 5th Round (131st Overall)|
|Detroit||Mike Green||Free Agent, 2015||3yr/$18 mil|
|Edmonton||Adam Larsson||Traded from New Jersey||for Taylor Hall|
|Florida||Aaron Ekblad||2014 1st Round (1st Overall)|
|Kings||Drew Doughty||2008 1st Round (2nd Overall)|
|Minnesota||Ryan Suter||Free Agent, 2012||13yr/$98 mil|
|Montreal||Shea Weber||Traded from Nashville||for PK Subban|
|Nashville||Roman Josi||2008 2nd Round (38th Overall)|
|New Jersey||Andy Greene||Free Agent, 2006||Entry Level|
|New York Islanders||Nick Leddy||Traded from Chicago (with Kent Simpson)||for T.J. Brennan, Ville Pokka and Anders Nilsson|
|New York Rangers||Ryan McDonagh||Traded from Montreal (with Chris Higgins and Pavel Valentenko)||for Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt and Michael Busto|
|Ottawa||Erik Karlsson||2008 1st Round (15th Overall)|
|Philadelphia||Shayne Gostisbehere||2013 3rd Round (78th Overall)|
|Pittsburgh||Kris Letang||2005 3rd Round (62nd Overall)|
|San Jose||Brent Burns||Traded from Minnesota (with with 2012 2nd round pick)||for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and 2011 1st round pick|
|St. Louis||Alex Pietrangelo||2008 1st Round (4th Overall)|
|Tampa Bay||Victor Hedman||2009 1st Round (2nd Overall)|
|Toronto||Morgan Rielly||2012 1st Round (5th Overall)|
|Vancouver||Alex Edler||2004 3rd Round (91st Overall)|
|Washington||John Carlson||2008 1st Round (27th Overall)|
|Winnipeg||Dustin Byfuglien||Traded 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.