There is no easily-identifiable title for THAT player, is there? Not exactly, “Mr. Irrelevant” from the NFL Draft. Whoever the final 7th round pick is every year, has that title forced upon him by the media, and if he even makes it to his team’s main training camp in late July, he’s forced to acknowledge such in every print/TV/radio interview for the rest of that preseason.
But the Leafs had the distinction this year of having that near-1st round pick, and, yes, barring trades, it’s often owned by the worst team in hockey. Let’s face it — that 31st pick is usually far better off being chosen by a struggling team than a roster rich with excellent players already, and a stocked farm system. But this was no ordinary 31st selection, was it? Instead of taking an 18-year old CHL player or a USHL player committed to a U.S. college program, the Leafs took a player turning 20 years of age next month, who was teammates his rookie year with former NHLers Jiri Novotny, Geoff Platt, and Staffan Kronwall. No, not exactly All-Stars, but the Leafs must have been intrigued by the fact Yegor Korshkov has played in a “men’s league” for two seasons. Though the offensive numbers do anything but dazzle, 15 points in 69 games (counting this past spring’s playoffs), Toronto must be banking on him earning more minutes in the KHL next season, and seeing what the potential is. 31st is simply too high to be drafting players you’d never expect to play in the NHL, although some do and some don’t, and I thought it’d be interesting to chart that out since the turn of the 21st Century. And here we go:
2000: 31st pick: Atlanta Thrashers, defenceman Ilya Nikulin
Well, Nikulin never came over to North America to play, not even in a training camp but is still going strong at age 34, playing 35 games for Dynamo Moscow in the KHL this season, after ten straight years in Kazan, and playing for Team Russia in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He didn’t make the Sochi team.
The best 2nd-rounders that year: 33rd, Nick Schultz (Minnesota), 44th, Ilya Bryzgalov (Anaheim), 46th, Jarret Stoll (Calgary), 55th, Antoine Vermette (Ottawa)
2001: 31st pick: Phoenix Coyotes, defenceman Matthew Spiller
Spiller was a 6’5″, 230-pound blueliner with Seattle who put up only 35 points in an overage season there, and played 51 games with Phoenix (with no points at all) in the 2002-03 season after getting called up from Springfield in the AHL. Following the lockout season, Spiller would play eight more games with Phoenix, and 9 with the Islanders in 2007-08. His last year of pro hockey was 2012-13 in the ECHL, playing only two games at age 29.
The best 2nd-rounders that year: 32nd, Derek Roy (Buffalo), 40th, Fedor Tyutin (Rangers), 49th, Mike Cammalerri (Los Angeles), 55th, Jason Pominville (Buffalo)
2002: 31st pick: Edmonton Oilers, goalie Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers
JDD never quite got his footing as an NHL goalie, but this also has to be considered a case where the era and team both combined to hurt him. In 2009-10, the Oilers were quite terrible, not that he helped matters, but the Oilers gave up a league-worst 3.39 goals/game, earning them the right to draft Taylor Hall 1st overall the following spring. Drouin-Deslauriers found his way into four games as a backup in Anaheim in 2011-12 and played a full season last year for Augsburg in Germany’s best league.
The best 2nd-rounders that year: 36th, Jarret Stoll (Edmonton – yes, he went back into the Draft as a 20-year old after Calgary couldn’t get him signed), 43rd, Trevor Daley (Dallas), 54th, Duncan Keith (Chicago), 57th, Matt Stajan (Toronto) 58th, Jiri Hudler (Detroit)
2003: 31st pick: Carolina Hurricanes, defenceman Danny Richmond
Hmmm, it’s all coming back to me now — I saw Richmond play a lot of OHL games while doing play-by-play then and was sure he had the full package to play a long time in the NHL. But if you’d asked me about Ryan Parent and Steve Eminger, I’d have said the very same thing, and gushed even more. Carolina drafted Richmond after his rookie season as a Michigan Wolverine, and Richmond jumped to the London Knights for their 2003-04 season, bowing out to a stacked Guelph team (in an upset, mind you) in the Western Conference Finals. He played ten games for Carolina his rookie year when he was included in a trade to Chicago, and the next few years, it was harder to find him in a deeper depth chart of defencemen. He put close to 300 games in as an AHLer the next several years, including spending 2010-11 as a Toronto Marlie, before heading to Europe — and the past three years he’s been healthy and productive in the DEL in Germany.
