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HockeyDB’s Best Players Drafted by Draft Position PART 2: Late-Round Success Stories

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There’s a lot of Maple Leafs trauma in this one. Sorry?

Colorado Avalanche 2007 Headshots
Jeff Finger of the Colorado Avalanche poses for his 2007 NHL headshot at photo day in Denver, Colorado.
Photo by Getty Images has a fun tool called “NHL Best Players Drafted by Draft Position.” This tool lists the players that have the most games played, most goals, most assists, and most points for each draft position in league history. The categories are then subdivided by forwards and defensemen. Goaltenders are judged by games played, save percentage, win percentage, and goals against average.

Managing Editor Tom covered the first 100 picks and all the Colorado Avalanche draftees who made the cut. In the top part of the draft, there are a lot more successes than failures, so his piece had more to do with how well Avs players did relative to their peers. You can find Part 1 where Tom covers draft positions 1-100 in the link below.

But once you get into the 200’s of an NHL Entry Draft, you’re lucky if you can find even one success at a single draft position ever! That’s what this article is going to look at. Who were the diamonds in the rough?

Pick #129 - G Brent Johnson and RD Tom Gilbert

Despite the seven-year gap between 1995 and 2002, the Avalanche found success in two 129th overall draft picks. In fact, they weren’t even taken in the same round! Before the first Gary Bettman (BOO!!) expansion, there were 26 teams in the league, meaning the 129th overall pick (does math) was all the way at the end of the fifth round whereas Gilbert was taken at the end of the fourth.

The Quebec Nordiques had just been relocated to Colorado at the end of the 1995 season, so Johnson was the fifth player acquisition in club history (the team was officially sold in May of 1995 and the team didn’t make a signing or trade until after the draft). And for the trivia buffs, the first was Marc Denis, also a goalie!

Johnson never played a game for the Avs. He was traded at the end of his junior hockey career in Owen Sound to the St. Louis Blues. By 2000 he was a bona-fide NHLer (58 games in 2001-02) for the Blues, but was traded again to Pheonix for Mike Sillinger. After a brief stop in Washington, he finished his career in 2012 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. 309 games, 14 shutouts, and a .902 save percentage for a 5th round pick? Not bad.

Like Johnson, Tom Gilbert never played a game for the Colorado Avalanche. After completing his second year at the University of Wisconsin, the Avs were going after their third Stanley Cup and traded the right-shooting Gilbert to the Edmonton Oilers for Tommy Salo. They only made it to the second round before being eliminated by the Patrick Marleau led San Jose Sharks.

One solid NHL career later, Gilbert has 223 points in 655 games spread across the Oilers, Minnesota Wild, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, and Los Angeles Kings organizations. After spending the 2016-17 season with the Ontario Reign and Hershey Bears of the AHL, Gilbert joined the Nuermberg Ice Tigers of the DEL (Deutsche Eishockey Liga) at the ripe young age of 34-years-old last season.

Pick #146 - LW Brian Willsie

Drafted out of the OHL’s Guelph Storm, the sixth-round pick for the Avalanche in the year I was born just missed the first Stanley Cup in 1996, but was on the Hershey Bears when the Avalanche won the whole thing in 2001. Willsie went on to play 69 games for the Avs, before he was claimed off waivers by the Washington Capitals at the start of the 2003-04 season.

Willsie came back to the organization, signing two one-year deals with the Avalanche for the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. Primarily brought in to captain the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL, the veteren left-winger got in 46 games for the injury-riddled Avs squad.

Pick #159 - LD John-Michael Liles

JML! Who doesn’t love John-Michael Liles! The small, but dynamic left-shooting defenseman out of Indianapolis, Indiana spent seven seasons with the team that drafted him in 2000, racking up 218 points in 513 games before being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the beginning of their big push for their first championship since 1967. Liles spent three seasons in Toronto, and you'll never guess how they went. Two terrible non-playoff finishes sandwiching easily the worst Game 7 defeat in franchise history; the infamous “it was 4-1” loss to the Boston Bruins.

