In light of yesterday's 'Blackhawks busts' article, we have decided today to cover the opposite. Most people will say that the Blackhawks best draft picks were players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, or Dennis Savard. Those players were all selected in the first round though, and were expected to succeed. Had they not, they most likely would have been included in the piece yesterday.
My definition of 'sleeper picks', are players selected in the 4th round or later. These players had very low expectations, yet they exceeded most players picked ahead of them. Recently, these 'diamonds in the rough' have helped the Blackhawks maintain a consistent contention for the Stanley Cup, but there are plenty in the past as well.
A name most Hawks fans know quite well is Andrew Shaw. Shaw is a gritty, aggravating type of player who drives opponents crazy. Although he is small in stature, he is never afraid to chirp at, fight, or hit somebody bigger than him. He scores a lot of his goals in front of the net on tip-ins and rebounds, meaning he loves getting in the dirty areas. Somebody of Shaw's worth to the team should have surely gone first or second round, but Shaw was a 5th round draft pick in 2011.
Maybe other teams did not believe that he would reach his potential, or that his game was too chippy to succeed in the NHL. Either way, the Hawks are lucky to have a player like Shaw, and at only 23 years old, he still has plenty of potential.
In 2005, the Blackhawks drafted a Swedish defenseman in the 5th round named Niklas Hjalmarsson. Today, Hjalmarsson is a Top 4 defenseman for the Hawks, and is one of the most committed players I've seen. He never hesitates to block a shot, and never takes a shift off. He has played a major part in both the 2010, and 2013 Stanley Cup Championships, and hopefully more to come.
Dustin Byfuglien was drafted in the 8th round (245th overall) by the Hawks in 2003. 'Big Buff' played a major role in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoff run. He switched from defense to offense and planted his large body right in front of the opposing goaltender. In his 5 years with the Blackhawks, he scored 109 points, but the 16 points he scored in the 2010 playoffs cemented his place in Chicago history.
Byfuglien was traded away to the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) in the 'Great Salary Dump' of 2010. He continues to be one the Jets best players.
Another member of the 2010 Hawks was Troy Brouwer. Brouwer was taken in the 7th round of the 2004 draft. In his tenure with the Hawks, he scored 103 points. He had 8 points during the playoffs in 2010. He is now a member of the Washington Capitals.
Those are just the recent 'sleepers'. Players like Darryl Sutter (11th round, 179th overall in 1978) and Brian Noonan (9th round, 186th overall in 1983) were both hard working forwards who kept the Hawks legacy strong in the 80's and early 90's. Darryl Sutter also coached the team from 1992 to 1995.
Finally, this list would not be complete without mentioning what was possibly the greatest draft steal in Blackhawks history: Steve Larmer. Larmer was Chicago's 6th round pick in 1980, but he turned into one of the greatest Hawks of all time. He finished his time as a Hawk with over 900 points, and his total 15 year career with 1,012 points. He won the Calder trophy his rookie year, along with five Selke trophies, and five Lady Byng awards. He took home the Hart Trophy in 1991 after recording 101 points, his career high.
The Blackhawks have drafted some great unexpected talent in the latter rounds. Let's hope that trend continues in the future.
Is their anybody in this article that shouldn't be included, or is their someone I missed?
Let us know what you think in the comments!