BY ALEX FLETCHER – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
In the weeks leading up to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Fan Fuel is re-drafting the first round of the six NHL drafts that took place from 2000 through 2005. The rankings in these blogs attempt to answer this question: If the draft could be redone today, in the same order it was done back then, and all teams selected the best player available, how would the first round go?
Today: the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
1. Washington Capitals – Evgeni Malkin, F
Probably the best player in the NHL last season, Malkin finished first in the league in points with 12 more than anyone else. At the age of 25, he already has three 100-point seasons, an Art Ross Trophy, a Stanley Cup, and a Conn Smythe Trophy to his name.
Malkin’s actual draft position: No. 2
Washington’s actual pick: Alexander Ovechkin, F
2. Pittsburgh Penguins – Alexander Ovechkin, F
His point totals have declined for four straight seasons, but Ovechkin, with his speed, hitting ability, and spectacular shot, is still an electrifying talent.
Ovechkin’s actual draft position: No. 1
Pittsburgh’s actual pick: Evgeni Malkin, F
3. Chicago Blackhawks – Pekka Rinne, G
Among goaltenders who have played in at least 100 games since Rinne entered the league in 2008-09, he ranks fourth in save-percentage with a 0.921 mark. Rinne is the best of a highly talented crop of Finnish NHL netminders, none of whom posted a save-percentage below 0.915 last season.
Rinne’s actual draft position: No. 258
Chicago’s actual pick: Cam Barker, D
4. Carolina Hurricanes – Alexander Edler, D
Edler’s all-around ability is near the top among NHL defencemen. He has led the Vancouver Canucks’ defence corps in average ice time per game in each of the past two seasons, including more than two minutes of shorthanded time per game. Over that span of 133 games, he’s also posted 82 points, 226 hits, and 231 blocked shots.
Edler’s actual draft position: No. 91
Carolina’s actual pick: Andrew Ladd, F
5. Phoenix Coyotes – Ryan Callahan, F
In each of Callahan’s four full NHL seasons, he’s logged well over 200 hits. In each of the past three seasons, he’s finished fifth or higher among forwards in blocked shots. And, in each of the past two seasons, he’s scored at a 31-goal pace. The heart-and-soul winger is about as solid an all-around forward as you’ll find in the NHL.
Callahan’s actual draft position: No. 127
Phoenix’s actual pick: Blake Wheeler, F
6. New York Rangers – Mike Green, D
Green is an ultra-talented offensive defenceman and is often criticized for a supposed lack of defensive ability. Injuries have kept him off the ice for 83 games in the last two seasons, but he posted 27 points more than any other blueliner in the three previous seasons combined.
Green’s actual draft position: No. 29
New York’s actual pick: Al Montoya, G
7. Florida Panthers – David Krejci, F
His Boston Bruins were ousted in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, but Krejci led the entire NHL, including his Cup-winning B’s, in playoff scoring in 2011. Over the course of his NHL career, the Czech centre has posted a 0.73 points-per-game average in the regular season, but ramped that number up to 0.80 in the playoffs.
Krejci’s actual draft position: No. 63
Florida’s actual pick: Rostislav Olesz, F
8. Columbus Blue Jackets – Travis Zajac, F
Zajac proved extremely durable in his first five NHL seasons, missing just two games due to injury, but he missed all but 15 games last season. When healthy, the big centre’s excellent all-around game makes him a great fit with the New Jersey Devils, who have long prided themselves on steady two-way play.
Zajac’s actual draft position: No. 20
Columbus’ actual pick: Alexandre Picard, F
9. Anaheim Ducks – Alex Goligoski, D
A smooth skater and point producer, Goligoski’s points-per-game average dropped last season from his breakout 46-point campaign the previous year. His play was still good enough, however, to earn him a four-year, $18.4 million contract extension in January.
Goligoski’s actual draft position: No. 61
Anaheim’s actual pick: Ladislav Smid, D
10. Winnipeg Jets – Cory Schneider, G
The best back-up goaltender in the NHL (is it fair to still call him a back-up?), Schneider’s 0.933 save-percentage over the past two seasons is the highest of any netminder. He remains somewhat unproven, though, with just 76 NHL regular season and playoff games under his belt.
