The 2015 NHL Draft begins tonight in Sunrise, Florida, and incoming Gopher freshman Tommy Novak has a slight chance to be taken in the first round tonight. He probably will end up a 2nd of third round pick, but if he would be selected in the first round he would be the 20th Gopher selected in the first round of the modern draft which has taken place since 1969. Of course some of the Gophers who have gone onto the best NHL careers were not selected in the first round. People like Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia Flyers 6th round 1975), Darby Hendrickson (Toronto Maple Leafs 4th round 1990), Jordan Leopold (Anaheim Ducks 2nd round 1999), Paul Martin (2nd round New Jersey Devils (2000) and of course the best professional player to ever come out of the U , Neal Broten (Minnesota North stars, 3rd round 1979).
So here is my highly subjective list of the Gophers taken in the first round of the NHL draft ranked from 19th to #1.
#19 Patrick White (#25 Overall--Vancouver Canucks 2007)
White never seemed to live up to his hype at the U after a great high school career in Grand Rapids. White never played professionally in North America heading to Europe immediately after college and most recently playing for a team in Slovakia.
#18 David Fischer (#20 Montreal Canadians 2006)
Fischer was another former Gopher scapegoat who did not live up to the hype coming out of Apple Valley. He at least tried to play in the pros in North America, completing two seasons in the ECHL before heading to Europe. He most recently played for a team in Germany.
#17 Kris Chucko (#24 Calgary Flames 2004)
Chucko was a rare Canadian to play for the Gophers, but only lasted two seasons in the Maroon and Gold. He jumped to the AHL in 2006 and except for a two game callup with the flames in 2009, that's where he stayed. Chucko retired from pro hockey in 2011.
#16 Brady Skeji (#28 New York Rangers 2012)
More of an incomplete than anything, Skeji is just starting his pro career. But you would have to guess he should surpass the careers of those below him...however without any NHL experience yet, he can;t jump anyone else.....yet.
#15 Jim O'Brien (#29 Ottawa Senators 2007)
O'Brien only played one year for the Gophers before jumping to the WHL. He has bummed around several spots in the AHL, but did play 63 games in the NHL with Ottawa between 2010-and 2013. He played forth e Hershey Bears in the AHL last season.
#14 Jeff Taffe (#30 St. Louis Blues 2000)
Taffe was one of the leaders on the 2002 title team and then went pro before his senior season. Taffe has had cups of coffee in the NHL with the Coyotes, Penguins, Rangers, Blackhawks and Wild. He most recently played for a team in Sweden in 2014-15.
#13 Jordan Schroeder (#22 Vancouver Canucks 2009)
Schroeder was an interesting one at the U, playing two seasons before leaving early for the pros in a move most questioned. He languished in the AHL in the Canucks organization with a few small call-ups before signing with the Wild last season. he played a fairly significant role in the Wild's playoff chase and will be expected to fight for a roster spot again next season.
#12 Doug Zmolek (#7 Minnesota North Stars 1989)
We finally get to the list of players with good NHL careers. Zmolek was a stud for the Gophers on the blue line for three seasons before jumping to the NHL with the San Jose Sharks. Zmolek was oft injured but played in 467 career NHL games before retiring in 2000.
#11 Erik Rasmussen (#7 Buffalo Sabres 1996)
Rasmussen was a big bad power forward for the Gophers for two seasons before going pro. His best NHL season was 2000-01 with the Sabres when he played in all 82 games and scored 31 points on 12 goals. He would play portions of several more season in the NHL for a few different teams for a total of 545 NHL games before retiring in 2009.
#10 Tom Chorske (#16 Montreal Canadians 1985)
Chorske completed a great collegiate career with the Gophers which also included taking a year off in1988 to compete on the US Olympic Team . Chorske would play a portion of two seasons in Montreal before going to New Jersey where he would win a cup. He would bounce around several NHL teams at the end of his career, and finish with 596 games played before he retired in 2001.
#9 Nicky Leddy (#16 Minnesota Wild 2009)
We all know about the trade that send Leddy to Chicago and got him a Stanley Cup ring. Since moving onto playing for the Islanders, Leddy has looked more like the first round potential that was seen in him by the Wild finishing with 37 points last season. He has 336 NHL games under his belt...and is only 24.
#8 Keith Ballard (#11 Buffalo Sabres 2002)
Ballard had three great seasons for the U before playing one year in the AHL and the rest of his career for four NHL teams including most recently the Wild. Ballard has 604 NHL games in his career, a number that may be the end as he dealt with some nasty concussion issues last season.
#7 Erik Johnson (#1 St. Louis Blues 2006)
Johnson is another one that has had a good NHL career, but never lived up to the hype of a #1 overall choice. Johnson left the U after one season and joined the Blues right away., but missed a year with his "golf-cart incident" Johnson has been effective for Colorado recently...but kind of comes off as an ass on twitter. 456 career NHL games and counting for the 27 year old.
#6 Nick Bjugstad (#19 Florida Panthers 2010)
Bjugstad is off to a good NHL career in South Florida. He is gaining good experience and starting to score like a high draft pick. He had 43 points in 72 games last season for a crappy team. If he can let Florida continue to get better around him those numbers could jump significantly.
#5 Kyle Okposo (#7 New York Islanders 2006)
Okposo is another player who took a few years to get used to the pro game, but now is arguably one of the more dynamic players in the NHL. He has scored 120 points in 150 games the last two seasons, and if he can stay healthy can definately be dangerous on that Islanders team for some time to come.
#4 Blake Wheeler (#5 Phoenix Coyotes 2004)
Wheeler like Okposo has really excelled the last few seasons. Once Wheeler got to Winnipeg, he seems to have regained his scoring touch. with 69 and 63 points the last two seasons, Wheeler is a leader for the Jets, and a player that must be marked on the ice.
#3 Phil Kessel (#5 Boston Bruins 2006)
Kessel is a scoring machine, all be one that has an interesting attitude with teammates, coaches and the media. Kessel has a total of 247 goals and 520 points in 668 career NHL games. It will be interesting to see of Toronto can move him this offseason, and if that will rejuvenate him after having his least productive healthy season since 2009.
#2 Thomas Vanek (#5 Buffalo Sabres 2003)
Vanek left the U after two great seasons and spent one year in the AHL before becoming a goal scoring machine for the Sabres. He averaged over a point per game in the 2006-07 season and has topped 40 goals in a season three times in his NHL career. While definitely on the downslide now with the Minnesota Wild, Vanek's 608 points in 743 career NHL games is tops all time for a former Gopher.
#1 Mike Ramsey (#11 Buffalo Sabres 1979)
Ramsey tops this list due to both the incredible length of his career and the skill he brought to the NHL. after leaving the Gophers to play on the 1980 Olympic Team, Ramsey wasted no time playing 13 games for Buffalo after returning from Lake Placid in 1980. He would spend 14 seasons with Buffalo before playing portions of two more with Pittsburgh and three more with Detroit before finally hanging up the skates in 1996. He finished with a Gopher leading 1070 NHL games, scoring 345 points as a shutdown defenseman. After his playing career he spend 11 season as a NHL assistant coach before retiring to watch his daughter Rachel play for the Gopher Women's Hockey Team and win three national titles.
There is no doubt due to the longevity of his outstanding career that Mike Ramsey is the best first round NHL draft pick of the Gophers to play in the pros. Disagree? Tell us in the comments.