The popular belief is that the blueprint to success is drafting that elite player atop the prospect heap to lead the charge. Without a doubt the Pittsburgh Penguins are the main root of the belief – and rightfully so. Drafting Marc-Andre Fleury; Evgeni Malkin; Sidney Crosby; and Jordan Staal from 2002 to 2006 certainly bodes well for the argument. The Blackhawks’ rise to the elite class of the league since drafting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane (drafted 3rd in 2006 and 1st 2007 respectively) helps as well.
But is that the only way to do it? Are the Stars doomed unless they can somehow sneak in to the top five at this year’s draft and grab that elite talent? It would certainly help, no doubt, but there’s a very solid argument out there that says they can make out just fine without.
With four Stanley Cups and two more Cup Final appearances since 1995, the Detroit Red Wings can be compared to almost any dynasty from the past when taking all circumstances in to account. They’ve been as good as it gets in this day and age, being led recently by players like Niklas Lidstrom (drafted 53rd in 1989), Pavel Datsyuk (drafted 171st in 1998), and Henrik Zetterberg (drafted 210th in 1999).
If you want to argue that three of their cups were raised in the days of free spending, they do still have 2008 and once again proved to be a very relevant team this year. There are also more current examples of teams reaching the pinnacle of hockey without hitching their wagons to a fleet of thoroughbreds taken early in the draft. As current as one of this year’s finalists and the last two Stanley Cup champs.
Looking at the the last two Stanley Cup champions and the key cogs to their respective runs:
2012 Los Angeles Kings
- Dustin Brown – drafted 14th in 2003
- Anze Kopitar – drafted 11th in 2005
- Jonathan Quick – drafted 72nd in 2005
- Drew Doughty – drafted 2nd in 2008
- Justin Williams – via trade in 2009
- Mike Richards – via trade in 2011*
- Jeff Carter – via trade in 2012
*2009 5th overall pick Brayden Schenn was the main piece the Kings sent to Philadelphia for Mike Richards.
2011 Boston Bruins
- Tim Thomas – via free agency 2002
- Patrice Bergeron – drafted 45th in 2003
- David Krejci – drafted 63rd in 2004
- Zdeno Chara – via free agency in 2006
- Milan Lucic – drafted 50th in 2006
- Brad Marchand – drafted 71st in 2006
- Nathan Horton – via trade in 2010
Those lists are not exactly filled with high draft picks – but a mixture of smart draft picks, proper development, and key additions either by trade or free agency. Drew Doughty is the lone example there of a top five draft pick making an impact.
The Bruins’ roster is virtually the same as it was in 2011, with Tuukka Rask between the pipes instead of Thomas being the only difference of note. Rask himself was acquired via trade from the Maple Leafs in 2006. The Bruins recently disposed of the talent laden Pittsburgh Penguins in four straight and will face the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final beginning Wednesday. Rock solid proof that mining your talent with high picks in the draft is not the only route to success.
Could the Stars be helped by adding a player like Nathan MacKinnon or Jonathan Drouin to their group of forwards at the draft? You bet your ass. It would be foolish to suggest otherwise. Can they build a winner by Jim Nill and co. making smart acquisitions and developing their own prospects properly? You can bet your ass on that too. Whether it happens or not is the only question.
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