Liles would be saved from that god-awful franchise by Dave Nonis, when he traded Liles to the Carolina Hurricanes for Tim Gleason (whom the Leafs only just finished paying due to his buy-out). Five seasons later, Liles would retire as a Bruin in 2017.

Pick #161 - G David Aebischer

Famously traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Jose Theodore, Aebischer was a sixth-round pick in 1997 that spent a total of seven seasons in the NHL for the Avalanche, and Canadiens, plus one game for the Pheonix Coyotes. After a pretty good 214-game career in the NHL, the Swiss netminder went back home and played seven more seasons in the Swiss-A and Swiss-B league.

Pick #176 - C Samuel Pahlsson

The man lovingly known around the league as Sammy Pahlson never played a game for the Avalanche. The Ange, Sweden native spent six pro seasons with MODO of the Swedish Elite League before coming over to the NHL.

At the end of his sixth season with MODO, Pahlsson was traded to the Boston Bruins in the massive Ray Bourque, Dave Andreychuk deal that preceeded the franchises first championship. Along with Pahlsson, Boston got Brian Rolston, Martin Grenier, and Martin Samuelsson.

Pahlsson was traded to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks barely 17 games into his Bruins career, but it wouldn’t be all bad, far from it as he would spend eight years with the Ducks (who were at times still Mighty) and won a Stanley Cup in 2007.

Pick #212 - RW Radim Vrbata

Drafted in the seventh-round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Vrbata has had himself a hell of a career. 1057 games spread over 16 seasons spread over eight clubs (seven if you don’t count the Coyotes twice), Vrbata is finally hanging up the skates. For a seventh-rounder drafted before the turn of the millenia, that’s pretty darn good. As for his connection to the Avalanche, he was traded in his second season with the club for Bates Battaglia.

Pick #222 - LD Kyle Cumiskey

No snickering. Drafted out of the Kelowna Rockets organization in 2005, Cumiskey spent five seasons in Colorado’s system — including one season where he played 61 games for the big club — but just couldn’t stick in the league full-time. He was traded to the Syracuse Crunch (who were the AHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks at the time), and was bounced around the Swedish Hockey League before retiring in 2017 as a member of Skelleftea AIK.

Pick #239 - RW Brandon Yip

A rare eighth-round pick in 2004, Yip had a good 174-game NHL career following a four-year program with Boston University. Yip had a strong first two seasons with the Avalanche in 2009-10 and 2010-11, putting up 41 points in 103 games. Alas, after going pointless in his first 10 games with the Avs, he was put on waivers and claimed by the Nashville Predators. They hadn’t gotten PK Subban yet so don’t feel too happy for Brandon.

After three struggling seasons, Yip was sent to the AHL, fell to the ECHL for a bit (playing for what is now the current ECHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche, the Utah Grizzlies!) before fleeing to Germany for three seasons. In his final season in professional hockey, Yip joined Kunlun Red Star of the KHL, posting 18 points in 48 games.

Pick #240 - LD Jeff Finger

We had a Foote, might as well draft a Finger too, right?

Jeff Fingers career was underwhelming to say the least. Which is why he was perfect for the Maple Leafs!

After drifting through the AHL for most of his late-20s, Finger found himself in 72 games for the 2007-08 Avalanche. The 27-year-old put up 19 points in his contract year and prompty received a massive contract from the cash-drunk Leafs. A season and a half later, Finger was back in the AHL, but a much richer man this time.

By the way, you’ll want to read both links.

You’re welcome, Leafs!

Pick #288 - RW David Jones

And finally, with the fifth-last pick in the 2003 draft, in the ninth round, the Colorado Avalanche select David Jones! The man with the most interesting name in the world was a steal at 288th overall. Jones potted 102 goals in 462 games spread over nine seasons in the NHL, mostly with the Avalanche, but also with the Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild. To top it all off, Jones only had to play 45 games in the AHL throughout his entire career, all 45 in one season with Lake Erie. For a pick that doesn’t even exist anymore, that was one heck of a pick and one heck of a player.

Thanks for reading, feel free to comment if you have any stories about some of these players, and don’t forget to check out Part 1 from earlier this week!