The 2008 NHL Draft was a seminal moment for several franchises who found their No. 1 defenseman or superstar center among its spoils. Already, the top four players from 2008 have won two Stanley Cup, ensnared a Norris Trophy, and twice won the Maurice Richard Trophy. More hardware seems likely. But even after those first-rate players, other significant forwards and defensemen were selected who have greatly impacted their teams’ rosters, and many of them were drafted in later rounds.
Here is how Hockey Prospectus sees the 2008 Draft unfolding if it were held today (Part II will come out next week). The rules below are what Mel Kiper used in his Re-Draft article for ESPN Insider.
- The order is based mainly on what players have accomplished but also considers what else they have left. Health matters.
- The need of the team at the time is not considered. This is now purely “best player available.”
- Positional value matters – so a center is more important than a winger, for instance.
- 1. Tampa Bay Lightning: Drew Doughty
2008 Selection: Steven Stamkos
In the taxonomy of No. 1 defensemen, Drew Doughty is at the top of the list. It is very difficult for a defenseman to dominate a game, but Doughty makes it look easy. Sometimes when he has the puck, it seems like he sees two or three moves ahead, which is most noticeable when he changes direction on a dime.
When the Kings reset in the defensive zone and Doughty has the puck, he has two options: pass or skate. Both choices are often deadly for the opposition. Sometimes, Doughty can skate the puck out at a speed that does not seem all that fast, but as he moves, he surveys his options, looking for a passing lane that will enable a successful zone entry. If he does not see that lane, he can charge ahead, weave through the defensive coverage, and individually generate a premium scoring chance. He has a very strong shot, and is an ace passer and skater. The Kings have been the rulers of puck possession over the last two seasons, and Doughty is instrumental in their supremacy.
Defensively, Doughty is good at stifling the defensive pressure and catalyzing the zone exit, but he is not as dominant as he is on offense. His Corsi metrics are tremendous, but his defensive partner, Jake Muzzin, fares better. Still, he understands the geometry of the rink and his duties, and his mastery of the position will grow as he continues to accumulate more experience.
Doughty has as much confidence as any player in the NHL, and he can be guilty of trying to do too much. Because some of the crazy skill plays he performs are successful, he at times attempts impossibly difficult passes and zone exits. Still, the Kings have made three consecutive Western Conference finals, and won two Stanley Cups in three seasons in a loaded conference, because when Doughty does make a mistake, he remedies the error with a flurry of impactful plays that decide the game in the Kings’ favor. If he is really relaxed – which is when he says he plays his best – it can be a blizzard.
In 2013-14, Hockey-Reference.com ranked Doughty fourth in the NHL in Defensive Point Shares (Pietrangelo is fifth) and his 37 points was good for 30th among defensemen. But the reason he is cited here as the best player from the 2008 NHL Draft is his ability to rise to the challenge when it counts. When Craig Custance of ESPN Insider polled NHL executives, coaches, and players regarding the league’s top “franchise player,” Doughty finished third, behind only Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby.
Custance put it succinctly: “Most of the ballots were heavy on centers, but Doughty was the clear-cut No. 3 on this list. If you’re taking a defenseman to build your team around, this is the guy. He’s got two Stanley Cups, he’s got two Olympics gold medals and he was a major contributor on all those championship teams.”
This season, Doughty took over games at the NHL and international levels. He also logs a ton of minutes; in the 2014 NHL playoffs, he logged almost 80 more minutes than second-place Ryan McDonagh and nearly 140 more minutes than third-place teammate and defensive partner Jake Muzzin. He is dynamic, and the most talented defenseman in the league, and the Kings will be winning as long as he is on the team.
- 2. Los Angeles Kings: Steven Stamkos
2008 Selection: Drew Doughty
For the first few seasons center Steven Stamkos was in the league, a healthy portion of his scoring was the result of his tremendous shot. He has good size and strength, so he only needed to find an opening to blast a shot past the goaltender. But with the diversification of Stamkos’ game, he has become increasingly difficult to disarm. He can attack from anywhere, and his powerful skating and overwhelming offensive skill make him irrepressible. Stamkos even possesses some creativity, which allows him to procure scoring chances in tight spaces. In 2012, Stamkos finished second in the NHL in GVT, only behind Evgeni Malkin.
