Welcome to a brand new series here at The Hockey Writers called “Road to the Draft.” In this series, our draft contributors will count down from 32nd overall all the way to 1st overall and revisit each player taken with that pick between 2010 and 2020.
The goal of this series is to reflect on some of the biggest steals and some of the biggest busts taken in the first round over the past ten years, as well as to shine a light on some players who could potentially see themselves taken with the corresponding pick at the upcoming 2021 NHL Draft.
Related: THW 2021 NHL Draft Guide
After delving into the 32nd, 31st, and 30th overall picks of the last decade, we continue the countdown with the 29th overall pick. Like the 30th pick, this selection has been a first-round pick for many years. The last time it wasn’t was back in 1999 when Michal Sivek was chosen by the Washington Capitals. When the Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets entered the league in the year 2000, the 29th and 30th picks were upgraded from the second round to the first.
Over the last decade, the 29th pick has been largely dominated by forwards with only three defencemen a part of the festivities. To date, the only two players that have not seen a game in the NHL are the 2019 and 2020 picks, which is understandable since they are still at the beginning of their hockey journey.
2010 – Emerson Etem (RW, Anaheim Ducks)
Hailing from the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League (WHL), Emerson Etem just knew how to score goals. Over the course of his three-year career, he scored 143 goals in 202 games, including a career-high 61 goals and 107 points in his final season before turning pro with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch in 2012. It was that type of goal-scoring potential that led the Anaheim Ducks to select him 29th overall in 2010.
Unfortunately, Etem never realized that potential in the NHL. In fact, he only ever hit a career-high of seven goals and 12 points when he split his time with the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks during the 2015-16 season. After stints with the Ducks, and the aforementioned Rangers and Canucks, he played sparingly in the AHL and Swiss League before dominating the WMHL with the Cabri Bulldogs where he accumulated a staggering 14 goals and 47 points in 11 regular season games and another 13 points in two playoff games. He is now the GM, head coach, and franchise owner of the USPHL Premier’s Long Beach Shredders.
2011 – Nicklas Jensen (LW, Vancouver Canucks)
Like his 2010 counterpart, Nicklas Jensen was a goal-scoring machine coming out of the junior leagues. Playing for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals, he racked up 54 goals and 116 points in 118 games and was more than a point-per-game player on the international stage, where he represented Team Denmark. The slick Dane had teams drooling over his combination of size, speed and NHL-ready shot, including the Canucks, who ended up drafting him 29th overall.
Jensen was one of the Canucks’ top prospects for a number of years and had fans excited to see what he could do at the NHL level. After stints with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves and Elitserien’s AIK, he made his NHL debut with the Canucks during the 2012-13 season. Then, on the heels of a strong start to the 2013-14 campaign with the Utica Comets, he played a career-high 17 games where he scored his first NHL goal and showed some chemistry with two of the best Canucks of all time, the Sedin twins. Of course, that got fans giddy for what the future could bring.
Unfortunately, Jensen played only five more games with the Canucks after that promising season. After 27 games with the Comets in 2014-15, he was traded to the New York Rangers for another 29th overall pick, Emerson Etem. He never hit his NHL potential with them either, playing only seven games before shipping off to the KHL’s Jokerit, where he plays to this day.
2012 – Stefan Matteau (LW, New Jersey Devils)
Playing for the US National Development Team and USNTDP Juniors in his draft year, Stefan Matteau stood out as a gritty two-way winger who could get in his opponent’s face and produce offence at the same time. During his time in both leagues, he racked up 21 goals and 42 points in 64 games and was in the penalty box for 259 minutes. Once he was drafted by the New Jersey Devils, he made his way over to the QMJHL and the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada where he recorded 18 goals and 28 points in 35 games. He also made his NHL debut with the Devils that season and scored his first goal.
After that, Matteau bounced between the NHL and AHL where he played parts of three seasons before he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in 2016. Then, after an entire season in the AHL with the St. John’s IceCaps, he signed a one-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights, a team he only played eight games for while being shuttled between both leagues again. He has spent the past two seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets where he has tallied four points in 27 games.
2013 – Jason Dickinson (C, Dallas Stars)
One of the more successful forwards to come out of the 2013 Draft, Jason Dickinson played in his entire junior career in the OHL with the Guelph Storm where he made it look easy, racking up 84 goals and 231 points in 253 games. Despite only recording 47 points in 66 games during his draft year, the Dallas Stars must have had a crystal ball because he lived up to his first-round status in his final two seasons, recording two straight 70-plus point campaigns. He also showed leadership potential by wearing the “C” in his final season before turning pro with the Texas Stars.
Dickinson made his debut with the Stars during the 2015-16 season and promptly scored his first NHL goal in his first game. Since then, he’s developed into a solid bottom-six forward for the Stars. After shuttling between the parent club and the AHL for two seasons, he became a full-time NHLer in 2018 and now has three straight 20-plus point seasons to his name. He’s also one of his team’s top penalty killers.