The best 2nd-rounders that year: 33rd, Loui Eriksson (Dallas), 37th, Kevin Klein (Nashville), 45th, Patrice Bergeron (Boston), 49th, Shea Weber (Nashville), 62nd, David Backes (St. Louis)
2004: 31st pick, Pittsburgh Penguins, left winger Johannes Salmansson
His only North American hockey experience was after his Draft year, playing for the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL. He spurned Pittsburgh and signed as a free agent with Brynas in the Swedish Elite League and stayed in Sweden, minus a couple of years in the Swiss league. He is still playing, finishing last season with the Cologne Sharks in Germany.
The best 2nd-rounders that year: 32nd, David Bolland (Chicago), 47th, Blake Comeau (Islanders), 56th, Nicklas Grossmann (Dallas), 60th, Brandon Dubinsky (Rangers), 63rd, David Krejci (Boston)
2005, 31st pick, Anaheim Ducks, defenceman Brendan Mikkelson
Mikkelson made his NHL debut at age 21 on the Ducks’ blueline, playing 34 games, and only getting in 31 with Anaheim over the next two seasons combined. He also played a season with Calgary, and parts of two with Tampa Bay, where he got his first and only NHL goal. He played his last NHL game as a member of the Lightning in 2013, at age 25. He played in Sweden’s top league last season for Lulea HF.
The best 2nd-rounders that year: 33rd, James Neal (Dallas), 35th, Marc-Edouard Vlasic (San Jose), 44th, Paul Stastny (Colorado), 51st, Mason Raymond (Vancouver)
2006, 31st pick, St. Louis Blues, defenceman Tomas Kana
Kana didn’t make it over to North America until he was 21, and while in Peoria, he was included in a trade to the Columbus organization for Pascal Pelletier. He’d play his only six NHL games in a Blue Jackets sweater in 2009-10. Very few games per season since then for various teams in the Czech league, but he’s seemingly still active.
The best 2nd-rounders that year: 36th, Jamie McGinn (San Jose), 44th, Nikolai Kulemin (Toronto), 47th, Shawn Matthias (Detroit), 50th, Milan Lucic (Boston), 54th, Artem Anisimov (Rangers)
2007, 31st pick, Buffalo Sabres, defenceman T.J. Brennan
Brennan impressed many scouts with his speed and offensive skill playing in St. John’s in the “Q”, but his best attributes never quite translated to the NHL. He got a smattering of games with an excellent (at the time) Sabres team but was traded to Florida for a 5th round pick at the Trade Deadline in 2013. He ended up in the Leafs organization and put together a head-turning 72 point season in 75 games with the AHL’s Marlies in 2013-14, but has only played 13 NHL games in the past two seasons since then — he’s scored 13 points in 53 career NHL games.
The best 2nd-rounders that year: 43rd, P.K. Subban (Montreal), 55th, T.J. Galiardi (Colorado), 58th, Nick Spaling (Nashville), 61st, Wayne Simmonds (Los Angeles)
2008: 31st pick, Florida Panthers, goaltender Jakob Markstrom
It’s easy to say we know what Markstrom is, but before last season, that may have been truer than it is now. He strung together some impressive runs in Vancouver, playing 32 games with a team that gave up the second-most shots/game in the NHL (only Ottawa was worse). But in Florida, he just didn’t live up to the hype and promise, and now in Vancouver, he may be able to push Ryan Miller for more starts, given Miller’s advancing age (he’ll be 36 on Opening Night).
The best 2nd-rounders that year: 38th, Roman Josi (Nashville), 43rd, Justin Schultz (Anaheim), 51st, Derek Stepan (Rangers), 53rd, Travis Hamonic (Islanders)
2009: 31st pick, New York Islanders, goaltender Mikko Koskinen
Yeah, not exactly a future linemate for John Tavares with this particular pick, was it? With no room on the big club, Koskinen made his North American debut with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL and suffered a torn labrum injury very early in the season. He made his NHL debut late in the 2010-11 season, but after a contract impasse with the Islanders, he signed a deal to go back to Finland late in the 2011 calendar year. He’s been in the KHL the past three seasons and in 2014-15 backstopped SKA Saint Petersburg to the Gagarin Cup. Truth be told, he’d be a sought-after goalie at age 27 if he wanted to give the NHL another try.
The best 2nd-rounders that year: 33rd, Ryan O’Reilly (Colorado), 35th, Kyle Clifford (Los Angeles), 39th, Jakob Silfverberg (Ottawa), 55th, Dmitri Orlov (Washington), 60th, Tomas Tatar (Detroit)
2010: 31st pick, Edmonton Oilers, forward Tyler Pitlick
At age 24, Pitlick played 34 games last season for the Oilers’ AHL team in Bakersfield. Thus far, he’s accumulated 27 NHL games over three seasons with the Oilers. Though some argue it’s his “last chance” to prove it with Edmonton, Pitlick, just a couple weeks ago, did sign a two-way, one-year deal with Edmonton.
