Who have been the best draft day bargains in the NHL since the lockout in 2004/05? I have looked at all players drafted from 2005-2010 after the 4th round to see who turned out the best and offer an explanation as to why they were not drafted earlier. It does seem easier to find a quality forward in the late rounds than defencemen. There are currently very few successful NHL players drafted in the late rounds of the 2007 and 2008 drafts, so most of the players listed below are from the 2005 and 2006 drafts. This may either reflect the diminish quality of NHL draft classes, or many late round picks take 5-7 years to make it to the NHL.
1) Jamie Benn, Dal: Drafted in the 5th round 129th overall in the 2007 draft, this player is special and will be a tremendous asset for any team for the next 10 years. He was drafted out of the BCHL tier II junior league as an 18 year old (typically done by players who want to avoid major junior and maintain their NCAA eligibility). Then instead of going to college after graduating high school, he went to the WHL (scoring 79 goals in 2 seasons), and then went directly from Canadian junior to 82 games with Dallas in 2010.
2) Sergei Kostitsyn, Nsh: 7th rd, 200th overall pick by Montreal in 2005. He was hidden in Belarus until being drafted and moving to Canadian junior. 23 goals for Nashville this last season. 2005 Hockey News Scouting reports says "doesn't have his older sibling's high-end potential, but does possess sound offensive instincts".
3) Patric Hornqvist, Nsh: The last player taken in the 2005 draft, 230th overall by Nashville was playing in the NHL by 2008 and has almost 200 career games played in 2011. The Hockey News did not produce a scouting report summary of him the year he was drafted.
4) Matt D'Agostini, STL: 6th round, 190th overall pick by Montreal in 2005 (a good draft year for the Canadiens). He already has 4 years NHL experience and scored 46 PTS for St Louis in 2011. He was playing in the OHL when drafted and was a productive offensive player. It is not clear from the statistical analysis why he fell to the 190th pick when clearly he should have been a 2nd or 3rd rounder. His 2005 scouting report says "possesses a wealth of offensive acumen but lacks size and strength", when he was listed at 170 lbs. His current playing weight is over 200 lbs. So Matt has put on 30 lbs since becoming a pro.
5) Nathan Gerbe, Buf: 5th rd, 142 overall by Buffalo in 2005. Again not highly regarded enough for a blurb on the Hockey News 2005 draft analysis. He was listed at 5'6 at the draft but seems to have shrunk an inch since and is now listed at 5'5. Had he been 6 inches taller he would have been a much higher prospect. He played his first semi-full NHL season in 2010/11 and scored 31 PTS in 63 GP. He has 30-40 goal upside in the coming years.
6) Darren Helm, Det: 5th rd, 132 overall by Detroit in 2005. He is not an explosive offensive player, but his speed, grit, and defensive ability make him a valuable member of the Red Wings roster. In his first 4 NHL seasons he already has 64 career playoff games and 10 playoff goals. Not bad for a kid under the age of 25. He's the next Kris Draper.
7) Matt Calvert, CBJ: 5th rd, 127th overall by Columbus in 2008. This offensive dynamo fell to the 5th round because of his small stature, but we know that he can score. Here's what the Hockey News had to say about him after being drafted "has excellent speed, offensive instincts and loads of setup skills... he is undersized at 5-9, 164 pounds and must prove capable of producing against bigger, older opponents". He looked good with 20 PTS in 42 GP in 2011. We'll see what more he can do next year.
1) Jason Demers, SJ: An absolute steal in the 7th round (186 overall) in 2008. He was not drafted until after his 20th birthday, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense considering he'd been playing in the QMJHL since age 16. All scouts had plenty of opportunity to watch him play over several years. Then in his last season he jumped from 24 PTS to 64 PTS and after being undrafted for 2 years was finally picked in the 7th round by the Sharks. A 64 PT major junior defenseman in the 7th round. He played 1 year in the AHL before becoming an NHLer. What happened in the summer of 2007 that led to his 40 point increase in scoring? Coaching? Better training? After watching in the playoffs for the Sharks this year, Demers is a very valuable asset at just 23 years of age.
2) Carl Gunnarsson, Tor: 7rd rd, 194th overall by Toronto. Drafted out of the Swedish elite league, where he produced very little offense (in his draft year). Much like Stralman, he spent 2 years developing in that league before making the jump to the NHL. Has scored 35 PTS in 111 GP since crossing the Atlantic. Whether or not he delivers on his upside has yet to be seen, but Brian Burke did recently extend him for 2 more years at $1.3 million per season.
3) Andrew MacDonald, NYI: 6th rd, 160th overal by the Islanders in 2006. Did not play major junior until he was 19 years old, but he put up 46 PTS in 68 GP in his rookie season in the QMJHL the year he was drafted. Being 2 years older than many in his draft class should explain why he fell to the 6th round. He scored 27 PTS in just 60 GP for the Islanders, has high offensive upside, and is under contract for 3 more years at close to the league minimum. He's 25 years old.
4) Anton Stralman, CBJ: 7th rd, 216th overall by Toronto in 2005. A great pick by John Ferguson out of the Sweden-2 league. Has played 212 NHL games before his 25th birthday. He is a respectable offensive defenseman with 40 PT upside.