Current NHLers Who Weren't Drafted, But Made an Impact in the League

Tyler Johnson, a center for the Tampa Bay Lightning, is just one of a number of NHL players who were not drafted into the league.
Tyler Johnson, a center for the Tampa Bay Lightning, is just one of a number of NHL players who were not drafted into the league. | Source

You don't have to come through the draft to make an impact in the National Hockey League. For example, a lot of well deserved talk is being made about Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson. A native of Spokane, Washington, the 24-year-old has had a memorable run in this year's playoffs as a member of the much heralded "Triplets" line (with talented wingers Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov).

As I write this, the Lightning are two wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup since 2004. Johnson is not the only reason why, but his playoff-leading 13 goals and 23 points have helped to vault the Lightning past three Original Six teams and perhaps a fourth (an NHL first). Since he entered the league in 2012, Johnson has scored 128 points (72 of them assists). You may have guessed it. Surprisingly, this rising star did not don a cap on the stage. He was not drafted.

Peter Stastny scored the second most points in the 1980's.  Only Wayne Gretzky scored more in that decade.
Peter Stastny scored the second most points in the 1980s. Only Wayne Gretzky scored more in that decade. | Source

Every so often, a team scouts and finds a solid player without the draft. Some of those undrafted skaters have gone on to make a huge impact for their teams.

Some even went on to be Hall of Famers: Borje Salming, Adam Oates, Joe Mullen, Peter Stastny, Dino Ciccarelli.

And though they didn't make the Hall of Fame, players like Steve Thomas, Tim Kerr, Kelly Kisio, Brian Rafalski, Mike Keane, and Geoff Courtnall made solid contributions to the NHL without being drafted.

These were all players who were eligible to be drafted, but teams passed on them for one reason or another.

Bruins defenseman Torey Krug has been important piece of the team in the last two seasons - on both ends of the ice.
Bruins defenseman Torey Krug has been important piece of the team in the last two seasons - on both ends of the ice. | Source

Here's a list of a few undrafted skaters that have had varying degress of success since entering the league:

  • At five foot nine, Tyler Johnson has been highly touted for being an offensive powerhouse despite undersized in a league that had become accustomed to players over six feet tall. Boston Bruins blueliner Torey Krug is the same height as Johnson. The Michigan native has proven to be a solid two-way defenseman, but his offense is his true strength. With two full seasons under his belt, Krug has put together campaigns of 14-26-40 and 12-27-39. Even more impressive, his career plus-minus is +30 - this despite the Black and Gold missing the playoffs this season. Unless he is signed to an extension before then, the 24-year-old defenseman will be a restricted free agent after next season.

  • Defenseman Mike Weaver is due to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1st unless his current team, the Montreal Canadiens, re-sign him. The 37-year-old Ontario native, mostly known for his defensive play, has played in 633 NHL games since entering the league with the now-defunct Atlanta Thrashers in the 2001-02 season. Weaver, who spent four years with Michigan State, also played for the Los Angeles Kings, Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues, and the Florida Panthers.

Defenseman Zbynek Michalek has played on four NHL teams, including the Pittsburgh Penguins.  He last played for the St. Louis Blues this season.
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek has played on four NHL teams, including the Pittsburgh Penguins. He last played for the St. Louis Blues this season. | Source
  • A rough-and-tumble player, forward Cody McLeod has spent his entire NHL career with the Colorado Avalanche. Through eight seasons and 549 career games, McLeod has scored 103 points while racking up on 1100 minutes of penalty time. His best season came in the 2008-09 season when he scored a career-high 15 goals. McLeod is signed through the 2017-18 campaign.

  • 30-year-old Josh Gorges is one of the depth defensemen for the Buffalo Sabres. He was traded by the Montreal Canadiens this past offseason after spending seven years with the Habs. For a defenseman in today's NHL, the 30-year-old is somewhat undersized at six feet tall. He was a plus-34 in his Montreal years, but in the past season, Gorges played in only 46 games and was a -28 for a basement-dwelling Sabres team.

