Okay, I admit it. No one did a better Jesse James impersonation during the draft weekend than Bobby Clarke, who robbed Tampa Bay blind on the eve before the draft. A top-four pick for a 40-point winger? Hard to beat.
But there were plenty of steals on draft day, and no one had more than the Buffalo Sabres, who bettered their counterparts in rounds four, six, and eight. Unlike Clarke’s masterpiece, these thefts had nothing to do with hoodwinking, and everything to do with good fortune and good judgment. Here then are the best steals, on a round-by-round basis.
Martin Vagner, D, Dallas: Taken 26th overall by the Stars, Vagner was a safe, smart pick and a steal in the weak 2002 draft. Showing tremendous poise and strong hockey sense, Vagner has an NHL frame (6-1, 220), although he will need to keep an eye on his weight. He’s also a very strong skater and excels at making the first pass out of the defensive zone. He’s a few years away, but already fits the mold of an ideal two-way defender.
Honorable mention: Alexander Steen, C, Toronto (24th pick)
Kiril Koltsov, D, Vancouver: This kid excels at the game and has a whole range of advanced skills, not to mention terrific hockey sense. But issues about his attitude kept a red flag above his head right up to draft day. The Canucks, to their credit and good fortune, ignored the bad press and landed what could prove to be the biggest steal of the draft with their first pick of the day, and the 49th pick overall. They were stunned that he was available, especially considering the belief many scouts held that once Koltsov gets out of the Russian system (where he was mistreated) and over to North America, the attitude concerns will subside.
Honorable mention: Jiri Hudler, C, Detroit (58th pick)
Petr Kanko, RW, Los Angeles: An abrasive sparkplug of a player, Kanko has great skills and footspeed but disappointed scouts with a lackluster second half of the season. Los Angeles snatched him up with the 66th pick overall, and will likely be patting themselves on the back in a few years. Kanko is a good bet to regain his form next season and get back on track. He has all the tools to excel in juniors, and should eventually become a good third line winger in the NHL.
Honorable mention: Brett Skinner, D, Vancouver (68th pick)
Marty Magers, G, Buffalo: Last season, USHL goalie Jason Bacashihua was ranked 15th among North American goaltenders, and was taken in the first round by Dallas. This year, Magers, a USHL netminder ranked 9th, was available and wasn’t taken until the fourth round. He posted terrific numbers (1.80 GAA, .920 SP, 7 shutouts), has an ideal frame (6-1, 180), exhibited great focus and mobility, and possesses an extraordinary work ethic. Buffalo does it again, adding to their deserved reputation as the best judge of amateur goaltending talent. Though truth be told, this one was a no-brainer. Magers is a flat-out heist with the 121st pick overall.
Honorable mention: Daniel Fernholm, D, Pittsburgh (101st pick)
Pat Jarrett, C, Nashville: If not for a heart defect and a bad leg injury, Pat Jarrett would have been first round material. He recently underwent successful surgery to correct his heart, and should be ready to prove to the rest of the NHL that they made a mistake letting him slip to the 138th pick. And it’s a good bet everyone hopes that he does. He has great skills and work ethic, sees the ice very well, and gives his all every shift. Nashville was thrilled to land him.
Honorable mention: Gerard Dicaire, D, Tampa Bay (162nd pick, re-entry)
Maxim Sheviev, C, Buffalo: I can’t recall a single scout saying anything bad about him. His offensive upside is limited, but some compared him to Sergei Nemchinov. Most thought he was a very clever player, and has great potential as a defensive shut-down artist. He can also take a hit and stay with the play. He should have never lasted until the 178th pick.
Honorable Mention: None
Seventh – Ninth Rounds
Dennis Wideman, D, Buffalo: A big-time point producer in juniors, Wideman can throw great open ice hits and quarterbacks the power play like a pro. But there is some concern about his ability to read and react at the NHL level. Nonethless, players with his level of skill and versatility don’t grow on trees. He fell into Buffalo’s lap with the 241st pick.
Honorable mention: Dwight Helminen, C, Edmonton (244th pick); Konstantin Korneev, D, Montreal (275th pick)