Anyone who follows the NFL and reads a story about Tom Brady won’t get too far along without seeing a reference to the fact that he was a late-round selection. The 199th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft has gone on to build a Hall of Fame-worthy resume (and no- “Deflategate” won’t change that) capped with four Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots.
But, there is an NHL equivalent from that very same draft year: Henrik Lundqvist.
King Henrik- the NY Rangers’ franchise netminder and perennial all-star was drafted in the seventh round, 205th overall, that year out of the Vastra Frolunda Indians junior team. No, Bruins fans- we won’t rub salt in the wounds by reminding you all that Boston used the 204th selection on OHL forward Chris Berti– he of 0 NHL games played. Oops- I did it again.
The only thing the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner is chasing is significant: a Stanley Cup championship. He led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup final in 2014 but fell to the Los Angeles Kings. He did win a gold medal for Sweden at the 2006 Olympic Games and has been a workhorse for the Rangers ever since breaking into the league in 2005-06.
Now, I won’t go so far as to say the NHL draft is a “crapshoot” which I think is a lazy way of looking at it but has become kind of an accepted term by rank and file fans and some analysts, but Lundqvist falling that low seems incomprehensible 15 years later. One might attribute it to his being a late bloomer, but that’s not right, as he was one of the top junior goaltenders in Sweden, performing well at the 2000 Under-18 tourney with a .939 save percentage in four games. I do think that it illustrates the challenge in projected 17 and 18-year-olds. But it’s not a crapshoot- to say that the draft is essentially a game of chance is to disregard the astounding amount of work and travel that amateur scouts do over the course of the season to prepare for the entry draft each June.
Is the draft more of an art than a science? Absolutely. Advanced statistics and analytics are allowing teams to narrow their focus and tailor their desires based on a pattern analysis, but when it comes to the eye test, some scouting methods are sure to endure.
For whatever reason, Lundqvist didn’t pass the eye test for all 30 NHL teams back in 2000…even the Rangers. Because, if he did, they sure as hell wouldn’t have waited 205 spots and 20 goaltenders ahead of him to act (several of those 20 came out of Sweden- so he wasn’t even the top netminder chosen from his own country that year!)