Here’s who the Leafs left the 2002 NHL Entry Draft with:
And here’s how those guys did compared to the rest of the league:
-Surprise! By pretty much all the above categories, your Toronto Maple Leafs had the best draft out of anybody. Only the Detroit Red Wings have squeezed more NHL games out of their 2002 crop. In NHL points, the Leafs are first, and by NHLers per pick they are tied for first with the Chicago Blackhawks.
-The Leafs have made a lot of dumb trades over the years, but trading Alex Steen and Carlo Colaiacovo to the St. Louis Blues for Lee Stempniak has to go down as one of the dumbest. The rationale, at the time, was “Steen will never be more than a third-liner!” and “Stempniak just scored 30 goals!” Since then, Steen’s ice-time has steadily increased almost every year with the Blues. He scored 33 goals and 62 points in 65 games this season and has earned the reputation as one of the best defensive forwards in hockey. I hate my team.
-Matt Stajan has done pretty well as a second-rounder. He scored over 50 points twice and 15 or more goals five times in his five-plus seasons for the Blue and White. He was part of the package the Leafs used to acquire Dion Phaneuf from the Calgary Flames. Say what you will about Phaneuf, but that trade was highway robbery. Stajan has had trouble staying in the lineup for the Flames due to injuries but he was able to put up 14 goals and 33 points in 63 games this season.
-When Ian White was finally given an opportunity to become a full-time member of the Leafs in 2005-06, he made the most of it, impressing with his tough, aggressive game and offensive savvy despite his 5-foot-10 stature. He went with Stajan, Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers to the Flames in exchange for Phaneuf and Keith Aulie. He only lasted parts of two seasons in Cowtown as he was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010. White experienced a bit of resurgence with the Detroit Red Wings in 2011-12, but after a down year in 12-13, White wasn’t signed and only played 10 games for Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL last season.
-The 2001 Draft was great, and many call the 2003 Draft the best ever. It’s interesting that those two great drafts bookended this one, which was pretty stinky. The Vancouver Canucks (what else is new), Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins had especially bad drafts.
-This draft, however, was a great draft for goalies being drafted early, although that’s a pretty low bar to set compared to the 2001 one. Kari Lehtonen (2nd overall) and Cam Ward (25th) have both carved out successful careers as NHL starting netminders.
-The Washington Capitals didn’t have a great success rate in this draft, but the three picks they did get right ended up with lengthy NHL careers. Steve Eminger (12th overall), Alexander Semin (13th) and Boyd Gordon (17th) were all picked in the first round.
-Those European scouts for the Red Wings knew what they were talking about. Jiri Hudler (58th overall), Tomas Fleischmann (63rd), Valtteri Filppula (95th) and Jonathan Ericsson (291st!!!) are all enjoying long careers. The one North American pick they got right, Derek Meech (229th), has played 144 NHL games. Not too shabby.
-Tyler Weiman, a Colorado Avalanche draft pick, appeared in only 16 minutes of NHL action in his career, stopping all 10 shots he faced in a game for the Avs in 2007-08. Congrats, Tyler, on your perfect 1.000 save percentage! Nobody can take that away from you.
Top Three Picks
3. Jay Bouwmeester, Florida Panthers
For a prospect as highly touted as Bouwmeester was, he sure switched teams pretty frequently. He has, however, been remarkably injury-free, playing the full 82 games for seven straight seasons as a Panther and nine times in his 12-year career. He’s also played a ton of minutes, averaging over 25 per game over his career. He’s not flashy, but is about as steady as they come. He makes up one half of what most people call the best defensive pair in hockey alongside Alex Pietrangelo in St. Louis.
2. Kari Lehtonen, Atlanta Thrashers
Lehtonen was the highest goaltender taken in a draft since the New York Islanders made Rick DiPietro the number-one overall pick in 2000. Lehtonen saw success immediately after making the move from Finland to North America, posting a .926 save percentage in 39 games for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves as a 20-year-old in 2003-04. He followed that up with a .929 in 54 games for the Wolves the following year. As is the case with most goalies, Lehtonen didn’t start to establish himself as a proven NHL netminder until his late twenties. He was traded to the Dallas Stars for defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy (a 2006 first-round pick who’s playing in the KHL) and a fourth-round pick in 2010, and had his best season in 2011-12; finishing eighth in the league in save percentage with a .922 mark.
1. Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets
When Nash finished in a tie for most goals in the NHL with 41 in 03-04 as a 19-year-old, a lot of people expected him to be a perennial 40-goal scorer. As it turns out, Nash has only hit that mark one other year, in 08-09, although he hit 38 the year before that. Still, he’s scored 30 or more goals seven times in his career, and the only players who have scored more goals over the last 10 years are Alex Ovechkin, Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk. Nash draws a lot of criticism for his poor goal-scoring record in the playoffs; only four goals in 33 career games. At the end of the day, the Blue Jackets made the right pick here, even if Nash’s career hasn’t turned out the way many envisioned.
2002 NHL All-Draft Teams
C- Alex Steen
RW- Alex Semin
LW- Rick Nash
D- Jay Bouwmeester
D- Duncan Keith
G- Kari Lehtonen
C- Valtteri Filppula
RW- Tomas Fleischmann
LW- Joffrey Lupul
D- Trevor Daley
G- Cam Ward