Last season, Stamkos came out of the gate scorching, but suffered a broken right shin that kept him out for 45 games. In the 37 games he played, he still mustered 1.51 goals per 60 minutes at five on five and 2.58 points per 60 minutes. Incredibly, over the last four seasons at five on five, he has never had a points per 60 minutes below last season’s 2.58. To put that in context, 2.58 would have ranked in the top ten for points per 60 minutes for players who played over 70 games.
While Stamkos’ possession numbers have always been adequate, he has shown that he is trying to become a better two-way player by making a more concerted effort in the defensive zone and accepting tougher responsibilities. And he is so dominant offensively that he can steals games if he gets hot. While Doughty gets the nod because he is arguably the best at his position, few would argue that Stamkos is better than Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews, or Anze Kopitar. Still, Stamkos is a dazzling player who should incinerate the competition this season.
- 3. Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets): Alex Pietrangelo
2008 Selection: Zach Bogosian
The talent in this draft was monumental, as evidenced by defenseman Alex Pietrangelo “falling” to number three overall. Pietrangelo led the NHL in Hockey Prospectus’ GVT metric, and was outstanding at eradicating offensive zone attempts by the opposition while utilizing his impressive mobility and skill – for his size – to dictate the terms for St. Louis. Defensively, Pietrangelo has excellent footwork which allows him to swallow the opposition and ride them into the boards, and he is proficient at finding the release points to leave the defensive zone. He also has very good reach, which enables him to poke pucks away. On breakouts, he can skate the puck and strike with his heavy shot, or he can deliver a decisive pass that initiates a zone entry.
As imposing a presence as he commands from the blue line, this guy is a really good offensive player. Among defensemen at five on five, he finished fourth in primary assists per 60 minutes, eighth in points per 60 minutes, and 38th in goals per 60 minutes. In 2012, when Karlsson won the Norris Trophy, it was Pietrangelo who led all defensemen in points per 60 minutes. He has emerged as one of the best defensemen in the league on the offensive end.
When Pietrangelo and partner Jay Bouwmeester are on the ice, entry points are more difficult to come by for opponents. The Pietrangelo-Bouwmeester pairing barricades opponents from attacking the blue line, forcing a debilitating dump in. Pietrangelo’s size combined with strong puck-moving is invaluable. And with another giant in Bouwmeester, they make quite a duo.
Sometimes a forward beats one of them in the defensive zone , but the partner will eclipse the net and cordon off any room — or the defender recovers and uses his reach and stride to catch up to the opposing puck-handler and defeat the offensive attempt. As part of arguably the best defensive pairing in the NHL, this past season it was Pietrangelo who carried Bouwmeester, as demonstrated by Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com’s WOWY metric. When playing his best, Pietrangelo is aggressive on and off the puck, waylaying opposing skaters as they try to enter the zone, and gutting the opposing team with his ability to facilitate or attack with his powerful skating and puncturing shot.
- 4. St. Louis Blues: Erik Karlsson
2008 Selection: Alex Pietrangelo
It seems asinine placing a defenseman as gifted as Ottawa Senators’ Erik Karlsson at four, especially when he commands a complete mastery of the role of offensive defenseman. Hockey Prospectus’ GVT metric does a nice job elucidating Karlsson’s strength and weakness: 15.3 Offensive GVT, -1.5 Defensive GVT.
Karlsson is a unique entity because few defenders have his clear acceleration and puck skill expertise, where he can lead the breakout and go down to the opposite net and score. What does offensive completeness look like for a defenseman? Karlsson finished first among defensemen in goals per 60 minutes, third in primary assists per 60 minutes, and second in points per 60 minutes. In 2012, when Karlsson won the Norris Trophy, he led all defensemen in primary assists per 60 minutes and finished in the top ten in points per 60 minutes. When Karlsson accelerates, he is like the human embodiment of Bruce Wayne’s Tumbler.
Few defensemen in NHL history can glide past opponents like they are standing still and then find the window to slip the far post setup pass. Aside from bolstering the Ottawa Senators rush game, Karlsson can also be lethal when the Senators are stationed in the offensive zone and he is temporarily positioned at quarterback at the point. He has the best lateral agility of any defenseman in the NHL, and he demonstrates an incredible ability to elude multiple defenders when he has the puck, while also assessing if there are advantageous passing options.
However, Karlsson’s temerity with the puck can lead to bad turnovers, and even with his elite speed, he has difficulty recovering in time to stop the opposition’s offensive charge. His decision making can sometimes be wayward, but ultimately he is a home run hitter who reaps immeasurable benefits for the Senators, especially relative to their paucity of supporting talent.
Sam Hithcock also operates intelligenthockey.com