Every year in the NHL, there are teams who are predicted, and rightly so, to be picking in the draft lottery. These are teams who don’t have the skill of a Chicago/Pittsburgh, or the toughness of a Boston/LA. But if you think about it, the four aforementioned teams weren’t always the perennial contenders they are now. However, it is no  coincidence that these 4 teams are contenders now. Here’s why.

Patrick Kane. John Toews. Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Marc-Andre Fleury. Drew Doughty. Anze Kopitar.  What do these players have in common?

They were all drafted in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. The latest a player mentioned was drafted was 11th(Kopitar). 3 of the 4 teams got a bonafide star in the first round, and that’s not even all of them. While most were 1st or 2nd overall, it shows that building through the draft can be very rewarding.

However, teams normally hit home runs with the lottery picks. It’s what happens in the 2nd to 7th rounds that matters. Below is a list of players drafted by their respective teams who went on to win the Cup with that team(2003 and later).

Boston: Patrice Bergeron (45), David Krejci (63), Milan Lucic (50), Brad Marchand (71)

LA: Jonathan Quick (72), Alec Martinez (95), Dwight King (109), Slava Voynov (32), Kyle Clifford (35), Jordan Nolan (186), Tyler Toffoli (47)

Chicago: Corey Crawford (52), Dustin Byfuglien (245), Dave Bolland (32), Bryan Bickell (41), Troy Brouwer (214), Niklas Hjalmarsson (108), Marcus Kruger (149), Brandon Saad (43), Andrew Shaw (139)

Pittsburgh: Alex Goligoski (61), Kris Letang (62) *Max Talbot drafted 234th in 2002

Boston’s scouting and drafting allowed for them to develop their top 2 centres. Both played on their respective Olympic teams and Bergeron is considered one of the top 2-way centres in the game. The Bruins also picked up their most intimidating forward in Lucic, a player who many teams would love to have. Further, Marchand was drafted in the 3rd round. Therefore, 2 of Boston’s 3 top line players were drafted and developed after the first round.

LA’s scouting and ability to draft players has directly contributed to their recent Stanley Cup success. Quick, drafted in the 3rd round is arguably one of the best goaltenders on the planet. He has the ability to steal games with his hybrid style goaltending. When you consider Doughty was drafted and developed as well, the Kings have drafted and developed their top 3 defensemen during their Cup runs. A development stream as successful as this is bound to have its benefits.

Chicago’s ability to find, draft and develop talent in the past 10 years rivals Detroit. That is an accomplishment in and of itself. A starting goaltender, an entire bottom six forward group that can kill penalties, provide energy and is capable of doing damage on the scoreboard is not something that happens by accident. All of these players were developed by the Blackhawks, an astounding success rate. Hjalmarsson has become their top d-man behind Keith and Seabrook, another product of development. Brandon Saad is one of the NHL’s great young players, he skill compliments their top six and will continue to do so for a long time.

While Pittsburgh hasn’t had as much direct draft success as the other 3 teams, many of their players were traded and have gone on to be very successful. However, the ability to pick up and develop a #1 d-man in Kris Letang is a large part of why the Penguins have been successful. Other players drafted by the Penguins were traded to compliment the plethora of stars mentioned earlier. This can be attributed to key scouting within the NHL, allowing for appropriate trades to be made.

Now that we’ve seen the recent success in drafting by these 4 teams, let’s look at the best of the best. Ask anyone who has been around the NHL for long about drafting and it is unanimous that Detroit is the model. Making the playoffs 24 straight years does not happen by accident. You need a great coach, GM, and outstanding scouting. I could go on for days about how Detroit drafts, but it wasn’t always like that. Detroit was in the lottery too, but their approach to scouting, drafting and development has become a model of success. Let’s look at some late round home-run picks.

Howard (2), Quincey (4), Ericsson (9), Franzen (3), Abdelkader (2), Helm (5), Nyqvist (4)

Those are the home runs. What about the grand-slams?

Pavel Datsyuk, 6th round, 171st overall. 170 people were picked before the man who has moves named after him (Datsyukian). He is regarded by his fellow NHL players as the most-skilled guy in the league. Brett Hull said he marvelled at his skill. Shanahan said if he had to pick one centre to win one game, he would pick Pavel. That’s over Crosby and Toews. Marty Turco will forever go down as the goalie who ended up in the other corner when Datsyuk pulled his famous deke. The Red Wings’ ability to find a player of this calibre is uncanny and has a direct relation to their success.

Henrik Zetterberg, 7th round, 210th overall. He’s the captain of the team, he’s won Olympic Gold and the Stanley Cup. He’s been one of the best and most consistent forwards in the game for the last 10 years, and 209 people were drafted before him. He’s the leader every team looks for, and yet somehow, the Red Wings managed to pick him up in the final round of the draft.

So let’s get this straight. The Red Wings picked up the most-skilled, 2-way centre in the game, and their captain in the last 2 rounds of the draft. Currently, 17 of the 22 players on the Detroit roster were drafted by the Red Wings in the 2nd round or later. That is an incredibly mind-boggling number when you think about it. Rarely are the Red Wings depleted at any position, and why is that? Their minor league team, filled with all their draft picks, is developing players for the big club constantly. Generally when drafted, a player looks to make the team in 2 years if possible. A player drafted to Detroit knows. They are likely going back to Junior or Europe or college(wherever they came from) for at least a year. Then, they are going to Grand Rapids in the AHL to develop in to the player the Red Wings need them to be. If they need a top-six forward, they will take Anthony Mantha for example, and develop him as a top-six forward. If they need a third line penalty killer, they’ll develop a few prospects as just that. This allows them to recall players to the big club that fit the positions that are missing due to injury or retirement. By developing players constantly, they have a steady stream every year to pick from, so when Datsyuk and Zetterberg retire, Tatar, Nyqvist and Mantha are ready to pick up the pieces. Just as Datsyuk and Zetterberg did when Yzerman left.

So what did we learn? Well, you can’t just all of a sudden BE Detroit. You have to draft good players and develop them like LA, Chicago, Boston and Pittsburgh. Once you have created a good pool of prospects, you must develop them. Eventually, after many years, you will have a system that allows for constant development success. It starts with building through the draft, which starts with good scouting. Continued drafting and developing leads to constant prospects, which leads to holes filled in the NHL when the prospects are ready.

Bottom Line: don’t trade picks, draft well, develop your prospects, DON’T rush them. It will pay off in the end.

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