Martin St-Louis’ journey didn’t start with his name being called at the draft, but that didn’t stop him from reaching great heights in the NHL. This season, these five undrafted players are making their presence felt.
Friday night in Tampa Bay, the Lightning celebrated the career of Martin St-Louis, one of the greatest players in franchise history, by raising his famed No. 26 to the rafters.
For St-Louis, the jersey retirement marked one of the final great moments in a career that had plenty. From Art Ross Trophies to a Stanley Cup victory, St-Louis was one of the greatest players of his generation, hanging up his skates with nearly 400 goals and more than 1,000 points to his name.
Despite having an outstanding career, though, the one thing St-Louis never got to experience was having his name called at the draft. Instead, he played his way through junior hockey in Ontario and Quebec, made some noise with four solid seasons at University of Vermont and earned his shot at the NHL after producing consistently in the minor leagues. Even still, that St-Louis was never selected in the draft is one of the great misses in draft history.
An undrafted player having a career like St-Louis’ is rare, but of the 100-plus players in the league who were skipped over on their respective draft days, a handful are making their presence felt this season. Here are the five undrafted players impressing the most this campaign:
5. Conor Sheary, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sheary landed a deal with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins after four seasons with UMass in the NCAA, and few would have pegged him to be the type of impact depth player he has become. However, after a strong, 20-goal, 45-point campaign in 2014-15, Sheary got his shot at the big league and filled in as a fourth-line piece. His real breakout came in the post-season, though.
En route to a Stanley Cup with the Penguins, Sheary netted four goals and 10 points in 23 games, matching his regular season total in roughly half the time, and he has continued to score in his sophomore season. Through 34 games this season, Sheary has 11 goals and 25 points.
4. Jonathan Marchessault, Florida Panthers
One of the best stories early in the campaign was the breakout Marchessault was experiencing as a member of the Panthers. Signed in the off-season to a two-year, $1.5-million deal, Marchessault was brought for his potential to be a contributor in the bottom-six, but he’s been a top-six player for much of the campaign in Florida with 12 goals and 26 points in 37 games.
Marchessault’s path to the NHL had a few more stops than some of the others on this list, too. After finishing his QMJHL career with the Quebec Remparts, Marchessault found a spot with the AHL’s Connecticut Whale and then inked an entry-level deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. After kicking around the AHL for much of the next three seasons, became a part-time NHLer in 2015-16 with the Tampa Bay Lightning before making his mark with the Panthers this season.
3. Torey Krug, Boston Bruins
Size was one of the knocks against St-Louis, who’s listed at 5-foot-8, and it was likely one of the major reasons why Krug was overlooked as a defender. At 5-foot-9, he is the league’s most diminutive blueliners, but size hasn’t stopped him from becoming a key part of the Bruins’ back end.
No defender in Beantown has put up even half the points that Krug has this season, who has four goals and 28 points, and he’s worked his way into top-pairing minutes. He’s averaging nearly 22 minutes of ice time per game.
Krug’s big breakout came during the 2012-13 post-season, which saw the Bruins make their way to the Stanley Cup final. He chipped in four goals and six points on that run, and was an every-game NHLer by the time the 2013-14 campaign rolled around.
2. Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers
Zuccarello’s the only player on this list who had the opportunity to play with St-Louis, and the 5-foot-8 Rangers winger definitely picked up a thing or two from a veteran who had made a career as a small man in what is sometimes viewed as a big man’s game.
Unlike others on this list who had to fight their way through the college game and minor leagues to make it to the NHL, Zuccarello managed to find his way to the NHL through the Swedish league. After a couple of outstanding seasons in Norway, Zuccarello landed with MODO in the SHL, but up two great years and inked a deal with the Rangers. He’s been a Blueshirt ever since.
After a career-best 61 points in 2015-16, Zuccarello looks to be on pace to nearly equal that total this season. The shifty playmaker has eight goals and 31 points in 43 games.
1. Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks
That Panarin slipped through the draft is incredible given the way he has shown he can handle the big league game, but his career didn’t really take off until the 2013-14 season, so maybe it’s hard to fault scouts for missing on him earlier.
Panarin, who has 17 goals and 42 points in 45 games this season, saw his first pro action all the way back in 2008-09 with the KHL’s Vityaz Chekhov, and he scored at about a half-point per game rate during those early years. A move to SKA St. Petersburg in 2012-13 changed his career, though, as he started to find his scoring touch in a big way. In 108 games with SKA, Panarin scored 46 goals and 103 points, often outshining more recognizable talents on the team, such as Ilya Kovalchuk.
Panarin was scooped up by the Blackhawks ahead of the 2015-16 season on a bonus-laden two-year deal, and the Russian sniper has cashed in big. He met all of his bonuses with an outstanding 30-goal, 77-point rookie season, captured the Calder Trophy and he has continued to tear up the opposition this season.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.