The best 2nd-rounders that year: 36th, Alex Petrovic (Florida), 37th, Justin Faulk (Carolina), 42nd, Devante Smith-Pelly (Anaheim), 47th, Tyler Toffoli (Los Angeles)
2011: 31st pick, Edmonton Oilers, defenceman David Musil
After three full AHL seasons and only four games with the big club, this might be considered quite a critical year for Musil. His entry-level deal has ended, and he’s officially an RFA, in need of a qualifying offer. He’s certainly more thought of as a 5-6 D-man and may be useful on the penalty kill, though many observers feel his skating just hasn’t developed the way the Oilers hoped it would.
The best 2nd-rounders that year: 35th, Tomas Jurco (Detroit), 37th, Boone Jenner (Columbus), 43rd, Brandon Saad (Chicago), 47th, Matthew Nieto (San Jose), 58th, Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay)
2012: 31st pick, Columbus Blue Jackets, goaltender Oskar Dansk
Still plenty of time for the 22-year old Dansk to live up to the promise of how incredible a junior goalie he was, but he didn’t look good in 20+ AHL/ECHL games two seasons ago in 2014-15. He’ll likely be back in Sweden playing the full year with Rogle BK, but this is the last year of his entry-level deal, and he’ll achieve RFA status next summer. With expansion talk, the Jackets would have to either expose him to that or sign him and expose Sergei Bobrovsky.
The best 2nd-rounders that year: 38th, Phil Di Giuseppe (Carolina), 44th, Jake McCabe (Buffalo), 55th, Chris Tierney (San Jose), 60th, Damon Severson, New Jersey
2013, 31st pick, Florida Panthers, defenceman Ian McCoshen
McCoshen is leaving Boston College after three seasons with the Eagles — having just signed his ELC with Florida. There is a strong belief, he’ll make the Panthers out of training camp at age 21, although the blueline just got more crowded with the Keith Yandle acquisition, following the trade of Erik Gudbranson to Vancouver. Sometimes these players just don’t work out, but keep your eye on McCoshen this fall – there’s a lot of things he does very well and has a slapshot made for an NHL powerplay.
2014, 31st pick, Buffalo Sabres, right wing Brendan Lemieux
Somewhat similar to Max Domi, Lemieux isn’t quite a chip off the old block. He plays a much less rough game than his father Claude, but can still mix it up, and bring a ton of offensive skill to the proceedings. His first pro experience in five games of an end-of-season call up with the Manitoba Moose didn’t faze him at all, scoring two goals and adding an assist. It’s early days, but he could end up being a vital piece in the Jets/Sabres trade involving Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and Tyler Myers. I expect Lemieux, and many others also do, to be an excellent NHLer for many years.
2015, 31st pick, San Jose Sharks, defenceman Jeremy Roy
Roy isn’t disappointing Sharks GM Doug Wilson, who’s already enjoying silencing his critics in getting the Sharks to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final. Roy should be back in Sherbrooke for what likely will be his final CHL season, and with a good start in September, will be a strong contender to make Canada’s World Junior squad when it plays in Toronto and Montreal, no better showcase than that to suggest a player is NHL-ready.
So, whew, that covered a lot of ground. Besides learning that what the Nashville Predators did, accumulating Weber, Josi, and Klein all from the second round has been virtually unmatched, I’ll admit the data tells us little about the eventual fate of one Yegor (he’s changing that to “Igor,” isn’t he? He’ll have to, yeah? Korshkov. We can all agree we don’t know what Korshkov can be at the NHL level, but we can also agree the Leafs reached here, and why did they? Worried another team had desires about Korshkov that no one had previously considered. One mock draft I looked at had Korshkov buried near the bottom of the sixth round, and the other at the top of the seventh. So, 31st overall is quite something. If the list above is any indication, there’s hardly any science to this, and if anything, 31st hasn’t been a spot where there have truly been any diamonds in the rough. The promise is there for Brendan Lemieux and Ian McCoshen, and, as noted, if Mikko Koskinen came back onto the NHL landscape, I think he’d be highly sought-after. But a “star” at 31st overall? It’s been quite a long time. The best “first pick of the second round” in recent memory was Ray Whitney to San Jose, but, remember, that pick was 23rd overall, not 31st.
Either way, a lot of eyes will be on Korshkov when he makes his North American debut, wherever and whenever that will be. There’s still every chance it isn’t this season.