  • Blueliner Zbynek Michalek, like Weaver, is also set to be an UFA on July 1st. He is currently on his fourth team, the St. Louis Blues. After a short stint with the Minnesota Wild, the 32-year-old spent five seasons with the then-called Phoenix Coyotes (now Arizona). Being one of the top d-men on that team along with current NY Ranger Keith Yandle, Michalek saw an increase in his offensive numbers. Michalek, though, is known for his smart defensive play. If he's not re-signed by the Blues, he will certainly find a job elsewhere in the league.

Along with Marc Staal and captain Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi has gone from being undrafted to becoming one of the most respected blueliners in the game today.
Along with Marc Staal and captain Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi has gone from being undrafted to becoming one of the most respected blueliners in the game today. | Source
  • American-born defenseman Andy Greene has played all 559 career NHL games with the New Jersey Devils. Greene is so appreciated by the Devils front office, he is signed through the 2019-20 season. A solid two-way defenseman, the 32-year-old has scored 171 points (140 assists) since entering the league in the 2006-07 season.

  • After a tumultuous time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where his production fell well short of expectation, forward David Clarkson was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He went scoreless through three games there. But, it was a different story when he became a seasoned pro with the Devils. In 2011-12, he scored a career-high 30 goals as part of a Devil team that would go on to lose to the Los Angeles Kings in six games that year. It's the only time in his NHL career that Clarkson scored more than 17 in a season.

  • It's hard to believe New York Ranger defenseman Dan Girardi went undrafted. He is now considered to be one of the core defensemen on a Ranger team that has made it to the Eastern Conference Finals three of the last four years (including a Stanley Cup Final appearance last season). After a number of seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, the Ontario native was signed by an advantageous Ranger team. He has played in 651 career NHL games, scoring 239 points. But, he is much more known for his defensive play and positioning, including his penchant for blocking a tremendous amount of shots through the season.

If Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward hits the open market on July 1st, expect the power forward to be picked up quickly by another team.
If Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward hits the open market on July 1st, expect the power forward to be picked up quickly by another team. | Source
  • Before his current four-year stint with the Washington Capitals, forward Joel Ward spent time in the OHL and the Atlantic University Sport league. Soon after, he found his way to the Houston Aeros. During his second season there, the North York native was called up to the NHL by the Minnesota Wild. Ward's true abilities would be put on display a couple years later with the Nashville Predators. He has always been a true power forward, not afraid of getting in front of the net to screen the goalie and look for a rebound. Currently, Ward is a vital part of the Caps team, at times playing on the number one line with star Alex Ovechkin. Unless he is signed, the 34-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

  • After spending six seasons with the Nashville Predators and two in Phoenix, Dallas Stars forward Vernon Fiddler has found a home in the Lone Star State. The alternative captain, Fiddler enjoyed his highest goal scoring output this season with 13. He has 235 points in 736 games and is 10 goals away from 100.

  • Physical defenseman Mark Giordano suffered a season-ending torn biceps tendon injury back in February, but his physical defensive play and strong offensive talent make him one of the three top blueliners on the team (along with Dennis Wideman and T.J. Brodie). A veteran of 510 NHL games, Giordano has seen his offensive numbers improve as the Flames roster has improved. In the last two seasons, the 31-year-old has scored 25 goals and 95 points, along with a +25 rating. He will be an unrestricted free agent after next season.

Alex Burrows has been a consistent player on both sides of the ice for the last nine years with the Vancouver Canucks.
Alex Burrows has been a consistent player on both sides of the ice for the last nine years with the Vancouver Canucks. | Source
  • Forward Curtis Glencross will be unrestricted on July 1st. He started his NHL career with the Anaheim Ducks, but played in only two games. Later, that year, he was sent to Columbus. After one season in Edmonton, he was acquired by the Calgary Flames, where he spent his most time (2008-09 to this season). A two-way forward, he has scored 275 points in 507 games. His last 18 contests were played in a Capitals uniform.

  • Rene Bourque came into the league via the Chicago Blackhawks, but between 2008-09 and 2011-12, he found scoring success with Calgary (three 20 goal seasons). Since then through stints with the Canadiens, Ducks, and now Blue Jackets, his scoring ability has regressed.

