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THN.com Blog: Constructing the best late-round teams

Both Tim Thomas and Daniel Alfredsson were late-round draft picks. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Both Tim Thomas and Daniel Alfredsson were late-round draft picks. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Every once in a while I like going back and looking at old trades or draft orders because there are usually a few things that lift the brow and have me thinking “Really!?”

I especially like browsing over the late rounds of past drafts to see who got through, who had impactful careers and which teams were able to find that needle in a haystack. So as I was perusing the annals recently I got thinking; which late-round draft would ice the best team?

First, the cut-off mark is the sixth round; if you were picked in Round 6 or later, you’re in. Keep in mind the drafts nowadays are only seven rounds deep, but they used to go into the 12th round. That switch was made in 2005, much too soon for a bunch of late-rounders to make an impact anyway, so the most recent draft included is 2004.

Second, we’re looking for the best two-line team. One line wouldn’t be able to stay on the ice for an entire game of competitive shinny, so I’m looking at the best six forwards, best four defensemen and top goalie – preferably with a backup. The first year the entry draft was totally formalized was 1979, but it was only six rounds. The following year it ballooned to 10 rounds, so that’s where the selection process begins.

One of the most interesting teams I found was the 1983 draft, which would have laid claim to scorers Rick Tocchet and Kevin Stevens. What was interesting about this batch was the European talent that didn’t have hockey careers entirely in North America. Pelle Eklund was a 60-point scorer for the Flyers, but went back to Sweden at age 31. The first Russian-trained player to play in the NHL, Sergei Makarov, won rookie of the year for the Flames as a 31-year-old and only played six seasons in the NHL. Add productive grinders Dave Lowry, Brian Noonan and goon Stu Grimson to them and it’d be an interesting mix.

On defense, Team 1983 would have a top four of Uwe Krupp, Tommy Albelin, Viacheslav Fetisov (another Russian who came over as a 31-year-old) and Joe Reekie. What puts this team together is game-stealing goalie Dominik Hasek as the last line of defense.

In 1984, recently Hall of Fame-inducted scorers Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille would lead the way, with Cliff Ronning between them on the top line. The second line would be the team’s Achilles’ heel with Czech scorer Jiri Hrdina, Kevin Miller and Mike Stapleton. However, with a responsible back end led by Don Sweeney and Gary Suter – with Kjell Samuelsson and Paul Cavallini as support – they’d make an interesting team. In net would be Kirk McLean, so there’s no doubt that top unit would have to pile up the points.

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Another potential powerhouse comes in 1994 with Daniel Alfredsson, Steve Sullivan, Richard Zednik and Tomas Holmstrom leading the offense; throw in grinders Bill Muckalt and Andre Roy to complete the two lines. On defense is Kim Johnsson, Shane Hnidy, Bryce Salvador and Dick Tarnstrom – nothing out-of-this-world, but where this team explodes is in net. Tim Thomas, Johan Hedberg, Evgeni Nabokov (all picked one after the other), Tomas Vokoun and John Grahame would fight for duties. Whomever you choose from that group, a goaltending tandem like that would steal games.

Into more recent times, 1998 and 1999 would make for formidable foes as Pavel Datsyuk (’98) would faceoff against Henrik Zetterberg (’99). Both would carry a heavy offensive burden with Michael Ryder and Martin Erat as the top support scorers respectively, but ’98’s ‘D’ would be led by Andrei Markov, giving them an edge over ’99’s Douglas Murray. Antero Niittymaki would duel against Michael Leighton, so I’m not sure they’d stack up to earlier teams.

New teams on the block would be 2003 and 2004. The first is led by Joe Pavelski, Matt Moulson and Dustin Byfuglien on offense, anchored by Tobias Enstrom and Shane O’Brien on defense and backstopped by Jaroslav Halak. 2004 is led by Jannik Hansen, Troy Brouwer and Daniel Winnik up front, with Mark Streit, Matt Hunwick, Chris Campoli and Adam Pardy on defense and Pekka Rinne in goal.

There are a few other intriguing years, such as the grinder team of 1992, the Russian-led edition of 1989, a 1991 squad full of defense, but severely lacking in scoring and goaltending with Corey Hirsch as the starter, and finally a deep 1993 squad that may have fallen short come playoff time with Manny Legace and Patrick Lalime tending the net.

Who do you think would win? Are there any years you think would surprise? Make up your best late-round squad in the comments section below.

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web content specialist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays.

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