2014 – Adrian Kempe (LW, Los Angeles Kings)
Regarded as one of the top Swedish forwards in the 2014 Draft, the Los Angeles Kings selected Adrian Kempe 29th overall after he spent the 2013-14 season in the SHL playing against men. Then after a dominating performance at the 2015 World Juniors where he recorded four goals and eight points in six games, he made his debut with the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs and immediately became their best player. By the end of the AHL playoffs, he had eight goals and a Calder Cup championship on his resume.
After 25 games with the Kings in 2016-17, Kempe became a full-time NHLer in 2017-18 where he put up 16 goals and 37 points in 81 games. Now in his fourth season with the team, he has 55 goals and 132 points in 312 games and has turned himself into a reliable top-nine forward in the NHL. He has also become a fixture on the international stage, having played in the last three World Championships for Team Sweden where he has six goals and 19 points to go along with a gold medal.
2015 – Gabriel Carlsson (D, Columbus Blue Jackets)
The first defenceman in the last ten years to be drafted 29th overall was Swedish blueliner Gabriel Carlsson. Described as a “stifling defender” by Dobber Prospects, he spent his draft year overseas in Sweden before he was eventually selected by the Blue Jackets in 2015. Making the trek over to North America at the beginning of the 2016-17 season, he started his pro career with the Cleveland Monsters and made his NHL debut with the Blue Jackets shortly after.
Since then, Carlsson has seen only a handful of games in the NHL over the last four seasons, as he’s still struggling to gain a permanent spot with the Blue Jackets at 24-years-old. Never known to be an offensive producer, he will have to carve out a niche like Chris Tanev did in order to become a full-time NHL defenceman. If he doesn’t do that soon, he could be stuck in the AHL strictly as a callup.
2016 – Trent Frederic (C, Boston Bruins)
Another star out of the United States National Development Program (USDP), Trent Frederic racked up 20 goals and 40 points in 61 games during his draft year. The gritty pivot was also a standout for Team USA at the 2016 U18s where he recorded seven points in seven games en route to a bronze medal finish. In typical Boston Bruins’ fashion, they selected the 6-foot-2 St. Louis native 29th overall, hoping he would bring the same physicality and grit to the NHL one day.
Committed to the University of Wisconsin for the 2016-17 season, Frederic spent two years in the NCAA where he walked away with Rookie of the Year honours and 32 goals in 66 games. Once his team was eliminated from playoff contention at the end of 2017-18, he made the jump to the AHL’s Providence Bruins where he put up five goals and eight points in 13 games. He also continued to shine on the international stage, finishing the 2018 WJC with five goals in seven games and another bronze medal.
Frederic’s development path has been pretty smooth so far, as he’s played 59 NHL games already, including a career-high 42 games in 2020-21. Look for him to have a full-time role on the Bruins’ fourth line in 2021-22.
2017 – Henri Jokiharju (D, Chicago Blackhawks)
One of the more prolific offensive defencemen in the WHL during his draft year, Henri Jokiharju finished with 48 points in 71 games playing for the Portland Winterhawks. Taking advantage of gifted goal scorers Cody Glass and Skyler McKenzie who racked up 32 and 42 goals respectively, his vision and playmaking were evident throughout the season as they were the beneficiary of a lot of his passes.
After being selected 29th overall by the Blackhawks, Jokiharju continued to dominate in his draft-plus-one season, finishing with a career-high 12 goals and 71 points in 63 games. The slick Finn made the jump to the NHL in 2018-19 and ended up recording 12 assists in 38 games during his rookie season. That offseason, he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres for Alexander Nylander, where he’s played the past two seasons and recorded seven goals and 23 points.
2018 – Rasmus Sandin (D, Toronto Maple Leafs)
For a small country of just over 10 million, Sweden sure knows how to grow elite defencemen. Must be something in the water, right? Along with other first-round selections, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mattias Ohlund, Victor Hedman, and Adam Larsson, Rasmus Sandin has all the tools to become a regular top-four defenceman in his prime. Not likely to match the greatness of Hedman and Ekman-Larsson, he definitely could follow the same trajectory as Ohlund and Larsson.
Playing on loan to the Soo Grey Hounds of the OHL, Sandin dominated the league to the tune of 12 goals and 45 points in 51 games and caught the eyes of scouts in the process. By the time the 2018 Draft came along, he was a consensus top-30 pick and 11th amongst European players on the NHL Central Scouting final rankings list. The Maple Leafs ended up drafting him 29th overall, and have never looked back. After a couple of solid seasons in the AHL and a standout performance at the 2019 WJC where he walked away with Best Defenceman and All-Star Team honours, he is now poised to become a fixture on the Maple Leafs’ blueline for years to come. That is unless he’s traded or selected by the Seattle Kraken during the expansion draft.
