Looking back at the Draft: 2004

This will be the first in a series of posts that revisits the first round of the NHL Draft. I did something similar with previous Sabres drafts for Buffalo Wins last year and NHL Network Radio on SiriusXM has been doing something along these lines the last few weeks.

I wanted to look back on the first round of recent drafts and to figure out which players worked out, who turned out to be a sleeper and who wound up as a bust. So I took each draft between 2004 and 2009 and re-selected the first round based on the players from the entire draft.

I evaluated and drafted by following a handful of guidelines. The overall goal was to identify where some prospects would be picked if the draft could be reconducted today. I attempted to strike a balance of simply reordering the top 30 players from each draft and making some selections based on who would best aid certain teams.

I didn’t consider each and every team’s draft strategy since I can’t speak to the draft strategy of each team in any particular draft. However, if there was a player that would address a very specific need, goaltenders being the best example, that was taken into consideration. I also looked at each draft independent of those in the preceding or following years. A player’s original draft selection didn’t factor into their new position in this practice.

The first draft I chose to reevaluate was 2004. This draft was headlined by Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. As you’ll notice, I will list the team’s new pick first followed by the pick they made originally with a brief explanation for most, if not all of the choices. I will also list where the new pick was originally selected.

1. Washington Capitals:  Alex Ovechkin

It would be easy to go with Malkin here given his Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup awards. However, Ovechkin has brought everything the Capitals were hoping for when they picked him the first time around. He’s a world-class player who still stands as this draft’s top talent.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins: Evgeni Malkin

While I give Ovechkin the billing as this draft’s top player, it’s only by a hair. Malkin shares Ovechkin’s trait as a generational talent and an easy case could be made as to why he is the best player in this draft.

3. Chicago Blackhawks: Alex Edler (VAN, 91) – Original Pick: Cam Barker

With the third pick of the first draft I evaluated I manage to break one of my own rules. This draft is interesting given the wealth of talent is widespread but there aren’t any players who hold a candle to Ovechkin and Malkin. My choice of Edler is motivated by Chicago searching for a cornerstone defenseman and Edler’s ability to fill that role. His horrible 2013-14 season notwithstanding, Edler is my choice here for his two-way prowess.

4. Carolina Hurricanes (from Columbus): Pekka Rinne (NSH, 258) – Original Pick: Andrew Ladd

I originally kept Ladd in this position given the player he has become. However, Rinne’s abilities in net will likely make him one of the biggest sleeper’s in league history. While this draft is only two years from Cam Ward’s Conn Smythe season, Rinne has come to be one of the league’s most impressive franchise goaltenders and would bring massive stability to the Hurricanes organization.

5. Phoenix Coyotes: David Krejci (BOS, 63) – Original Pick: Blake Wheeler

This was an interesting decision given that Wheeler has become the player he was billed as entering the draft but he’s also on his third team if you count the Coyotes (who he never signed with). Krecji may be considered a stretch in the top five but he’s an excellent two-way centerman who serves as the pivot for the scoring line of one of the league’s most dominant teams.

6. New York Rangers: Travis Zajac (NJD, 21) – Original Pick: Al Montoya

Zajac slots in nicely here as a sound centerman who would be the top center on a number of teams across the league. He offers plenty of offensive upside and would have been a good fit for the Rangers between his draft year and today.

7. Florida Panthers: Blake Wheeler (PHX, 5) – Original Pick: Rostislav Olesz

Wheeler remains as a topten talent in this draft class. In fact, he could easily sit in the top-five when you look back. For a team that had a pretty bad run of first round picks in the mid-2000s, the Panthers could have really used Wheeler’s skill set.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets: Johan Franzen (97, DET) – Original Pick: Alexandre Picard

Another big jump here with Franzen moving up from his original mid-round spot to the draft’s top-ten. While injuries have hampered his production in recent years, he would have offered the Jackets a much needed offensive cornerstone. When you look at Columbus’ choices from 2004 to now, he’s be even more enticing of a choice.

9. Anaheim Ducks: Andrew Ladd (CAR, 4) – Original Pick: Ladislav Smid

While Smid has evolved into a serviceable defenseman and still holds a spot in the first round of this redraft (spoiler), Ladd’s evolution as a player still makes him incredibly valuable to any franchise. He certainly fits the mold of the player the Ducks like and despite being bumped from his original top-five spot, he has stood up as one of the best players from this class.

10. Atlanta/Winnipeg: Andrej Sekera (BUF, 71)– Original Pick: Boris Valabik

No matter what his reception was in Buffalo, Sekera has grown into a bona fide top pairing defenseman. This choice was motivated more by the team’s direction and need than general ranking of the player against his peers, although I think it’s safe to say that Sekera is likely the second best defenseman from this class.

11. Los Angeles Kings: Alex Goligoski (PIT, 61) – Original Pick: Lauri Tukonen

This may seem like an interesting choice given the players that remain. However, Goligoski has developed an impressive offensive skillset off the back end. There may be some forwards that rank a bit higher than him, but I’m comfortable selecting Goligoski here.

12. Minnesota Wild: Brandon Dubinsky (NYR, 60) – Original Pick: AJ Thelen

There are all of two full time NHL players that were selected between picks 10 and 19 of this draft and the talent of the players selected beyond those pick certainly makes them look like silly choices. This is also an area of my draft where debates over where each player should go will likely heat up. Dubinsky has shown the ability to be a valuable shutdown center with quality offensive traits.

