NHL Draft: A Look Back at Americans in the First Round (Part I)

Over the last eight drafts, Americans have found their names being called more often than ever before in the first two rounds. In 2010, a record 11 Americans were selected in the first round, while an additional 10 were picked up in the second round.

Needless to say, 2010 was a good year for Americans at the draft, coming off of two less than stellar campaigns in 2009 and 2008. In 2010, 28.1% of the players selected in the NHL Entry Draft were American. My, how far we’ve come as a hockey country.

While this year may not live up to recent years past from an American standpoint, it’s still going to be a strong year for the U.S.A.

With that in mind, I decided to take a look back at previous NHL Drafts, dating back to 2003, to see how Americans have fared in the first round and where they are now. I’ve split this review into two parts, with the first looking at NHL Drafts from 2003 to 2006, while Part II examines 2007 to 2010.

Check out Part I after the jump.

2003 (8 Americans Selected)

Perhaps one of the greatest drafts in NHL history, every player selected in the first round of the 2003 Entry Draft has played in the NHL (yep, even Hugh Jessiman, if only for a few minutes).

It was a very nice Draft for Americans as well, Jessiman aside.

Ryan Suter was the first American selected at No. 7 by Nashville. Suter has gone on to become one of the best American players in the game. He’s also been a key contributor to U.S. National Teams since he was 16 years old. It’s not outlandish to think he could become one of the better American defensemen to have played in the NHL.

Jessiman followed at 12 and is most notable for being a swing and a miss for the New York Rangers. He made his NHL debut with the Florida Panthers, skating in two games. Most of Jessiman’s damage has been done at the AHL level.

The L.A. Kings picked up future captain Dustin Brown at 13. One of the better all-around American forwards, Brown plays a physical brand of hockey, but has still produced over 300 points in 513 NHL games.

The New Jersey Devils grabbed Zach Parise at 17. Though last season was lost to injury, Parise has become one of the finest Americans in the game. His 94 points in 2008-09 was one of the best seasons for an American in a long time. He also scored the dramatic game-tying goal in the 2010 Olympic gold-medal game.

At 21, Boston Bruins grabbed Mark Stuart, who had a few solid years for Boston before turning into Nathan Horton (also drafted in 2003’s first round) Rich Peverley via trade. I think that one worked out OK for the B’s.

Vancouver netted annual Selke finalist and noted lurker Ryan Kesler at 23. He’s become one of the best two-way centers in the entire NHL, American or not. His 41 goals last year even put him in some discussions for the Hart Trophy. He is the prototype of the American style.

The Kings also grabbed Brian Boyle, who ended up being a bit of a late bloomer, but scored 20-plus for the Rangers. Despite his slow start to his career, he’s looking like he’s found his way in the NHL.

Patrick Eaves rounded out the Americans in the draft when Ottawa selected him at 29. Now on his third NHL team, the Detroit Red Wings, Eaves has been a solid NHL player over the last five seasons.

The 2003 draft saw four U.S. Olympians selected (Suter, Brown, Parise and Kesler). Those four are also looking like part of the core of players leading the charge into the new era for USA Hockey. Could they be the answer to the 1990s greats like Modano, Tkachuk, Chelios, Roenick, Weight, Leetch, and the like? They’re on their way.

2004 (5 6)

Of the five Americans selected in 2004, only one is still with the team that drafted him, and he’s a backup goaltender (albeit a really good one).

Blake Wheeler was thought of as a bit of a reach at No. 5 for Phoenix, though the blunder was compounded when Wheeler refused to sign with the Coyotes and landed in Boston as a free agent. That said, Wheeler became a 20-goal scorer in his rookie year, but has been a model of inconsistency ever since.

Al Montoya made it back-to-back rough years for the New York Rangers when he was taken at 6th overall. Montoya eventually made it to the NHL, but it was with the Coyotes. He was later acquired by the Islanders and appeared in 20 games last season.

Perhaps one of the biggest busts of them all ended up being A.J. Thelen, taken 12th overall by the Minnesota Wild. He spent last season with the Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL.