Schneider’s actual draft position: No. 26
Winnipeg’s actual pick: Boris Valabik, D
11. Los Angeles Kings – Blake Wheeler, F
Originally drafted fifth overall by the Coyotes, Wheeler and the team couldn’t come to a contract agreement, so he signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins. Boston was forced to give up a second-round draft pick to the Coyotes as compensation, which now seems like a steal for a 6’5″ forward with silky hands who is coming off a 64-point season.
Wheeler’s actual draft position: No. 5
Los Angeles’ actual pick: Lauri Tukonen, F
12. Minnesota Wild – Mikhail Grabovski, F
Grabovski’s new five-year, $27.5 million contract is a controversial one, but he has been a strong contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs since arriving in 2008. He has recorded more points than all but one member of the Leafs (Phil Kessel) in those four seasons, and his 0.66 points-per-game average since then is tied for seventh-best.
Grabovski’s actual draft position: No. 150
Minnesota’s actual pick: A.J. Thelen, D
13. Buffalo Sabres – Kris Versteeg, F
In a span of roughly 13 months starting when the Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup, Versteeg, who was a victim of the salary cap-prompted dismantling of Chicago’s team, was on the roster of four different NHL teams and dealt three times. A restricted free agent who has yet to sign a contract, another team could soon be on the horizon for the winger.
Versteeg’s actual draft position: No. 134
Buffalo’s actual pick: Drew Stafford, F
14. Edmonton Oilers – Andrew Ladd, F
Not many players’ fingers feature two Stanley Cup rings by the age of 24, but Ladd’s do. A teammate of Versteeg’s on the 2010 Blackhawks, Ladd was also dealt after the Cup victory and has had to move since then. However, his change of address was the result of a franchise relocation (the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg) – not a trade.
Ladd’s actual draft position: No. 4
Edmonton’s actual pick: Devan Dubnyk, G
15. Nashville Predators – Andrej Meszaros, D
Meszaros’ first three NHL seasons were spent with the Ottawa Senators, with whom he posted a 0.45 points-per-game average, made the playoffs three times, and didn’t miss a single game due to injury. In the next two seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, his points-per-game average dropped to 0.25, he missed the playoffs both times, and injuries kept him out of 31 games. Something in the water?
Meszaros’ actual draft position: No. 23
Nashville’s actual pick: Alexander Radulov, F
16. New York Islanders – Ladislav Smid, D
On a team that finished ahead of only four others in plus-minus at minus-27 last season, Smid, a go-to shutdown defenceman, finished tied for third on the roster at plus-four.
Smid’s actual draft position: No. 9
New York’s actual pick: Petteri Nokelainen, F
17. St. Louis Blues – Johan Franzen, F
At 32, Franzen is a greybeard compared to most of the rest of his draft class. He’s also a playoff performer, with a career NHL post-season points-per-game average of 0.83, compared to 0.58 in the regular season.
Franzen’s actual draft position: No. 97
St. Louis’ actual pick: Marek Schwarz, G
18. Montreal Canadiens – Brandon Dubinsky, F
Last season was the first of Dubinsky’s five-season NHL career in which his point production did not increase. He’s still young and a strong two-way player, though, so the escalation should soon resume.
Dubinsky’s actual draft position: No. 60
Montreal’s actual pick: Kyle Chipchura, F
19. New York Rangers – Dave Bolland, F
A strong defensive forward capable of pitching in offensively, the extent of Bolland’s offensive talent is still up in the air: in each of his four full NHL seasons, he has posted points-per-game averages anywhere from 0.41 to 0.61.
Bolland’s actual draft position: No. 32
New York’s actual pick: Lauri Korpikoski, F
20. New Jersey Devils – Drew Stafford, F
Speaking of offensive inconsistency, Stafford’s points-per-game average has fluctuated from as low as 0.48 to as high as 0.84 over his five full seasons in the NHL. In 2010-11, his best season yet, his 0.50 goals-per-game average was tied for fifth-highest in the league.