13. Buffalo Sabres: Dave Bolland (CHI, 32) – Original Pick: Drew Stafford

Bolland would not only look great in a Sabres jersey today, he would have offered a quality piece for organizational depth shortly after his draft year as well. For an organization who has struggled to find quality centers after 7/1/07, Bolland would have made that transition much easier.

14. Edmonton Oilers: Cory Schneider (VAN, 27) – Original Pick: Devan Dubnyk

The only case that needs to be made here is why Schneider isn’t listed higher. As I stated in my intro, the goal wasn’t to conduct this draft based on the needs of each team, but many of the picks would be determined with that in mind. That’s why Schneider is here at 14 and not higher.

15. Nashville Predators: Mark Streit (MTL, 262) – Original Pick: Alexander Radulov

It’s not so much that Radulov didn’t serve the Predators well, but that his pond hopping between the NHL and the KHL makes him far less valuable. Streit has showcased longevity and puck moving prowess, two valuable traits in a defenseman.

16. New York Islanders: Ladislav Smid (ANA, 9) – Original Pick: Petteri Nokelainen

Smid certainly maintains status as a first round talent when the entire draft is considered, just not a top-ten pick in my book. Given the thin Islanders blueline these days, it seems like he could have served a purpose.

17. St. Louis Blues: Ryan Callahan (127, NYR) – Original Pick: Marek Schwartz

I originally had Callahan a bit lower on this board. But I considered the way a few of these teams play and I felt like he’d fit in well with the identity the Blues have. The offense might not be there but he’s certainly shown he was worth a higher pick.

18. Montreal Canadiens: Mikhail Grabovski (MTL, 150) – Original Pick: Kyle Chipchura

Grabovski was grabbed by the Canadiens later in this draft and has since moved on to a couple different franchises. While I don’t know if the Canadiens regret letting him move on, he’s certainly grown into a quality two-way center.

19. New York Rangers (from Calgary): Mike Green (WSH, 30) – Original Pick: Lauri Korpikoski

If this was done a few years ago Green would probably be somewhere in the top-ten. While his defensive shortcomings are well documented, he’d still serve as a nice addition to the group of defenders the Rangers boast.

20. New Jersey Devils (from Dallas): Troy Brouwer (CHI, 214) – Original Pick: Travis Zajac

It’s pretty clear that the Devils would take Zajac again if he was available, but since I bumped his value up a bit, Brouwer ismy choice. He’s a quality forward with the ability to contribute regularly.

21. Colorado Avalanche: Andrej Meszaros (OTT, 24) – Original Pick: Wojtek Wolski

Wolski never quite worked out in the NHL while Meszaros enjoyed some very impressive seasons early on in his career. While he’s slowed a bit in recent seasons, he would have been a great addition to Colorado’s defensive pipeline.

22. San Jose Sharks (from NJ via Dallas): Alexei Emelin (MTL, 84) – Original Pick: Lukas Kaspar

A tough call to make that I kept second guessing before and after penciling it in; Emelin is a quality defender and seems to have plenty of miles left on him. However, there were others who maybe fit better here based on overall talent.

23. Ottawa Senators: Nikita Nikitin (STL, 136) – Original Pick: Andrej Meszaros

I stuck with a defenseman here as opposed to picking for skill based on Meszaros being the original pick and getting bumped up slightly in my rankings. Nikitin is still a quality defender who would fit the Sens well.

24. Calgary Flames (from TOR via NYR): Nicklas Grossmann (DAL, 56) – Original Pick: Kris Chucko

One more motivated more by need than overall talent. This time I was thinking of the Flames from the past few seasons and one of their overarching needs and came up with Grossmann.

25. Edmonton Oilers (from PHI): Drew Stafford (BUF, 13) – Original Pick: Rob Schremp

For all the heat he takes, Stafford is still a quality NHL forward. When you take this draft class into account he still falls into the first round. In fact, he probably slots in above most of the defenseman listed right above him.

26. Vancouver Canucks: Kris Versteeg (BOS, 134) – Original Pick: Cory Schneider

It still amazes me that the Mike Gillis hit the panic button and moved Schneider last year. Versteeg hit a wall the last couple years but had a very productive start to his career. A serviceable winger considering the remaining depth.

27. Washington Capitals (from Boston): Tyler Kennedy (PIT, 99) – Original Pick: Jeff Schultz

Things get thin over these last few picks but Kennedy is still a quality middle-six forward.

28. Dallas Stars (from San Jose): Jannik Hansen (VAN, 287) – Original Pick: Mark Fistric

As stated above, there are slim pickings at this point. Alex Radulov could go in here somewhere but he’s bolted twice which takes him out of the running. Hansen is a solid forward and helps fill out the bottom of this round.

29. Washington Capitals (from  Detroit): Anton Khudobin (MIN, 206) – Original Pick, Mike Green

Khudobin was a very late addition to my board as he’s only recently shown serious upside and I’m still waiting to see it extended beyond one season.

30. Tampa Bay Lightning: Carl Soderberg (STL, 49) – Original Pick: Andy Rogers

Soderberg is still adjusting to the NHL after finally being lured over to play with Boston. He’s shown some sound skills and he serves as a solid way to round out this first round.

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