Who could be the next under-the-radar star? Here are three to watch
OTTAWA -- The best stories from the second day of the NHL draft are the dark horses, prospects who fly well under the radar. Here are three names to write down and remember.
Jesper Samuelsson (seventh round, No. 211 overall to Detroit)
The final selection in any draft is usually just fodder for a trivia question. When Detroit owns that last pick, though, you'd better make note of it. More than any other franchise, Detroit has managed to find NHL stars in the late rounds, which is like finding diamonds in a coal mine.
This season's Conn Smythe Trophy winner was Henrik Zetterberg, who went No. 210 overall in the 1999 draft. Pavel Datsyuk was No. 171 the year before. In 2002, the Wings owned pick No. 291 and selected Jonathan Ericsson, a tall but rail-thin center in the Swedish junior leagues. This past season, after a six-year apprenticeship and a move from center to the blue line, Ericsson made his NHL debut and picked up a goal in eight games. Ericsson's breakthrough was just a footnote in a glorious season for the Wings and there's no knowing if he'll ever be a player you'd mention in the same breath as Zetterberg and Datsyuk, but it's a prime example of the way this organization does business on a couple of counts.
Count 1: Scouting. Like Zetterberg and Datsyuk before him, Ericsson made Detroit's list on the recommendation of Hakan Andersson, the club's Stockholm-based scout.
"Hakan told me about Ericsson and I had one look at him in Sweden before that draft," said Joe McDonnell, the Wings' director of amateur scouting. "He was raw. I didn't see enough to project him as a defenseman. But [his selection] was Hakan's recommendation."
Count 2: Patience in development. A lot of teams think in the short term with prospects and expect almost immediate return on players who need more time. The Wings stick by prospects, even those who are way down their draft lists. "As long as they have the passion and want to get better, we'll work with them," McDonnell said.
McDonnell hasn't seen Samuelsson, a center with the Timra Juniors in Sweden, but the back story is the same. "From what Hakan has told us, Samuelsson thinks the game well, but needs to get stronger, a lot stronger," McDonnell said. "In that way, he's like Ericsson, [who] was as weak as a wet noodle and it took time."
McDonnell is reluctant to take any credit for the players' discovery and development.
"Maybe some people would say that the organization has a role, but really the credit belongs to the players," he said. "The one person that had the most to do with Jonathan Ericsson making the NHL is Jonathan Ericsson. If anyone else deserves credit, it would be the players in the organization. When young players come to our camps in the fall or are in our room, they have real role models. In the past, it was players like Steve Yzerman; now, it's [Nicklas] Lidstrom and Kris Draper and other guys who show them what type of commitment it takes to make the league."
Jason Missiaen (fourth round, No. 116 overall to Montreal)
Dustin Tokarski (fifth round, No. 122 overall to Tampa Bay)
They are two goaltenders who went only six picks apart, but are worlds apart as prospects. Missiaen has had only a small taste of major junior as the backup for the Peterborough Petes, a team that made only a little noise in the Ontario Hockey League this season. He was only No. 23 on NHL Central Scouting's list of North American goalies (players in that bracket usually go undrafted).
Tokarski, 17, was the key player for the Spokane Chiefs, who won the Memorial Cup a few weeks back. Choose your superlative: Tokarski was spectacular, lights-out, unconscious. It was the most impressive postseason performance by a junior netminder in recent memory, all the more noteworthy given that it's usually goalies a year or two older who are taking their teams to the Memorial Cup.
So what gives? The tape measure. Size matters to NHL scouts. They consider Tokarski too small (5-foot-10) to make the grade at the next level. Missiaen is a full 10 inches taller. Montreal didn't seem to be fully prepared to draft Missiaen; the sweater the Canadiens staff gave him in Ottawa came down to only his belt buckle.
It was a goaltender-rich draft this year (four goaltenders in the first 34 picks, six in the top 60). Maybe scouts would have been a little more open-minded about Tokarski if the ranks were a little thinner. If Tokarski goes on to the NHL, maybe he'll change the scouting mind-set. If Missiaen has an impact in a better-fitting Canadiens sweater, scouts might raise the height requirements an inch or two and 5-foot-10 goaltenders in the NHL would go the way of the dodo bird.
Gare Joyce is a regular contributor to ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com.
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