Going back 15 years of the NHL Draft offers a good picture of the players who have been available at the midpoint of the first round. There have been surefire Hall of Fame players chosen at 15th overall, and also some barely AHL-calibre players. Our review of that spot in the draft begins in 2004, with a player who put together an incredible season for the Montreal Canadiens in his return to the NHL in the 2016-17 season.
2004 - Alexander Radulov
Stats: 382 GP, 121 G, 179 A
Originally a monster for the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL, Radulov was drafted by the Nashville Predators, for whom he played two solid years before heading to the KHL, then returning for an ill-fated nine-game stint. He returned to Russia to play for CSKA Moscow where he was among the best in the KHL, before signing with Montreal in 2016. His return to the NHL has been a massive success, with a great season in Montreal followed up by two more in Dallas with the Stars. As far as 15th overall picks go, Radulov might be among the best.
2005 - Ryan O’Marra
Stats: 33 GP, 1 G, 6 A
If Radulov was a resounding success, Ryan O’Marra is the opposite of that, managing just 33 NHL games and seven total points. Originally picked by the New York Islanders, he played parts of three years with the Edmonton Oilers, but would spend the majority of his career in the AHL before bouncing around Europe in Finland, Italy, Norway, and the UK. He last played in the Allan Cup in 2017.
If the Oilers wanted a forward at this pick, they missed out on Martin Hanzal, who played over 600 games in the NHL after being taken two picks later.
2006 - Riku Helenius
Stats: 1 GP, 0.00 GAA, 1.000 SV%
A big butterfly goalie who was lighting up the Finnish under-20 ranks looked like the next big thing in net for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He had solid numbers in his first season in the AHL with a sub-par Norfolk Admirals squad, but had a down year in the ECHL the following season. He was loaned to an SHL club for parts of two years, then had another solid year in Liiga after that.
Two more below-average years in the minors saw Helenius’s time in North America come to an end, though he still currently plays between the pipes in Finland. Other goalies picked after Helenius? Semyon Varlamov, James Reimer, and Steve Mason.
2007 - Alex Plante
Stats: 10 GP, 0 G, 2 A
If the Oilers aren’t picking in the top five overall, apparently they can’t find an NHL-quality player to save their lives. Case in point, Alex Plante, who managed just 10 NHL games and multiple seasons of 100-plus penalty minutes in the AHL before taking his game back overseas to Europe, and most recently the Asia League. If the Oilers really wanted a quality defender, both P.K. Subban and Jake Muzzin were taken later in the draft.
2008 - Erik Karlsson
Stats: 680 GP. 129 G, 434 A
When you look at the 2008 draft, you see teams taking the likes of Tyler Myers, Luke Schenn, and Colton Teubert before Erik Karlsson. In fact, outside of Steven Stamkos, no one else in the draft class has scored more than Karlsson, making him not only a premier offensive defenceman in the NHL, but one of its best point-producers in recent seasosn. Even while playing through a multitude of crippling injuries, he continues to just put up points while playing major minutes.
2009 - Peter Holland
Stats: 266 GP, 36 G, 49 A
A star for the Guelph Storm in the OHL, Peter Holland posted nearly a point per game in the AHL across 252 games. In the NHL, he found a fourth-line home with the Toronto Maple Leafs during arguably some of their worst seasons in recent memory. He posted 18 points in 20 games for the Laval Rocket before he was traded for Adam Cracknell in Hartford.
As it stands now Holland is headed for the KHL after splitting time last year with Hartford and Rockford.
2010 - Derek Forbort
Stats: 255 GP, 6 G, 46 A
Forbort has found a steady home on the Los Angeles Kings’ blue line since he turned pro a few seasons ago. The results are mixed, however. A lot of that could be due to the struggles the Kings have had in recent years as they slip out of their prime as a team. It might sting just a little bit more knowing that with the next pick the St. Louis Blues scooped up a sniper by the name of Vladimir Tarasenko.
2011 - J.T. Miller
Stats: 435 GP, 95 G, 142 A
Miller is an interesting pick, starting his career on the US National Team then playing one year in the OHL with the Plymouth Whalers before turning pro and heading to the Connecticut Whale. He didn’t truly come into his own until about 2015 when he started his run of four consecutive 40-point seasons with the New York Rangers and then the Lightning when he was included in the Ryan McDonagh trade. Oddly enough, the Lightning in this draft took Vladislav Namestnikov, who went back the other way to New York in the McDonagh deal as well.
2012 - Cody Ceci
Stats: 440 GP, 32 G, 86 A
A solid player in the CHL, Ceci wasn’t a bad pick at the time, but since hitting the professional level things have gone awry. His offensive numbers in Ottawa are not awful, but by every advanced metric available, he is among the worst defenders in the NHL for most of the past three years. Part of that seems to be related to the Senators rushing him into an NHL role and then never really doing much to help him out. Rumoured to be on the trade block, maybe someone can salvage his career, but right now it’s been a rough go for Ceci and the Senators.