EDIT (accidentally left Stafford off my list): Just one pick later, the Buffalo Sabres nabbed Drew Stafford. He’s coming off of a career year in his fifth NHL season. He scored 31 goals and 52 points in just 62 games and is just beginning to realize the potential many have seen in him for years. He’s locked up for four more years, too. (H/T to Phil from Black & Blue & Gold for pointing out my error).

Robbie Schremp landed with Edmonton at No. 25. He took a little while to get to the NHL, but only played seven games with the Oilers. Schremp closed out last season with the Thrashers after starting it with the Islanders.

Vancouver picked up Corey Schneider at No. 26. He’s the only one still with the club that drafted him. When spelling Roberto Luongo in the playoffs last year, Schneider looked pretty good. He might be one of the best netminders that isn’t a starter in the NHL.

2005 (8)

Bobby Ryan was the first American selected and faced immense pressure being the first pick “after Crosby” in the 2005 Entry Draft. I think Anaheim is really happy to have him, as he’s finished the last three seasons above 30 goals.

Jack Johnson was selected at No. 3 by Carolina. After being traded to L.A. prior to playing a second of NHL hockey, he’s become a key guy for the Kings who recently locked him up long term.

Both Ryan and Johnson were part of the 2010 Olympic Team and are certainly part of that aforementioned core of Americans in the NHL.

Jack Skille went at No. 7 to Chicago, while Brian Lee got picked up by Ottawa at No. 9. Skille, who was traded mid-season by the Blackhawks became a full-time NHLer in 2010-11, while Lee appeared in 50 games with the Sens. Matt Lashoff was drafted by the Bruins at 22, but has struggled to find a full-time gig in the NHL and is now on his third NHL team. However, the guy plays a mean guitar.

T.J. Oshie was a great pick up by St. Louis at 24. There have been concerns about his maturity, but there’s no worry about his ability.  He’s got a bright future with the Blues and will be a key contributor going forward.

Big Joe Finley was selected by the Washington Capitals at No. 27, but has spent his first two pro seasons bouncing between the AHL and ECHL. Matt Niskanen was picked up by Dallas at No. 28 and earned a full-time job with the Stars pretty soon thereafter. He was moved to Pittsburgh last year as part of the Alex Goligoski trade.

2006 (10)

The tide began to turn in 2006 for Americans in the first round. It appeared this was the beginning of the influx of Americans earning high selections.

Erik Johnson became the fifth American to be selected first overall, when St. Louis made him its top choice. He’s been an NHLer on the rise despite battling injuries early in his career. The Blues shocked the hockey world when they traded Johnson to Colorado last season. Perhaps a fresh start gives Johnson motivation.

At No. 5, the Bruins selected perennial 30-goal scorer Phil Kessel. He was eventually traded for two first-round picks to the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he continued to score and be under-appreciated.

That’s two more Olympians right there.

Kyle Okposo was picked up by the Islanders at No. 7 and has been a key member of the team’s youth movement. Phoenix selected Peter Mueller with the next pick. Mueller, now a member of the Avalanche, battled the ill effects of a concussion and was lost for the entire 2010-11 season. Trevor Lewis was taken by the Kings at 17 and earned a full-time job with the club this past season.

At 19, Anaheim grabbed Mark Mitera, who’s development was derailed by a sever knee injury in his senior season at Michigan. He looks poised to make it to the NHL as early as next season, however.

Montreal selected Minnesota high schooler David Fischer at No. 20. He spent last season with Florida of the ECHL and is widely considered a draft bust.

Bobby Sanguinetti was the 21st overall choice by the Rangers. He played five games with New York in 2009-10, but is now property of the Carolina Hurricanes. Sanguinetti played for the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL last year.

Ottawa grabbed Nick Foligno at No. 28. Foligno’s played four seasons with the Sens and had his best year as a pro in 2010-11.

The last American selected in 2006 was Chris Summers, who was drafted by Phoenix at No. 29. Summers spent most of the year with San Antonio in the AHL, but made his NHL debut in 2010-11 with Phoenix, appearing in two games.

That’s it for Part I. Coming soon, we’ll take a look at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, which proved to be historic for American hockey. We’ll also close out the look back with a review of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 drafts.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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