  • Through 9 years, forward Alex Burrows has become a mainstay of the Vancouver Canucks (much like the Sedin brothers). He has three 20 goal seasons and one 30 goal season. His goal scoring had dropped for a couple years, but this season he put the biscuit in the basket 18 times. Through 688 regular season games, he has a scoring line of 175-167-342 with a +122 plus-minus rating.

Chris Kunitz made it to the Stanley Cup Final in three straight seasons.  He was part of the Cup-winning Anaheim Ducks in 2007, then he was traded to the Penguins. Pittsburgh lost the Final in 2008, but won it all in 2009.
Chris Kunitz made it to the Stanley Cup Final in three straight seasons. He was part of the Cup-winning Anaheim Ducks in 2007, then he was traded to the Penguins. Pittsburgh lost the Final in 2008, but won it all in 2009. | Source
  • Back in November, Pascal Dupuis was diagnosed with a blood clot, which traveled from his leg to his lung. It is not yet known whether the 36-year-old will play next season for the Pittsburgh Penguins. But, the injury doesn't diminish his accomplishments in the NHL since entering the league in 2000-01. A strong two-way player, he has consistently scored double digits in goals while being an agitating player defensively. He was on the Pens roster when they lost in the 2008 Final to Detroit and when they won the next year against the Wings in the 2009 Final.

  • Also part of that 2009 Stanley Cup winning Penguins team, Chris Kunitz has been a strong offensive player for several seasons. The Regina, Saskatchewan native was also a Stanley Cup winner for his previous team, the Ducks. In 733 games, he has scored 511 points, including 224 goals. He has played in 117 career playoff games with a scoring line of 21-48-69.

  • On July 12th, New York Ranger defenseman Dan Boyle will turn 39. Yet, the veteran defenseman is still finding ways to be effective. Through 1019 career games with the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks, and Rangers, Boyle has scored 581 points (153 goals). He won a Stanley Cup in 2004 with the Lightning. In this past season, his first with the Rangers, Boyle scored 20 points while posting a plus-minus of +18. He was also one of the top five point producers for the Rangers during the playoff run this year.

Martin St. Louis captained the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup in 2004.  Last season, St. Louis scored timely goals, helping the Rangers make the Final - despite the untimely death of his mother during the playoffs.
Martin St. Louis captained the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup in 2004. Last season, St. Louis scored timely goals, helping the Rangers make the Final - despite the untimely death of his mother during the playoffs. | Source
  • And finally, there is no question as to who is the best active non-drafted player in the game today. Ranger forward Martin St. Louis will turn 40 on June 18th, but he had a decent regular season in his first full year on Broadway with 21 goals and 52 points. Unfortunately, St. Louis' offense sputtered during the Rangers playoff run this season, making some fans wonder whether his best play is behind him.

    Still, through 1134 games in the NHL, St. Louis finds himself with 1033 career points and 9 goals away from scoring 400. In 107 career playoff games, he has 42 goals and 48 assists. And while he was with Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, St. Louis lifted the Stanley Cup. Martin also helped the with some timely goals in their Stanley Cup Final run last season. St. Louis has gone to the All Star Game six times, has won the league's scoring title twice, has won the Lady Byng trophy three times, the Ted Lindsay award once, and in that 2004 championship year, he was also named league MVP.

    It can certainly be argued that St. Louis belongs in the Hall of Fame. And I would agree.

    (Sidenote: If you're wondering why Wayne Gretzky didn't make this list: He was drafted in the WHA. When the Edmonton Oilers moved to the NHL in 1979, they brought Gretzky with them. The NHL deemed that WHA players were not eligible to be drafted into the NHL since they were already playing in a pro league.)

Who do you feel was the best undrafted player in NHL history?

See results without voting

2 comments

connorj profile image

connorj 18 months ago from Altamonte Springs

Andrychuk was the Lightning captain in 2004 not Marty St. Louis, other than that you have written a good hub...


samnivek profile image

samnivek 18 months ago from Jersey City, NJ Author

Absolutely right, connorj. I went ahead and corrected that. Thanks.

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