Stafford’s actual draft position: No. 13
New Jersey’s actual pick: Travis Zajac, F
21. Colorado Avalanche – Roman Polak, D
Polak’s burly 6’1″, 225 lbs frame is well-suited to his shutdown style of play. Over four full NHL seasons, the Czech defenceman has recorded just 59 points in 279 games, but he’s thrown 531 hits and blocked 452 shots.
Polak’s actual draft position: No. 180
Colorado’s actual pick: Wojtek Wolski, F
22. San Jose Sharks – Nikita Nikitin, D
A change of scenery did Nikitin well last season. After being dealt to the Blue Jackets, he racked up 10 points in his first 13 games, and finished the season strongly, too, with 10 points in the final 11 games.
Nikitin’s actual draft position: No. 136
San Jose’s actual pick: Lukas Kaspar, F
23. Ottawa Senators – Troy Brouwer, F
Brouwer owns an impressive skill-set; he’s big, hits like a truck, and can score. However, in four NHL seasons, his best offensive numbers are a modest 22 goals and 40 points.
Brouwer’s actual draft position: No. 214
Ottawa’s actual pick: Andrej Meszaros, D
24. Calgary Flames – Alexander Radulov, F
Radulov is immensely talented, but he fled the NHL in 2008 to spend three seasons in Russia. Rumours are swirling that he’ll bolt again after a 17-game return to North America, which hurts his position on this list.
Radulov’s actual draft position: No. 15
Calgary’s actual pick: Kris Chucko, F
25. Edmonton Oilers – Nicklas Grossmann, D
Grossmann, a hulking shutdown defenceman, finally had a second “n” slapped onto his jersey last season shortly after being acquired by the Philadelphia Flyers. Throughout his whole NHL career (and beyond that, too), his name had been incorrectly spelled “Grossman” on rosters, jerseys, and more.
Grossmann’s actual draft position: No. 56
Edmonton’s actual pick: Rob Schremp, F
26. Vancouver Canucks – Mark Streit, D
Joining Franzen in the old folks category is Streit, a 34-year-old Swiss defenceman. His age has not held him back, though; he missed the entire 2010-11 season because of a shoulder injury, but the offensively-inclined blueliner’s 0.64 points-per-game average since 2008-09 is the eighth-highest among defencemen.
Streit’s actual draft position: No. 262
Vancouver’s actual pick: Cory Schneider, G
27. Washington Capitals – Andrej Sekera, D
After a 29-point campaign in 2010-11, Sekera seemed poised for a breakout year last season. A variety of factors, including his team’s acquisitions of blueliners Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr, contributed to an underwhelming 13-point year. Nonetheless, Sekera finished the season fourth among the team’s defencemen in average ice time per game and third in blocked shots.
Sekera’s actual draft position: No. 71
Washington’s actual pick: Jeff Schultz, D
28. Dallas Stars – David Booth, F
Booth potted 31 goals and 60 points in his second full NHL season, but his production has suffered since he missed most of the following season with a concussion. He scored at a 23-goal clip after arriving in Vancouver last season, but Booth still has a ways to go before his $4.25 million cap hit is fully justified.
Booth’s actual draft position: No. 53
Dallas’ actual pick: Mark Fistric, D
29. Washington Capitals – Lauri Korpikoski, F
It took Korpikoski a while to pan out – long enough, in fact, that the Rangers, the team that drafted him, decided to trade him away in 2009. New York is surely regretting the move now, though; Korpikoski, a strong two-way forward, has posted 77 points over the past two seasons.
Korpikoski’s actual draft position: No. 19
Washington’s actual pick: Mike Green, D
30. Tampa Bay Lightning – Tyler Kennedy, F
In each of his four full NHL seasons except for his sophomore year, Kennedy has posted a points-per-game average between 0.52 and 0.56. To go along with some scoring, Kennedy is an energetic winger who can be counted on for roughly a hit per game.
Kennedy’s actual draft position: No. 99
Tampa Bay’s actual pick: Andy Rogers, D