From Erik Karlsson to Cody Ceci — A look at recent No. 15 overall picks from the NHL draft

After having to use the Maple Leafs’ top pick in the 2020 draft to dump Patrick Marleau’s contract, Kyle Dubas has traded his way back into the first round.

The Leafs dealt Kasperi Kapanen, Pontus Aberg, and Jesper Lindgren to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for the No. 15 overall pick in 2020, David Warsofsky, Evan Rodrigues, and Filip Hallander.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

At a glance, this is a very solid trade for Dubas.

He moved a decent middle-six forward in Kapanen who can be replaced in the lineup by Nick Robertson in order to get a mid-first-round pick in a very deep draft, an interesting prospect in Hallander, and he opened up some much-needed cap room in the process.

This trade, of course, has the potential to become huge for the Leafs depending on what the team manages to do with the draft pick.

While the No. 15 overall slot obviously doesn’t guarantee an elite talent, there have been many very good players selected in that spot in recent years. Let’s take a look back at the last 15 drafts to get an idea of the players taken at No. 15.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

2019 – Cole Caufield, Montreal Canadiens

Last spring, the Habs had the diminutive Cole Caufield fall on their lap at No. 15. He was ranked by most outlets to be a top-10 pick but got overlooked due to his size. Caufield scored 36 points in 36 games in his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin in 2019-20 and projects to be a quality top-six producer.

2018 – Grigori Denisenko, Florida Panthers

A couple of years ago, the Panthers used the No. 15 pick to draft Russian sniper Grigori Denisenko. He spent the 2019-20 season in the KHL, where he posted six goals and 12 points over 38 games. Denisenko also captained Russia’s World Juniors team last winter. He’s currently Florida’s second-best prospect behind Owen Tippett.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

2017 – Erik Brannstrom, Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights used the third of their three first-round picks in their inaugural draft on Swedish defenceman Erik Brannstrom. A couple of years later, Brannstrom was used as the centrepiece of the deal that sent Mark Stone to Vegas. He hasn’t yet broken out as an NHL player, but Brannstrom has put up elite numbers for the Senators’ AHL team.

2016 – Luke Kunin, Minnesota Wild 

Minnesota’s No. 15 pick from the 2016 draft enjoyed a breakout season this year, scoring 15 goals and 31 points over 63 games for the Wild. He’s a high-quality offensive talent with the versatility to fit anywhere in the top-six.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

2015 – Zachary Senyshyn, Boston Bruins

In 2015, the Bruins had three picks in a row at No. 13, 14, and 15 and they flubbed all but one of them. While Jake DeBrusk has turned into a good player, Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn leave a lot to be desired, especially given Mat Barzal, Kyle Connor, and Thomas Chabot were selected shortly after.

2014 – Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings made a great choice at No. 15 in 2014, selecting Dylan Larkin from the United States National Development Program. Larkin quickly established himself as a star in the NHL with a 23-goal rookie season in 2015-16 and reached the 30-goal plateau in 2018-19.

2013 – Ryan Pulock, New York Islanders

It took a little while for him to get there, but Ryan Pulock has developed into a very good defenceman for the Islanders. He broke into the NHL in 2017-18 and now forms the Islanders’ top pairing alongside Adam Pelech. He’s that two-way, right-handed defenceman that every team covets.

Oct 21, 2019; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Ceci (83) reacts after a play against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Arena. Columbus defeated Toronto in overtime. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

2012 – Cody Ceci, Ottawa Senators

Here’s a familiar one. Cody Ceci was born in Ottawa, played his OHL hockey for the Ottawa 67’s, and got drafted by the Ottawa Senators with the No. 15 pick in the 2012 draft. Ceci never developed into the player the Sens hoped he would, but he’s still an NHL-calibre defenceman.

2011 – J.T. Miller, New York Rangers

A bit of a late-bloomer, Miller broke out with a 22-goal season for the Rangers in 2015-16, four years after he was drafted. Miller was traded the next season along with Ryan McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lightning and he was traded again at last year’s draft to the Vancouver Canucks. Miller put together the best season on his career in Vancouver in 2019-20, scoring 72 points in 69 games.

2010 – Derek Forbort, Los Angeles Kings

The Kings hit on some mid-round picks in the 2000s, like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, but they missed on others, like Colten Teubert and Derek Forbort. Forbort didn’t break into the NHL until 2016-17 and has never been much more than a depth defender.

2009 – Peter Holland, Anaheim Ducks

Another familiar face, Peter Holland had all kinds of talent, but never put it together. He was traded by Anaheim to the Leafs in 2013 for Jesse Blacker and a couple of draft picks, one of which the Ducks used on Marcus Pettersson. The best season of his career came when he scored 27 points for the Leafs when they were tanking for Auston Matthews.

2008 – Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators 

This is clearly the best of the bunch. While all the rage in 2008 was around Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty, the Sens ended up with the best player at No. 15 as Erik Karlsson was undervalued due to his size. Karlsson has won the Norris Trophy twice and will surely be a Hall of Famer when it’s all said and done.

2007 – Alex Plante, Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers had three picks in the first round of the 2007 draft. They used them on Sam Gagner, Alex Plante, and Riley Nash. Plate, the middle child of those picks, played only 10 games in the NHL.

2006 – Riku Helenius, Tampa Bay Lightning

I have never heard of this player before, but, apparently, the Lightning used the No. 15 pick in 2006 on Finnish goaltender Riku Helenius. He had great numbers as a prospect in Finland but only ever played one game in the NHL.

2005 – Ryan O’Marra, New York Islanders

Ryan O’Marra is probably best known for being part of the return that got sent to Edmonton when they traded Ryan Smyth. He played 33 games in the NHL, registering seven points.

So, looking up and down that list of recent-ish No. 15 overall selections, you can start to get an idea of how much potential this has, especially in a deep draft. While I wouldn’t expect Erik Karlsson, getting an impact player of J.T. Miller or Ryan Pulock is certainly the goal for Dubas and Co. here.