2013 - Ryan Pulock
Stats: 166 GP, 21 G, 52 A
While Ceci was a case of possibly rushing a prospect too quickly, Ryan Pulock and the Islanders appear to be an opposite case. A rearguard with a monster slapshot, Pulock was given plenty of time to round out his game in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and it’s paying off in spades for the Islanders right now. Looking down the draft board it looks to have been the right call to take Pulock, as no other defender outside of Will Butcher has come close to matching his production, and even most of the forwards taken aren’t overly impressive.
2014 - Dylan Larkin
Stats: 318 GP, 88 G, 125 A
Talk about a slam dunk of a pick for the the Detroit Red Wings. Out of everyone taken in 2014, only two players have more points than Larkin in their NHL careers: Leon Draisaitl and David Pastrnak. One of them gets to play with the best player in the world, and the other rides shotgun with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
Larkin has had to become the backbone of a rebuilding Red Wings squad, and it hasn’t been easy. Yet he is coming off of a career season last year. Drafting a franchise cornerstone at 15th overall makes this one of the better picks in recent memory.
2015 - Zachary Senyshyn
Stats: 1 GP, 2 G, 1 A
Part of three straight picks (13, 14, 15) in the 2015 event, Senyshyn hasn’t lived up to his billing as a first-round pick at all. His numbers in the AHL are subpar, and with just one NHL game under his belt, it looks like he may be bound for a new start in the future. What might sting the most is the absolute boatload of talent taken right after this pick, including Mathew Barzal (16th), Kyle Connor (17th), Thomas Chabot (18th), Brock Boeser (23rd), Travis Konecny (24th), and Sebastian Aho (35th).
2016 - Luke Kunin
Stats: 68 GP, 8 G, 13 A
We’re into the stage of these picks where it might be a bit too soon to make a full judgement on a player’s potential and NHL trajectory. Kunin played two solid years for the University of Wisconsin in the NCAA, then joined the Iowa Wild of the AHL. Since then he has bounced a bit between the NHL and AHL, which might be hurting his development a bit, especially given the Wild’s recent penchant for trading their good players for next to nothing. His AHL numbers are promising, but it looks like he’ll need a bit more time to reach his NHL peak.
2017 - Erik Brannstrom
Stats: 2 GP, 0 G, 0 A
In a draft class that also contains Cale Makar, and Miro Heiskanen, it isn’t that much of a stretch to say that Erik Brannstrom has the potential to be the best defender picked in the first round in 2017. A dynamic player on the blue line, he came into his own in the SHL while on loan to HV71, showing he could hang with the men as a teenager. Upon joining the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, it almost seemed like child’s play for him, as the 19-year-old lit up the minor leagues.
His time in Chicago was short, as the Vegas Golden Knights shipped him as the centrepiece of the trade for Mark Stone. With Ottawa in a full rebuild, Brannstrom appears to be their Karlsson replacement on the blue line, and should be a Calder Trophy favourite next year.
2018 - Grigori Denisenko
Stats: 25 GP, 4 G, 2 A(KHL)
It’s far too soon to tell what Denisinko may become. He has high-level talent, but not much experience in Russia’s top league. Time will tell
If we want to go way back — 38 years back in fact — we find one of the best of all time on defence was selected at 15th overall. Al MacInnis has a massive amount of honours to his name, including a Conn Smythe Trophy, a Stanley Cup, a Norris Trophy, and a handful of All-Star nominations as well. His number is retired by the St. Louis Blues and his 1274 points rank third all-time among defenders in NHL history.
There is one other 15th overall pick who might outshine MacInnis. This player has a World Juniors Gold, a World Championship, a World Cup, Olympic Gold, a Lady Byng, a Hart Trophy, a Ted Lindsay Award, two Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe, and a place in the IIHF and NHL Hall of Fame.
In 1987, the Quebec Nordiques selected Joe Sakic 15th overall, and by the time Sakic’s career was at an end he was ninth overall in NHL scoring history with 1641 points. He’s arguably the best 15th overall pick of all time, and what every team hopes to acquire when they head to the draft.
In 1991, the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted possibly one of the most skilled forwards to play the game in Alexei Kovalev. A divisive figure among many people due to his perceived penchant of taking games off, Kovalev was one of the best puck-handlers the NHL has seen, and when he was on his game he was unstoppable.
Montreal fans will obviously be rooting for their team to land their Erik Karlsson or Erik Brannstrom as opposed to an Alex Plante or Ryan O’Marra. There are always plenty of good players on the board, and the scouting staff will be looking to find the gem among them.