The ninth round: Gone but not forgotten
The NHL Draft no longer has nine rounds, but there are plenty of current players who have had successful careers after being taken in the round.
The ninth round of the NHL Draft disappeared eight years ago, joining tie games in the dustbin of hockey history.
The agreement that ended the work stoppage shaved the selection process to seven rounds, where it has stayed since then.
But just because the ninth round is no more doesn't mean its impact isn't still being felt. The 30 teams that will be picking in this year's NHL Draft in Pittsburgh would be delighted to come up with players who can match the accomplishments of some of the ninth-rounders still in the League -- a group that includes a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, a three-time 30-goal scorer who's one of the finalists for the Lady Byng Trophy and the goaltenders who will share this year's Jennings Trophy.
There may not be any more ninth-rounders on the horizon, but several of the ones still in the NHL have made an impact far above the level anyone could have expected. Here's a look at some of them.
Four goaltenders were taken in the first round of the 1994 NHL Draft. One never played in the League, and the other three all had losing records. All are long gone from the NHL. To get a goaltender that year, the ninth round was the place to look.
Of the nine goaltenders taken in the ninth round, seven made it to the NHL -- and five were still active this past season. In a span of three straight picks (Nos. 217, 218 and 219), Quebec took a college kid named Tim Thomas from Vermont, Philadelphia picked Johan Hedberg, a Swede, and San Jose selected Evgeni Nabokov from the U.S.S.R. Seven picks later, Montreal took Tomas Vokoun from the Czech Republic, and four picks later, Boston nabbed John Grahame from the USHL. All five dressed for at least one game this past season.
Though none of the five was an immediate hit -- only Vokoun got a chance to play before his 24th birthday -- all have gone on to significant achievements. Thomas has won the Vezina twice and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP last spring. Nabokov is a 300-game winner, and Vokoun could reach that number in 2012-13. Hedberg has 155 wins and is one of the best shootout goaltenders in NHL history, while Grahame was a member of Tampa Bay's 2004 Cup-winning team and a 2006 U.S. Olympian.
Two years earlier, the Winnipeg Jets had great success when they grabbed Nikolai Khabibulin from CSKA Moscow. Khabibulin is still playing well 20 years later -- he led Tampa Bay to the 2004 Stanley Cup and owns 328 NHL victories in 783 games.
The ninth round of the 2003 draft wasn't as prolific as the '94 version, but the St. Louis Blues have no complaints. The Blues led the NHL in fewest goals allowed this season thanks to a pair of goaltenders taken 20 picks apart nine years ago in Round 9. Montreal grabbed Jaroslav Halak with the 271st choice in '03; seven years later, he led the eighth-seeded Canadiens to the conference finals, was traded to St. Louis and finished this past season with a 1.97 goals-against average in 46 games.
The rest of the action in the Blues' net was handled by Brian Elliott, the 291st player chosen in '03. Ottawa took Elliott from a lower-level Canadian junior league and signed him after he played four years at the University of Wisconsin. After two solid seasons in Ottawa, he struggled in 2010-11, was traded to Colorado and signed with St. Louis last summer, barely winning the backup job to Halak at camp. But instead of settling for the No. 2 role, Elliott turned an early-season opportunity into a near-equal share of crease time by putting up a 1.56 goals-against average, a .940 save percentage and nine shutouts in 38 games -- good enough to earn him a berth in the All-Star Game.
Maybe there's something about being the 291st pick. One year before Ottawa used it on Elliott, the Detroit Red Wings took Jonathan Ericsson, a little-known Swedish defenseman, with pick No. 291 -- the last one in the 2002 draft. Ericsson didn't arrive in North America until 2006, but he's earned a regular job on the Wings' blue line for the past three seasons.