2019 – Brayden Tracey (LW, Anaheim Ducks)
Brayden Tracey’s best season in the WHL came at the perfect time, as he parlayed an 81-point season into a 29th overall selection by the Anaheim Ducks. His second season wasn’t so kind though, as he struggled without his linemates Tristan Langan and Justin Almeida who both put up 100-point seasons alongside him. Split between the Moose Jaw Warriors and Victoria Royals, he finished with a disappointing 22 goals and 62 points in 52 games.
When the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start to the WHL’s 2020-21 season, Tracey made his pro debut with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls where he went pointless in 12 games. Then, after the WHL resumed play in March, he returned to the Royals and bounced back with 21 points in 22 games. At 20-years-old, he still has time to live up to his first-round selection which he will attempt to do next season with the Gulls, as his junior eligibility is now complete.
2020 – Brendan Brisson (C, Vegas Golden Knights)
If all goes to plan, Brendan Brisson will turn out to be the best 29th overall draft pick of the last decade. Another product of the hockey factory that is the USHL’s Chicago Steel, he blew everyone away in 2019-20 when he posted 24 goals and 59 points in 45 games and helped his team to a 41-7-1 record. The dynamic playmaker then made his way over to the NCAA and another powerhouse in the Michigan Wolverines where he teamed up with 2021 draft eligibles Owen Power, Matt Beniers, and Kent Johnson to dominate yet another league.
Brisson’s freshman season with the Wolverines saw him record 21 points in 24 games and two goals in seven games at the 2021 WJC where he helped Team USA to a gold medal finish. The California native will now try to build on that performance in his sophomore season which will see another influx of talent with Luke Hughes joining the squad in 2021-22. At 29th overall, the Vegas Golden Knights definitely got a good one to eventually feed the likes of Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Reilly Smith.
Players Who Could Be Drafted 29th Overall in 2021
ALL TIME PLAYERS TAKEN 29TH OVERALL
1969 – Don O’Donoghue (RW, Oakland Seals)
1970 – Steve Cuddie (D, Buffalo Sabres)
1971 – Rich LeDuc (C, California Golden Seals)
1972 – Brian Ogilvie (C, Chicago Blackhawks)
1973 – Reg Thomas (LW, Chicago Blackhawks)
1974 – Danny Gare (LW, Buffalo Sabres)
1975 – Dave Salvian (RW, New York Islanders)
1976 – Peter Marsh (RW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1977 – Rocky Saganiuk (RW/C, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1978 – Doug Lecuyer (LW, Chicago Blackhawks)
1979 – Dean Hopkins (RW, Los Angeles Kings)
1980 – Michel Galarneau (C, Hartford Whalers)
1981 – Todd Strueby (LW, Edmonton Oilers)
1982 – Dave Reierson (D, Calgary Flames)
1983 – Brad Berry (D, Winnipeg Jets)
1984 – Stephane Richer (RW, Montreal Canadiens)
1985 – Jeff Sharples (D, Detroit Red Wings)
1986 – Teppo Numminen (D, Winnipeg Jets)
1987 – Ryan McGill (D, Chicago Blackhawks)
1988 – Wayne Doucet (LW, New York Islanders)
1989 – Robert Woodward (LW, Vancouver Canucks)
1990 – Chris Gotziaman (RW, New Jersey Devils)
1991 – Jassen Cullimore (D, Vancouver Canucks)
1992 – Tuomas Gronman (D, Quebec Nordiques)
1993 – Tyler Moss (G, Tampa Bay Lightning)
1994 – Stan Neckar (D, Ottawa Senators)
1995 – Brian Wesenberg (RW, Anaheim Ducks)
1996 – Dan LaCouture (LW, New York Islanders)
1997 – Scott Barney (C, Los Angeles Kings)
1998 – Jonathan Cheechoo (RW, San Jose Sharks)
1999 – Michal Sivek (C, Washington Capitals)
2000 – Niklas Kronwall (D, Detroit Red Wings)
2001 – Adam Munro (G, Chicago Blackhawks)
2002 – Hannu Toivonen (G, Boston Bruins)
2003 – Patrick Eaves (RW, Ottawa Senators)
2004 – Mike Green (D, Washington Capitals)
2005 – Steve Downie (RW, Philadelphia Flyers)
2006 – Chris Summers (D, Phoenix Coyotes)
2007 – Jim O’Brien (C, Ottawa Senators)
2008 – Daultan Leveille (C, Atlanta Thrashers)
2009 – Carter Ashton (RW, Tampa Bay Lightning)
Catch up on the Series So Far
My name is Matthew and I cover the Vancouver Canucks, and Vancouver Giants here at the Hockey Writers. I am also the head of the prospects and NHL Draft coverage. I am passionate about the Canucks, prospects, and all things hockey.