Ranking the top 10 undrafted players in the NHL

Interesting article from Darren M. of Silver Seven today about undrafted NHL players who are currently stars (or, at least, really productive role players) in the League.

There's a legacy of this sort of thing occurring in the NHL: Ed Belfour, Dino Ciccarelli, Curtis Joseph, Joe Mullen, Adam Oates and Peter Stastny are among the notable undrafted legends in recent history.

New Jersey Devils supreme overlord Lou Lamoriello is well-known for finding these diamonds in the rough, and two of his greatest acquisitions make the list: Center John Madden, who was "passed over in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, he has now played more games than all but 34 of those players drafted that year," according to Silver Seven; and current Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski, famously called "the best hockey player in the world not currently in he NHL" before Lamoriello brought him over from Finland.

Topping the list is San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle, and rightfully so. He was considered to be an undersized defenseman coming out of college, despite being a Hobey Baker finalist. He went undrafted and was signed by the Florida Panthers in 1998. All he's done after that is become one of the best defensemen in hockey with a combination of offensive talent and hard work. Oh, and make the Tampa Bay Lightning look dumb. That too.

One name on the list that we sometimes forget went undrafted: Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild, who came to the League as a 28-year-old rookie. No disrespect to anyone ranked ahead of him, but is there a bigger surprise among undrafted players than Backstrom in today's NHL?

From Silver Seven, the write-up on Backstrom, who's ranked third overall:

In three seasons with the Wild, Backstrom has always been above .920 for SV%, and below 2.33 for GAA. This year, he is fifth in the league in save percentage, fourth in goals against average, and tied for second in shutouts. Backstrom also helped lead Finland to a silver medal at the 2006 Olympic games in Turin. One of the best goalies in the league right now, it's a marvel he wasn't drafted.

Michael Russo of the Star Tribune fleshed out Backstrom's journey to the NHL in an article before he re-signed with the Wild:

In the summer of 2006, the Wild signed Backstrom over now-Columbus goalie Fredrik Norrena. Because Backstrom was an undrafted European, he wouldn't require waivers to go to the minors.

But with Manny Fernandez the clear-cut No. 1, the Wild sent the young Josh Harding to Houston so he could get playing time, and Backstrom never left.

Still, Jacques Lemaire didn't give Backstrom, whose first three NHL victories came in relief, his first start until mid-November. But when Fernandez sprained his knee almost exactly two years ago (Jan. 30, 2007), Backstrom got his big break and was magnificent, going 14-0-2 during one stretch.

Fernandez, of course, was eventually forced out by Backstrom.

The Wild goalie signed a four-year, $24 million extension before the trade deadline. It's startling to think that a player who spent his 20s playing for SaiPa Lappeenranta and Karpat Oulu is now one of the premiere goalies in the League after two and a half NHL seasons.

Here's the full list from Silver Seven, and please do check out the blog for justifications. We'd go a little higher with Roloson, a little lower with McDonald:

10. Dwayne Roloson, Edmonton Oilers

9. John Madden, New Jersey Devils

8. Rene Bourque, Calgary Flames

7. Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh Penguins

6. Jason Blake, Toronto Maple Leafs

5. Andy McDonald, St. Louis Blues

4. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning

3. Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild

2. Brian Rafalski, Detroit Red Wings

1. Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks

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