Montreal had a lot of success picking in the ninth round (keeping those players around is another matter), but the Canadiens couldn't have expected a whole lot when they grabbed a 26-year-old Swiss defenseman named Mark Streit with the 262nd pick in 2004. Streit eventually made the leap to the NHL and split time between defense and the wing during three seasons in Montreal, where he helped make the Canadiens' power play one of the NHL's best. He signed with the New York Islanders in the summer of 2008, was an All-Star the following season and has averaged more than 50 points in his three full seasons on Long Island (he lost one to a shoulder injury).
Nine picks after Streit, the Columbus Blue Jackets took a flyer on Grant Clitsome, a college-bound defenseman from Gloucester, Ont., who was headed for Clarkson. They signed Clitsome in 2008, and he's worked his way into the NHL during the past three seasons. Clitsome was traded by the Jackets to the Winnipeg Jets at the trade deadline and played a career-high 63 games this past season.
Sami Salo was a 22-year-old Finnish defenseman who was taken by Ottawa with the 239th pick in 1996. Salo came to the NHL with the Senators two years later, spent four seasons with the Senators and moved on to Vancouver, where he's been a regular since 2002 -- largely thanks to one of the NHL's most feared point shots -- 55 of his 93 career goals have come on the power play.
The Islanders' top line this past season is one the likes of which we may never see again -- the top pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, John Tavares, centered for a pair of players taken in the ninth round two years apart.
Pittsburgh took Matt Moulson, a left wing from Cornell, with the second pick of the ninth round in 2003. After four seasons with the Big Red, the Penguins opted not to sign him; he signed instead with Los Angeles and spent three seasons in the Kings' system -- scoring six goals in 29 games with L.A., which opted not to keep him in 2009. Moulson's friendship with Tavares earned him a chance to play on Long Island -- but three consecutive 30-goal seasons proved that he's more than just Tavares' buddy.
Like Moulson, the other member of the line had a checkered path to the NHL. Anaheim took P.A. Parenteau with the 264th pick in 2001; he never made it with the Ducks and bounced around with the Blackhawks and Rangers before the Islanders took a chance on him in 2010. Parenteau fit in well in his first season, putting up 20 goals and 53 points, and went 18-49-67 this past season.
The same 1994 draft that generated an avalanche of ninth-round goaltenders could produce its first 300-goal scorer this coming season. New Jersey took Steve Sullivan, a speedy forward from Sault Ste. Marie, with the next-to-last pick in the ninth round; the Devils dealt him three years later in a trade that brought future Hall of Fame member Doug Gilmour to New Jersey. But Sullivan has been plenty productive in his own right. He's had eight seasons with 20 or more goals and seven with 60 or more points -- and put up 17 goals and 48 points in limited ice time with the Penguins this past season. Sullivan needs 17 more goals to reach 300 for his career.
Colorado was so happy with the production of its ninth-round pick in 2003 that it recently signed forward David Jones to a four-year contract. Jones, drafted from Coquitlam in the British Columbia Hockey League, played three seasons at Dartmouth before joining the Avs in 2007. He had 27 goals in 2010-11 and 20 in 72 games this past season.
On a team that includes All-Stars like the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler, it's easy to overlook Jannik Hansen -- but the Vancouver Canucks are glad they took the Danish forward with their ninth-round pick (No. 287) in 2004. Hansen has become a valuable third-line scorer for the Canucks and is coming off a career year in which he scored 16 goals and 39 points while playing all 82 games for the second straight season. Hansen is the last player drafted in the ninth round to make the NHL.
Harvard is an unlikely place to find a two-time Stanley Cup winner, but that's where the Hartford Whalers found Craig Adams, who's won championships with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and again with Pittsburgh three years later. Adams has never had more than 10 goals or 21 points in a season, but his defensive skills have made him a valuable player through 751 NHL games.
Like Adams, Adam Burish is a ninth-rounder who owns a Stanley Cup ring -- his came in 2010 with the Chicago Blackhawks, who took him from Green Bay of the USHL with the 282nd pick in 2002. He signed with the Hawks after four years at Wisconsin and was a key role player on their title team two years ago. Burish signed with Dallas that summer and plays the same depth role with the Stars.