An impressive amount of NHL players have made an impact on the league even if they never cost a draft pick, but there’s a pretty staggering group of guys who became stars in rounds that wouldn’t exist today. NHL.com’s John Kreiser took an interesting look back at the ninth round, which went away as a part of the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement eight years ago.
To me, the most stunning part was the dizzying crop of goalies who were picked in the ninth round in 1994:
Of the nine goaltenders taken in the ninth round, seven made it to the NHL — and five were still active this past season. In a span of three straight picks (Nos. 217, 218 and 219), Quebec took a college kid named Tim Thomas from Vermont, Philadelphia picked Johan Hedberg, a Swede, and San Jose selected Evgeni Nabokov from the U.S.S.R. Seven picks later, Montreal took Tomas Vokoun from the Czech Republic, and four picks later, Boston nabbed John Grahame from the USHL. All five dressed for at least one game this past season.
There are plenty of ways to reveal how difficult it is to gauge high-school age goalies, but that paragraph might be one of the best. You could anchor a team’s goaltending with solid work for a decade-plus with the likes of Thomas, Nabokov and Vokoun. While Grahame seems to be the subject of mockery, it’s impressive that he’s made as much of his career as he did.
Kreiser points out that Nikolai Khabibulin was drafted in the ninth round two years later while 2011 All-Star Brian Elliott was a ninth-rounder, too.
While goalies stand out the most in Kreiser’s study, there are some useful forwards and defensemen who were taken with such low picks. Blueliners such at Mark Streit and Jonathan Ericsson were drafted that late while Steve Sullivan and Matt Moulson represent some of the best forwards to fall asleep next to their phones on draft day.
It’s an interesting study of how difficult scouting can be and how much players can progress from draft day to their hockey-playing primes.