Re-Drafting the 2009 First Round: John Tavares was Always the Right Choice

By Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie)

Every year when the NHL draft is over, we all like to draw conclusions. We analyze, we grade, we pick apart each team and talk about whether we think draft weekend was a success or a failure. As fun as that is, the simple fact is that we won’t have an idea who is right until well into the future.

Drafting is based on projections, an educated hypothesis as to who we think the best players will end up being. The fact of the matter is that when it happens, no one knows for certain just how the outcome will unfold – if you do, I’m sure an NHL team would be willing to pay you a lot of money.

When drafting 18-year old hockey players, NHL scouts and executives know that it is going to be years before they know just how well they’ve done. With that in mind, we are going to look back at recent drafts and re-draft the first round using hindsight.

The 2009 NHL Entry Draft was always about a kid from the Greater Toronto Area. From the time he was 14, everyone was as certain as you could be that John Tavares was going to be special. NHL teams were just waiting for a chance to draft the franchise centerman.

As the draft approached, Victor Hedman’s name started popping up. Could a team see something that would make them select the big Swedish defenseman ahead of Tavares? It was never likely, but some draft analysts speculated it might happen.

Heck, some even thought Matt Duchene might be a better selection at #1 than Tavares – even though the two played in the same junior league, and Duchene was clearly the inferior player.

But that speaks to the uncertainty of draft time. For years John Tavares was viewed as the best young hockey player in the world, but maybe…just maybe, someone could end up being better.

The Draft

Tavares, Hedman and Duchene went on to be the top-3 players select in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft – and looking back, they were actually the right selections. Here is how the rest of the first round played out:



There are a lot of misses in there – starting at pick 4. Evander Kane isn’t close to the fourth best player in the draft, but at least he became an NHL regular. He still ends up being a first round talent – as you’ll see below.

With the 8th overall selection, the Dallas Stars selected Scott Glennie – he played a grand total of one NHL game. When you have a pick in the first ten, it’s ok to miss on top-10 talent as long as you still get an NHL hockey player, but when you miss that badly, it could devastate your franchise.

Jared Cowen, Louis Leblanc (lol Habs), Dylan Olsen, Phillippe Paradis, there are a lot of players selected in this first round that we now know had no business being even close to the top-30.

The Re-Draft

Now with the gift of hindsight – created from seven and a half years of data – here is what I think the optimal 2009 first round would look like.

(Before you destroy my takes, I have provided a table at the bottom to justify my thinking)


My top-10 has five players from the original group and five newcomers – two of which made massive leaps from where they were actually drafted. Mike Hoffman and Mattias Ekholm are perfect examples of teams hitting the jackpot with late round picks. Obviously not much was thought of them on draft day, but 7 years later both are top-10 players from their draft class.

**Note: Hoffman and Kadri are very close and I do believe Kadri is better, I just couldn’t bear to have him with any team other than the Leafs.


This is where things get murky. Could you make a case that Vatanen should be in the top-10? Sure. Could Palmieri and Lee be moved up because of their goal scoring ability? Absolutely. Or maybe you want to move Johansson up because of his longevity and sustained impact in an NHL lineup.

Brayden Schenn and Craig Smith were separated by more than three rounds on draft day. When you look at their NHL careers on paper, they are very very similar – with Smith coming out slightly ahead. With that said, Schenn is the perfect example of a guy that turned into a very good NHLer, even if he doesn’t warrant the top-10 status bestowed upon him.


The thing about the 2009 draft, is that things drop off pretty quickly after the high-end talent – lending credence to the theory that everything after the 22nd pick is a crap shoot. There are some good players here, but also some like Kulikov and Eakin that show just how big the drop off in talent is.

The biggest outlier is Evander Kane. Kane was selected fourth overall ahead of Kadri, Ekman-Larsson and Ryan Ellis. While he’s had a decent NHL career – keeping this strictly to on the ice – Kane is certainly not one that deserves to be anywhere near the top-10.

So my 2009 NHL Entry Draft looks like this:



Whether you agree with my re-draft order or not, one thing is for certain – drafting is an inexact science that has a strong chance of making you look absolutely inept in hindsight. More and more, people are starting to think that they’ve got it ‘figured out’ – but unless you’re hitting the jackpot like the Islanders and Lightning did in 2009, you have to be open to the idea that your projections could be way off.

Projecting the future of 18-year olds is hard – projecting the course of your organization’s development is even harder. If you think you’ve got it all figured out, email the site. I would like to buy your crystal ball.


For those interested, here is the data for the 30 players I selected:




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